Recently, one of the developers behind the PS4 launch title Knack said that because the PS4 was extremely easy to develop for, it shaved about a year off the game’s development time. However, after actually getting hands-on time with Knack at E3, I discovered another reason why the game has managed a speedy development process: it’s startlingly simplistic and unambitious.
This became noticeable the very moment I started walking around in Knack’s (admittedly beautiful) Pixar-esque world. The game’s levels are linear in ways that would make roller-coasters laugh, existing only to funnel you down to the next bit of gameplay. Oh sure, there’s occasionally a secret room housing a chest that in turn houses an upgrade component. However, when the breakable walls leading to said rooms are this easy to spot, the word secret probably needs quotation marks around it.
Actual gameplay isn’t much more imaginative either. Playing as a robot made of Toblerone-looking triangles that can morph into various forms, you run through levels beating up goblins, humans and robots. So yes, Knack doesn’t exactly reach for the stars when it comes to design. But you know what? After a while, I didn’t mind Knacks’s shallowness, because I was actually having… fffff… fffffffff…. FFFFFFFFFFFFFFF….. FUN.
Crazy, I know, but Knack is surprisingly polished, fast-paced and fair. Your punches deliver a satisfying sense of impact, often making enemies fly across the screen. Controls are incredibly fluid. Movement is speedy, but there’s also a feeling of lumbering weight to walking around when in giant form. Enemy attacks, be they melee or ranged, can always be dodged using the right stick, meaning they never feel cheap. Enemy types are quite varied. Pretty soon, I fell into a nice rhythm, smacking enemies and dodging their blows while breezing forward, breaking lamp posts, boxes and what have you to collect some kind of yellow energy.
And as I mentioned above, the game looks beautiful. The demo was incredibly disjointed, constantly warping me to drastically new locations that included city streets, ice caverns, and a mansion. However, all of the locations were awash in vibrantly pleasing colors and some terrific lighting. Human characters showed up occasionally, including what I think was supposed to be the boy protagonist and his dad, and they were nicely stylized, keeping with the game’s art direction.
It’s just a shame that, at least from what I played, the transformation aspect seemed like a complete gimmick. Whenever I could transform, the ability was completely situation specific. For example, I had to shift into invisibility form when faced with a hall full of lasers. Granted, it’s only a demo, so perhaps this mechanic will be expanded upon in the full game. Besides that, there were also rage attacks that could be pulled off by holding the Circle and another button. They’re nothing special, but they clear the screen well.
If one flaw pervades the entirety of Knack, it’s the complete lack of difficulty. To put it bluntly, this game is like a cakewalk where you win a cake just by showing up. Most enemies can be defeated in a mere punch or two, and even mini-bosses like tanks and goblin mechs are complete pushovers. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure I got hit once during the entirety of the demo. Whenever an enemy attack was about to connect, slow-mo would be enabled and a really obvious ‘dodge with right stick, you moron’ prompt would come up. I know the game’s meant for kids, but when I can enter a room and defeat every single foe in it in under 15 seconds, something’s not right.
Knack surprised me just enough for me to take it off my ‘shovelware’ list. It’s extremely simplistic, sure, to the point where it really has no business being on a console as technologically capable as the PS4. It’s also a complete cakewalk and didn’t do anything bold with its transformation premise from what I saw. Still, if all you’re looking for is a fun, polished and frustration-free beat ‘em up to shut up the kids during launch time, you could probably end up doing a lot worse than Knack. If nothing else, it should raise Toblerone’s market stock significantly.