Knack isn’t a perfect game. It’s not a game that will make you a fan of a genre that you don’t care about. If you loved games like Jak and Daxter or Ratchet and Clank you will find plenty to like in Knack even though it never quite hits those heights. If you hated Crash/Sly/Jak/Ratchet this game will not win you over; in fact it will probably make you hate the genre even further. My point, however, is that fans of the genre wouldn’t throw 9s or 10s at this game. It’s very good, as I will argue, but it has issues. 3/10 on Joystiq is completely fucking absurd though. As is a 59 on metacritic.
Knack is deceptively simple. You have a few buttons to use. You have a few power moves you can only use when you charge crystals (which takes some exploration). You beat every enemy by punching them. If you aren’t a fan of 3D platformer/brawlers this all sounds really simple. Early on in the game it backs up the idea that it is simple. Here’s an enemy… punch him. Here is a bigger one, punch him three times. Here is an enemy with a laser moving around on the floor; jump over the laser and punch him. Simple stuff.
My opinion is this where many reviewers stopped thinking about how to play the game and I don’t completely blame them. If you play a shooter you need to learn how to aim/shoot/take cover/flank. That’s it. Maybe at some point someone will come out with super armor that takes more bullets to kills, or if the game is really complex you will have to stun them and then shoot them. With Knack, however, they keep mixing up how to defeat every enemy. Even with just a couple of buttons the timing becomes different, the things to avoid become vastly different, and sometimes there is a guy who attacks in a way so out of the blue that it makes you hop out of your seat. This is classic platformer/brawler gameplay and it is mixed up so perfectly. If there is something I can praise without reservation about Knack it’s the pacing of the game. You fight one guy, he is tough, you figure out his pattern and you beat him. After that you fight two of them, you learn how to dodge between them and you defeat them. Ok – lessons learned! You know how to beat that guy. The following room has that guy, but it has 2 other enemies that you fought earlier. You’re trying to recall the pattern to each of them… you’re trying to figure out how their attacks will interact with each other. It’s hard. You die. As you die, however, you realize what went wrong and there is no way you are quitting the game. You’re going to kick the crap out of that room.
The problem is, if you consider it a problem, is that if you keep banging your head against each encounter you will eventually build up enough of your crystal meter to do a special move to kill everyone. It takes much longer and is not enjoyable in the slightest; but if you just want to do the same attack pattern over and over you will eventually get through it – many, many, hours after the rest of the world does. From what I can tell this is what most reviewers did. They talk about the combat being repetitive. That statement is ABSOLUTELY INSANE to me. Play a shooter, you hold down L2 – put the reticule over their head or chest – and pull R2. That’s the absolute definition of repetitive. Every single enemy in Knack requires a different strategy to defeat them. Or you can just keep beating your head against the wall and the game will let you through out of pity. A reviewer who has two next-gen launch lineups to get through in these few weeks will be frustrated as hell. Those of us that buy the game will enjoy these aspects of the game.
Knack has issues. The dialogue and characters, outside of Knack himself, are mediocre. They aren’t awful, you likely won’t hate any of them, but you aren’t falling in love with anyone in this game either. The graphics are exceptionally clear and everything looks really good but the worlds can be a bit static. There are things you can destroy but there are missing touches like trees swaying in the breeze or even birds flying overhead. Like I said earlier, this game isn’t knocking Jak or Ratchet from their perch. It’s a mechanically solid 3d platformer/brawler, it looks good, it sounds good, it’s a lot of fun…. but it is not reinventing the genre. This isn’t “next-gen” 3d platforming. Hell, it isn’t even last gen as this genre peaked on the PS2.
The press hates this game, generally. That’s fine, I’m not really looking to take on the press at large. All I am hoping to convey is that Knack is worth a go if you like this type of game. If you don’t believe me watch a stream sometime. The most common comment when I stream it is “Wow this game looks awesome, why did it get hammered in reviews?”
I don’t know… but streaming being built into the PS4 and Xbox One may mean the end of looking to the press for reviews. If they weren’t terrified after how off the mark they were with Mass Effect 3… this game and others being streamed, and enjoyed, may render them moot. This isn’t system wars stuff either… next week there will be Xbox One games that gets murdered by the press and people will watch streams and think “wait, that actually looks cool.” Toodles, gaming press.