Just finished Knack
on PS4. Oh dear Lord...
So, the game has a metascore of 54 which, let's be honest, indicates a pretty lousy game. However, I actually assumed that it's just a mediocre game that got lots of extra slack due to being a AAA launch title for a new console generation, (which it clearly failed as). But God damn, no, it's a game that, excluding parts
of the presentation, belongs in the same league as all those crappy shovelware movie adaptations everyone knows and loves.
But first let me get this out of the way: as a big new thing, and an introduction to this console generation, it's a failure on so many levels. There's the obvious thing that they stuck with a minimalistic cartoonish visual style, that frustrated people the moment the game was announced. I kept telling myself back then "well, it's not what we expected, but come on, a game that looks like a Pixar movie is a pretty amazing thing, when you think about it". Well, no. The game really looks very last gen most of the time, just at a higher resolution than possible on the PS3, and manages to suffer from slowdowns while doing so. Damn. To make things worse: the cutscenes, the part that looks best (but is still a far cry from modern CG animated films) are actually pre-rendered. Once in a while there's a nice sight in this game, but those are total exceptions and nothing breathtaking.
Then there's the thing that Knack is a total failure as a mascot. I'm pretty sure he gets maybe one thing right on any checklist of good mascot design (which would be his unique power). He's just dull and unlikable - and when I finally heard him talk with that "cool black dude" voice, always throwing around cocky one-liners, never demonstrating any actual personality it occurred that he's a real-world Poochie
. But where the game really fails is that it's as archaic as it gets. I mean, it's literally a God of War clone, it even inherited the latter's control scheme with dodging on the right analogue stick. The game intended as a showcase title for a new console generation was a simplified inferior clone of the showcase title of two console generations prior. Holy shit.
In spite of all that it could still be a great game, right? But it's not. The moment you assume control of Knack you can just feel that something isn't right and it only gets worse as you go. The game isn't just badly designed, they literally botched everything they could. Some of it can surely be attributed to the fact that the game had to be rushed for the PS4 launch but some stuff just leaves me scratching my head, especially considering that some it could have been easily fixed in a patch but was not. First off: the game is really just a brawler - nothing less, nothing more. There are these moments that pretend to be platforming sections or puzzle sections but they aren't. I mean, hitting a switch that opens a door two feet next to it is hardly a puzzle, is it? And it's hardly platforming when you just need to press X a few times to reach a higher location, without any need for any sort of precision or effort. And it's hardly stealth gameplay when you just turn "invisible" so you can walk through lasers but can't avoid any enemies.
So, is the combat at least any good? It is not. There's literally one attack button that can do a three-hit-combo, there's a spin attack that you can do in the air and, as I discovered by checking out the trophies, I noticed that there's also a dash attack, that is, you can press the attack button while evading. That's it. Wait, no, there's also three super attacks which you can perform once in a while but they aren't really part of the combat system, they are really rather a "fuck it" option that you use whenever you're not in the mood to actually fight, as either one will usually destroy anything on screen. Anyway, there's nothing to the combat. Dodge attacks as you run at an enemy, hit a few times, repeat. One might argue that almost all action games work like this. Well, in brawlers there's usually lots of variables at play, at least the good ones. Positioning is important, reading the battlefield, using the various means at your disposal. Here it's really just evading and hitting. Period.
But where the game really falls apart is the "balancing". Saying that makes me feel dirty because it kinda implies that any sort of balancing has been done on the game. Well, it honestly feels like it hasn't. For one thing, regardless of how big you are, you can always only take a puny amount of hits. You can be a giant but the game has this obsession with making you die from a few tiny attacks which goes against everything you see on the screen. How does this massive, seemingly immortal, giant made of floating rocks die from a few hits? The most insane thing is that this stays true even if you "grow big", which actually extends your health bar. It's the first time I've ever seen in a game that there's a growing health bar but damage seems to scale along with it. To make it worse, health pickups aren't just rare and badly placed, most of the time all health pickups between checkpoints aren't enough to fully heal you, heck, sometimes all health pickups aren't enough to make you survive a single additional hit. The primary method of replenishing health is just dying and respawning. And even more insanely, the amount of health you get from pickups is entirely arbitrary. The visually same pickup will sometimes give you a tiny bit of health, fully heal you or - I shit you not - not replenish any health at all! And what does growing big actually give you? It makes you move faster, deal more damage and gives you a larger attack range. It changes the combat from unbearable to barely passable. It does not extend your health, as the growing health bar implies.
Another botched thing are collectables. There's a crapload of secret areas in the game. Some of these contain chests. These contain upgrades. The only problem: there's a crapload of sets and you need all pieces from a single set to actually get an upgrade. And what you get is actually randomised. Apparently there's a genuine risk of not getting a single upgrade in a single playthrough (and I pity the fool who would willingly suffer through the game more than a single time). Personally I completed two of the items in the game, one of which was entirely useless (indicating when a health pickup is nearby) and the other meh (slowly replenishing super powers by killing enemies).
And another big offender is that they've created this mascot with amazing abilities but the game doesn't utilise them in any
way. How big Knack doesn't just not do much, it's entirely predefined by your progress. Sometimes you're big, sometimes you're small, you have no control over that. Sometimes Knack changes forms and will absorb ice or wood or glass, which makes him look different, but doesn't really give Knack any special powers. On the contrary, they add weaknesses: wood can catch fire and slowly burn down, ice will melt in the sun. In both cases you gradually lose health.
And finally some more meta fuckups: while there's tons of checkpoints, the game only saves progress per chapter. A few times I had to replay an entire chapter because I quit the game just before finishing one. And there's a coop mode, as it turns out. That one just happens to be entirely undocumented. You just have to plug in a second controller and push something and another Knack appears. Even some reviews I read mentioned that the game is singleplayer only, that's how obscure the coop mode is. And the game just drags on and on and on. There's like four moments where it felt like the credits should be rolling very soon but that moment just never came. The game always found an excuse to add another chapter that adds almost nothing to the experience. God dammit.
Is there something good to say about the game? Well, when you're big there's some
fun to be had from the combat. Smashing things is kinda satisfying then. The story and acting are okay
. The music is pretty good, if repetitive and generic and the sound design is really good.
Anyway, that's Knack, for ya: Suffering for the whole family!