In March Knack was available to download as part of PS Plus’ monthly drop of free games. Ever since the launch of the PlayStation 4 I’ve always thought Knack looked a little ropey so I’ve never been inclined to play it. Over the PS4’s lifetime Knack has become somewhat of a joke and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “I’ll play it when it’s free with PS Plus.” Well, that time has come and gone and I no longer have an excuse to avoid it.
The good news is I’ve finished it. The bad news is I didn’t enjoy it.
I must be a glutton for punishment because the entire game was a chore that frustrated me to no end and yet after a few hours away from it I always found myself booting it back up. “I’ll just go a little further,” I’d say. “I’ll do one more chapter and call it a day.”
It’ll be a surprise to absolutely nobody that it never ended so pleasantly.
Quite the opposite actually. Although I continued to ‘go a little further’ I never ‘called it a day’ so amicably. It was more like, “fuck this bullshit, I need to watch Jeremy Kyle to calm down!” Imagine that – having to watch that level of tripe to lower your blood pressure.
My problem was never with the grotesque art direction, which was gross by the way. Everything looked like it had been modelled out of playdough. Ryder’s stubble looks like maggots are trying to escape through his chin, for fuck sake. Eurgh. Even the plot, predictable as it was, was forgiveable. It was an unsophisticated Good vs Evil children’s story and I’m grateful it didn’t pretend to be anything else but that.
No, my problem was with the game. The sum of its parts. Its purpose for being. Here’s a brief list of problems I had that make me want to tar and feather Mark Cerny:
- You can’t control the camera
- Dodging doesn’t work unless prompted to do so
- The combat lacks accuracy and consistency
- You can double jump for seemingly no reason
- The collectibles don’t unlock anything on your first playthrough
- I’m expected to play this more than once!?
- You can’t save it where you want (pedantic, I know, but it’s my list)
Now let me unpack that list for you!
Knack was made in 2013. The DualShock 4 has a second analogue stick, a stick that most current games use to let you control the camera. What does Knack do with this technology instead? It doesn’t let you control the camera, that’s for sure!
Why it’s a problem: Perspective, man. In a game where you can move in three-dimensional space, where there is noticeable depth, being able to view where you’re going or what you’re hitting would be advantageous. But nah, lock that ability up and throw away the key.
The right analogue stick is used for dodging. Flick it in any direction and Knack will roll that way. Also, when prompted to do so Knack will dodge an attack. Cool. Cool, cool, cool.
Why it’s a problem: Why am I still getting hit then? What’s the point of rolling away if you can’t roll far enough away? And don’t get me started on those QTEs. They have less of a success rate than you do on Tinder. Maybe the QTEs are fine and I’m the one who’s too slow and stupid to hit the button quickly enough but you know what irks me the most? When I know a robot is about to fire a missile, so I dodge the missile, but then I get hit by the missile because the QTE didn’t instruct me to dodge the missile. I’m capable of dodging the missile on my own. Geez!
I lied when I said dodging missiles irked me the most. The inaccuracy of the combat is what irks me the most, mainly because it’s the bread-and-butter of the game so I expect it to work when I ask it to. Sometimes Knack would hit an opponent from feet away with a long arm. Sometimes he wouldn’t. Sometimes Knack wouldn’t land a hit if you were sitting on your opponent. Was it clipping? Hell if I know!
Why it’s a problem: I can’t play a game comfortably if I find the main gameplay mechanics unpredictable. This shouldn’t even be a point of contention because it should work without question. It should be rewarding and encouraging; not flimsy and unbalanced. I swear to god the enemy’s attack animations were prioritised over my own. You’d expect to stagger an enemy’s flow by landing a solid fist in their face but I always felt my attacks were being interrupted.
Knack can jump and double jump. You’ve seen Mario jump, right? That guy deserves the moniker Jumpman. Knack can barely lift his fat arse off the ground. From this day forth we shall refer to Knack as… Barelyjumpman!
Why it’s a problem: Don’t give me the ability to double jump if it doesn’t do shit. Knack – sorry, Barelyjumpman – can turn into a giant beast and he will still struggle to climb up a step. Little Barelyjumpman I get. That’s a smart design choice to make Little Barelyjumpman unable to mount a curb. Kudos to that. But when you’re anything larger than Medium Bare- I can’t keep this up – anything larger than Medium Knack you should be able to cover more height in a double jump. I’ve done the math and it’s not adding up.
There are collectible machine parts but from what I can tell (I didn’t collect them all) you can’t assemble any of them on your first playthrough. Which means you can go through the entire game without levelling up. Which means you can use them on your second playthrough.
Why it’s a problem: I have to play Knack AGAIN to use them.
You can save your progress but it’s as pointless as a spoon. You’re best off reaching a checkpoint because you’ll wind up starting off from there anyway.
Why it’s a problem: I did admit that this one was pedantic but for good reason! Here’s why: I had just started a new chapter and a couple of minutes later I had to go out, so I saved my game, turned off the PS4, and got on with my day. Next time I boot Knack up I’m at the start of the chapter. So why did it let me save my progress if it was going to send me back to the start? Even worse, a few steps forward from where I saved was a cutscene, which would have triggered a checkpoint and an automatic save. Which means I could have avoided this mess if I had activated the cutscene (my fault) or if Knack just picked up from where I saved it (the game’s fault). I know which of the two I blame.
I’m bored of talking about Knack and you’re probably bored reading about it so I’ll wrap this up. Don’t play Knack. It feels like a dated platformer from the PS2 era. Luckily, if you have PS Plus, you don’t have to waste your money but do me a solid and don’t waste your time. Life is short. So is shortbread.