Why (most) reviewers are wrong about Knack

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.

8 thoughts on “Why (most) reviewers are wrong about Knack

  1. I agree that some of the reviews have been a little out there for what seems to be, at the very least, a polished game. I’m a little put out, because I’ve really felt myself on the Knack defense force (as it were) for months leading up to launch. Player One Podcast was even guilty of pooh poohing the game at times that I found baffling over the last few months.

    I haven’t been able to play the game, so any attempt at forming an opinion is instantly moot, but I did watch it streamed for a solid hour and it left me disturbingly cold. Now, maybe it was a bad hour. Maybe they weren’t playing right. I dunno, I don’t have my hands on a controller here. I’ll just say I’m not sure I totally see the comparison to games like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Sly, etc, from a gameplay perspective. They just seem too different to me. I actually find more similarity to Devil May Cry than those other games. I think your descriptions of the gameplay accentuate that, because they would describe why I like Devil May Cry.

    I dunno where I’ll fall. I’ll definitely play it, eventually. God knows, I’ve played worse. It’s no fun to just play critically acclaimed games, anyway.

    I”m just not feeling as big on it now as I did when it was announced. That has nothing to do with reviews, but seeing the game in action. That’s a major bummer. But you’re right to point out that reviews can sometimes descend upon a fantastic (or at least good and fun) game. I liked Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire for the Wii, a game not a single person seemed to enjoy. I am still convinced to this day that the gaming press didn’t even bother to learn how to use Wii motion controls properly in that game.

  2. Reviewers want to get through a game as quickly as possible, especially when you have a stack of games for two systems to review in a short period of time. Owners of the game will want the game to last as long as possible because they want to get the most out of their purchase. So naturally they’re going to rush through it.
    I guess that explains why when I’d watch early videos of “gaming journalists” playing it, they would rush through each level. They wouldn’t explore or try to figure out an enemies attack and they would die constantly. What’s the rush? When I finally played it though, I took my time, explored, learned, and died very infrequently.
    If you look at the Knack review thread on Neogaf, you notice something interesting. People dump on the game and talk doom and gloom after the reviews come out. Then after it’s released you start seeing more and more people disagreeing with the reviews. Finally it becomes a near universal praise-fest for the game (with a few exceptions).
    I just wish more people would give the game a fair shake.

  3. I just wrote a review on Amazon for Knack. I’m enjoying it, and I hadn’t even considered some of your points, particularly that you can either learn an enemy in a room, or keep dying, gain more power in your crystal meter, and the game will eventually let you wipe out a room with a super power (I’ve done that a few times). I said in my review that the reviewers seem to be looking for a next gen 3D platformer/brawler. But it’s more of an old school platformer/brawler on a next gen console. In some ways it’s like Demon’s/Dark Souls, except it’s a bit more forgiving with giving you a refillable crystal meter. With the Souls games you just keep dying until you figure it out or you give up. 🙂

  4. Knack has been very good and refreshing so far. I haven’t played a game like this in years and playing on Hard is a great challenge.

    You make a great point regarding the streaming capability as well. This will probably be a game changer this generation (pun intended). It’s easy to watch someone play to see if you will like the game. You can ask questions and get an idea without reading the reviews.

  5. Very nice write up. I agree with your comments concerning the reviewers. Even though the gameplay for Knack has been coined “repetitious,” shooters are repetitious in gameplay but its almost as if we have been trained to accept it. Once a game like Knack comes along that offers simple controls yet a strong challenge its almost confusing that we do not breeze through the enemies…to the point of negativity. I love the fact that there is strategy for each boss encounter. Not to mention, I have spent more time with this game than any other so far this launch. There are areas to fine tune but if so many people are enjoying this now, I can only think what a sequel could become. Personally, I think its a blast and co-op is just an added bonus.

    Lastly, your little jab about streaming taking the place of reviewers is priceless. Its nice to see some real people playing games. I watched a friend stream Puppeteer for the PS3 some time ago and I fell in love with it and purchased it…yet I never even heard of it before then! A new way to review could be upon us.

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