Knack Review: Out of Balance

Knack has a weird problem — it feels like it’s both built to be played by two people in cooperative mode, and very much not, at the same time.

It comes down to a balancing issue. The third-person action-adventure game will remind players of a simpler time, one of Crash Bandicoots and Spyros Dragon, in which many similar games boiled down to a series of arena-style melee battles with various different enemies. There’s a little platforming mixed in as well, but for the most part, you’ll spend your time in Knack punching away at enemies, all of whom die with one to three hits.

That Knack feels like a throwback isn’t really it’s problem — it’s that it can get hard to play and enjoy, especially long-term. You’ll encounter many a fight that seems like it’s designed to be taken down with a pal beside you, running a second controller. But failings with its cooperative mode make playing with two players feel like it’s not an ideal scenario, while at the same time, the game is almost too difficult to handle alone, at least on the Normal difficulty.

It’s not that Knack is too tough, it’s that it never really feels right. For a game that seems like it’s banking on skillful players dodging and punching their way through it, most of the game’s design just isn’t conducive to keeping players satisfied in building those skills.

Knack
Platform: Playstation 4 (Reviewed)
Developer: SCE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony
Release Date: Nov. 15, 2013
MSRP: $59.99

Taking place in a fantasy world in which humans and goblins seem to be constantly fighting over territory, and in which an ancient civilization left behind all kinds of powerful “relics” that have become the energy source of modern society, Knack is about a relic-powered golem (whose name is also the title) created by a scientist to do cool things. The story of the game is primarily one of Knack fighting various enemies, be they uppity goblins who have gotten hold of some powerful tanks, or the robots employed by a powerful industrialist who seems bent on finding and hoarding relics and their powers.

The real purpose of Knack being constructed out of relics is to utilize the Playstation 4′s impressive graphical capabilities. Each of the objects used to construct the character Knack is rendered individually, and when Knack takes damage, relics go flying out of him. You’ll also absorb more relics throughout each level of the game, which serve to refill Knack’s health bar and help him grow larger and more powerful.

In fact, that’s basically the way each chapter of Knack’s rather lengthy campaign plays out: You start out small, you fight some things that are tough to kill; you gather relics and become larger; you eventually get so big that you hulk-smash through just about every enemy.

There are variations on that theme, of course, but mostly Knack is about fighting various enemies and gathering up more relics. You’ll mostly run from room to room, and each room is filled with a different slate of enemies. There’s a fairly huge enemy variety throughout the game, and every encounter is a bit different based on your size at the time — goblins wielding giant clubs might give you a run for your money when you’re tiny, but encounter them later in the level and you’re likely to one-hit kill them.

Even still, Knack is designed for simplicity and accessibility. Your moves are pretty limited — mostly you’ll just punch and jump, and just about every enemy will go down in three hits or less, depending on your size. You can also quickly dodge to avoid incoming damage with the right analog stick, and use three super-powerful moves that require you to break crystals found in each level to charge them up.

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