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Knack
Score: 75%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Japan Studio
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2 (Co-Op)
Genre: Action/ Platformer

Graphics & Sound:
Knack is an action platformer that should feel right at home next to games like Ratchet & Clank or Jack and Daxter, but while it seems to have all the right parts, something feels lacking.

Visually speaking, Knack looks good. It wonít win any awards for realism, but the gameís stylized nature means that it isnít supposed to. That being said, itís hard to see anything that looks like it is truly pushing the PS4ís limits and seems to be a game that could easily have been released on the PlayStation 3. The only aspect that might contradict this claim is that the levels seem to grow quite large, well actually, small since itís your character that grows. That being said, this is more about the game playing with scale than it necessarily holding a lot of massive models, something that still feels feasible on the previous console.

Audio-wise, Knack and the other named characters have pretty competent voice actors selling the gameís story. None of the characters really say all that much while in the midst of battle, so most of the gameís dialogue is contained in the pre-rendered videos, but at least that means you wonít be hearing one-liners over and over again. As for Knackís background music, it gets the job done and keeps the energy up, but there is nothing truly memorable about it.


Gameplay:
Knackís main mechanic is the titular characterís ability to absorb relics and become larger and stronger versions of himself. When the game starts, and actually at the start of each of the gameís locations, Knack is small and has a fairly short lifebar. As you make your way through the levels, you will collect relics and as you grow to the different versions of Knack, you can not only deal out more damage, but the longer health bar means you can take more attacks. At least thatís how the game appears on the surface.

Knackís levels actually consists of a very linear map filled with narrow passageways that frequently open into clearings filled with enemies. As a result, the gameplay experience means that you walk into an open area, or room, or cavern or whatever, and tackle the bad guys that populate that area. Once thatís done, you move on and find the next mini-arena. While you do feel like you get more powerful as you gain more relics, this is actually a trick based on the scale that changes as your character grows. In the end, you are pretty much always a few direct hits away from restarting at the last checkpoint, itís just a matter of that damage being dealt by birds and bugs or massive mechs and ancient guardians.

Sure you feel like you can do more damage when you can take out an enemy with just one hit that previously took a lot of damage, but in reality, that enemy has just moved to a lower tier of opponent and something else has taken its place as the tough enemy that you have trouble getting past.

Much in the same way that Katamari is all about getting bigger and changing the scale of your perspective, Knack is all about scale as well, but where Katamari has you rolling over the same area over and over again to really sell you on the size increase, Knack just keeps pushing you into the next area. The result does make you feel like you are getting bigger, especially since you start climbing over buildings, but it just doesnít have the same impact that Katamari has.

There are several points where Knackís abilities get a little more interesting. Eventually, Knack learns that relics arenít the only thing he can absorb. When he sucks up clear crystals, he can shed all his opaque relics and sneak past trip lasers. When he grabs ice, wood or metal scraps, he has an added layer of shields that will take damage before he does. Unfortunately, there isnít really any strategy to these added abilities, itís all very scripted. It isnít like you get the ability to switch between Stealth and Ice Knack or anything like that. Once you are done with the stealth area, that ability is lost; once you donít need the metal shields any more, it is gone. While these abilities are fun to play with while you have them, donít grow too attached to them.


Difficulty:
Because of Knackís design, you will always find yourself fighting the same basic enemies from start to finish. Sure, they might look different or have slightly different abilities, but one bow-wielding troll is just like another mech with a rocket launcher. All that appears to change is the relative scale of your character and the world around him.

The result is that besides a few spikes in difficulty during some boss battles, Knack feels the same from beginning to end. Once you get a feel for a certain type of enemy, then all that matters is how you need to tackle the opponents in a particular arena, so that you can move on to the next fight. In a sense, this means that you can jump into the game at any point without any problems, even if youíve only learned the basic melee and ranged attacks.


Game Mechanics:
Like I said above, Knack doesnít change all that much. You learn your basic moves in the first level and thatís all you have at any point in the game. Besides your melee abilities, you can use the power of Sunstones to activate one of three super abilities. One is an area-of-effect attack, one turns you into a tornado of relics and another launches three projectiles that will typically take out whatever enemies they hit. These attacks are just as effective at the beginning of the game as they are at the end. Ironically enough, while Knack physically grows throughout the game, his characterís abilities donít grow at all.

In an attempt to alleviate this, Knack has the ability to use a few gadgets. These are unlocked by collecting gadget parts in secret chests hidden throughout the game. Each time you open one of these chests, you will collect a random piece or a piece of a gem (more on that soon). Once you complete a gadget, you can equip it in order to have added passive abilities. These range from being able to hold more Sunstones, to being able to use Sunstone as health or taking Sunstone power from fallen enemies. One gadget will even slow down time a bit, while another adds a combo meter to the game. While all of these are nice to have, they donít really add a lot of depth to the game.

The aforementioned gems are another attempt to give the game some extra gameplay value. If you collect enough of a particular type, then you unlock a variant of Knack and can eventually replay chapters of the game as these variations. One has a maximized defense, another has a higher attack, and even another will deal out a lot of damage, but your health will constantly decrease. These are interesting, but I found it hard to want to replay various parts of the game as these versions of Knack, once I completed the main story.

I enjoyed playing Knack. I really did, but donít expect to get sucked into the game and have marathon gaming sessions, because it gets repetitive fast. I found that I could easily sit and play a level or two before having to walk away for a while. It wasnít out of frustration or anything like that, it was just an easy game to put down and pick up later. In the end, I canít really see picking Knack up as a must have unless you are seriously looking for another reason to play your PS4 after youíve already thoroughly beaten whatever game you actually bought the system for.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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