A Knack Is A Natural Talent . . . So Why Does “Knack” Feel So Unnatural?

Knack is basically Katamari Bandicoot, which is to say, it’s a demanding, cutesy, combat-centered adventure title in which the central character, Knack, goes around absorbing relics and growing ever bigger. While our hero at first has to content himself with dodging miniature robots, baby spiders, and goblin grunts, he’ll soon be facing off against tanks, relic monsters, and goblin cyborgs, and that’s pretty neat. That said, beyond learning how to dodge the various enemy combinations, there’s very little to do.

As the debut title for the PS4, and the first entry in a new intellectual property, I can forgive some of Knack‘s missteps–it is, after all, exceedingly pretty and showcases the depth of field, particle effects, and lighting that the new system can do. But it often seems more interested in showing off the ways in which the system can render Knack’s wooden form once it’s lit on fire than in exploring the sorts of puzzles that this might provoke.There’s a clever scene in which Knack bulks up with ice crystals and then has a limited amount of time to use his massive size to power through a series of defenses before the sun literally melts him back down to normal size, and that’s about it. Knack gains the ability to shift between his normal and ultra-fragile, laser-reflecting “Stealth” state in just two of the nearly seventy levels. When Knack’s absorbed steel, he has to watch out for magnets; when he’s poisoned, he needs to make sure he collects all the relics on his path, lest he run out of energy: it’s a shame these novel abilities show up in less than 5% of the game. Everything else is just a melange of combat scenarios, whether in the middle of a besieged metropolis or in the bowels of a volcano. Sure, there’s the occasional bit of platforming–an incomplete airship is literally full of holes, and there’s a trap-filled labyrinth–but this rare exceptions only serve to highlight how few and far between they are.

Knack isn’t a bad game by any measure–but it’s not particularly impressive, either, and some of the aesthetic choices are downright frustrating. Somewhat unresponsive controls, especially as Knack grows bigger, make it unfairly hard to dodge enemies. Spamming Knack’s special moves can help, but because energy is rare and your stockpile–or lack thereof–is carried over when restoring a checkpoint (i.e., if you spend it unwisely and die, it’ll be even harder to make it through the section you’re stuck on), you’ll most likely end up hoarding it. Special items also improve Knack’s chances of survival, but in addition to being squirreled away in secret rooms, they’re also randomly awarded, which means that you may not get the gadgets (or alternative forms) you’re looking for until a second playthrough, if even. And while you can use social media to gain additional drops–you can swap items you don’t want for items that your friends have found, and there’s a companion match-three puzzle app–it’s annoying that this side content is practically mandatory when playing on the higher difficulties.

Very Hard, Time Trial, Arena Challenges, and a Chapter Select all unlock once you’ve completed the game, and it’s a testament to Knack‘s mediocrity (especially in the cliched story department) that most players won’t even bother with them. Once through is more than enough time to see everything Knack has to offer.

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