Knack: As We Play

As we play offers the thought strands of the reviewer as they’re going through the game. This offers unique content for the reader so they can come to understand the conflicting feelings of the reviewer as they’re playing a game for the very first time. All feedback on this concept is welcome.

My Secret Weapon…Knack

So, Knack is basically an amalgamation of ancient stones and relics, morphed into a living, breathing, robotic entity. And he likes to go around punching things, shooting things and turning into a big ol’ tornado that destroys things.

Sounds like the perfect way to show off a next-gen console.

The problem with Knack straight away, is that you can see its limitations as a platformer. I guess we’ve all been spoiled. The LEGO Games continue to be absolutely exceptional, and Mario is still schooling everyone who attempts to hijack the genre. Knack feels so underwhelming in comparison, and is, without doubt, the least next-gen game of all those released at launch.

But surely with a next-gen platformer things will be different, right? Well, the right stick isn’t used to control the camera and instead is used as a dodge attack for our hero – ala God of War. The game also makes use of some of the DS4’s unique features, such as sound in the controller. But apart from that, it’s all very similar with X to jump, press it again for a double jump and square to punch. All very familiar.

Still, it has character and focus and does mix things up with a bit with the gadgets and crystal relics. Combining these elements increases Knack’s traits, such as his strength, health and more.

But is that really enough for a next-gen platformer at this point?

Next-Gen eyebrows

Knack and his ensemble cast offer a distinct art-style, distinguishing it from anything else that has previously come along. You see Playstation 4 ads, or any promotion to do with the console, Knack’s face will probably be the first thing to spring to mind. The game has clearly been designed to sell systems and has familiar gameplay staples that will ensure it finds its way into many owners homes

That spiky hair and those eyebrows, unquestionably, maketh the man/thing/being/hoodlum. Although we can’t escape the similarity to Crash Bandicoot. Sorry…

The game runs smoothly, but doesn’t really make much of a difference whether you’re in 1080 or 720 – leave that to Killzone – and realistically, doesn’t give you that ‘WOW! I’ve got an awesome, all-powerful new console’ effect.

It still looks pretty good, runs good and seems to play good. That’s all you need, right?

Eh, if only it was that simple…

Orcs and Goblins for a snack

As if there weren’t enough comparisons to Xbox 360 launch title, Kameo, Knack also sees you fight against goblins. Yes, really.

There they are with their axes and crossbows, all intending to take down our bits-and-pieces hero. Your aim? Beat them down, then progress through each stage.

For the moment, there’s no real surprises here. Though, the one neat feature Knack offers is the ability to keep increasing the size of your character. Keep collecting ancient relics and the stature of Knack morphs, until he’s a towering giant with fists the size of giant boulders – and to compliment that, upon each relic collection, the controller makes the sound of LEGO bits coming together. How about that?

Also, if Knack collects yellow crystals, he can dish out some nice power-moves, such as an area-wide attack which sends out a shockwave, destroying anything in the immediate area.


There is satisfaction to be found, here. For instance, constructing the Knack menace, then trampling on goblins, or punching them to the other side of the screen induces unexpected carnage glee. Though I still prefer smashing things as LEGO Hulk.

I like the scaling damage, however. Obviously, a smaller Knack is going to take longer to beat a giant goblin than if he’s a larger, and this invites some challenging gameplay elements. With the checkpoints being pretty ruthless in the game, the game refuses mercy for any lapses in concentration. Knack is probably harder than you’re expecting. It’s actually quite easy to die between falling off unexpected ledges, as well as suffering defeat thanks to the damage output of Knack’s enemies, but, so far, the game hasn’t caused me to rage-quit and abandon entirely.

It’s not until 2-4 that you finally see how good the game looks. The outdoor lighting, coupled with the beautiful greenery and rippling water finally bring the game’s next-gen credentials into consideration. As well as the vibrancy, there’s nice subtle features, such as Knack’s Tornado effect actually creating a breeze, causing the leaves, trees and bushes to sway against the tide

So, when does this pick up?

I’m at 3-1 and I’m already feeling fatigued. Knack is a game that takes itself very seriously and can’t seem to release its inhibitions. While it’s unfair to compare the platformer to Mario 3D World, the differences are substantial. Mario is full to the brim with imagination, style, and innovation. Knack seems happy to plod along with repetitive sections, mechanics and ideas that don’t really seem to develop into anything remotely memorable. For instance, why not allow Knack to become fully-formed and battle against terrain and enemies as a giant? I know it’s coming, of course it’s coming, but I also know all of that is going to be kept until the end and it’s going to frustrate me. Save all the best ideas until the last third of the game, but force us to wade through repetitive slog for the first two thirds.

Sure, we’ve had quite a fair bit of diversity in the enemy roster, but only slight tweaks and changes. Big goblin, little goblin, flying bird and deadly traps. In 2013/14, we need to be doing better than that.

And another thing. The different characters that follow Knack around? Apart from a narrative twist, what purpose do they serve? More to the point, why are they serving no purpose? Why not take advantage of their individual skill-set and get them involved in the action as opposed to creating an un-interactive waste of animation and screen-time? I know Knack is an all-purpose, bad-ass being that flies solo and all that, but at least try and make the cast of characters you’ve created somewhat engaging, eh?


Progressing even further and now i’m wielding ice as an additional shield, supposed to protect me against the strongest of attacks. Except i’m being one-shotted by archers and forced to restart at the checkpoints. So much for being all-powerful..

There’s a part of me that thinks Knack isn’t designed to be that difficult, but that the designers didn’t actually realise how challenging the game was before going gold.

Entering super-sized finally brings us to the point of the game we’ve been waiting for. We want to be a large, all-powerful Knack that can go on a rampant spree. Except, this isn’t like LEGO. You can’t go around creating carnage, in fact, you’ve only got a very limited amount of the environment that can be crushed and destroyed. Ugh… It feels like every great idea that should be in here was purposefully taken out and kept back for a sequel or something. What is the point of me being this size? I can’t even walk through a wooden scaffolding structure, I actually have to punch it. I can’t take down the walls of this fort. I can still receive a substansial amount of damage from small underlings.

Really, what is the point? The only difference is that i’m fighting tanks and can now pick them up and throw them around. The amount of damage they inflict on me, however, you’d hardly think i’m quadruple the size of everything else. And even when i’m throwing a dead tank at another tank. Guess what? It hardly blinks. It still keeps charging at me with a ‘Yeah, and…’ attitude. Geez, this game…

It’s all in the family

One aspect of Knack I do really like, though, is the finding of chests, and the ability to pick a treasure that any of your friends have found during their playthrough. It lets you collect more rare items, but can also help you finish your collections much quicker. Nice touch and a good use of community features.

Some Areas marked for patching and improvement

  • Offer better checkpoints!
  • Consider the difficulty and the rate of damage compared to the damage that can be inflicted
  • (Any others? Let us know)

Final Analysis

For the type of game it tries to be, Knack is horrifying. There is fun to be had here and the game is enjoyable, but when you reach certain sections, it can’t decide whether it wants to be a game for the hardest core of gamer or for a casual that wants an entry level title for their Playstation 4 and something to play with their kids.

The checkpoint system is among the worst in recent memory, the morphing of Knack may as well not come into play as his size and stature have no bearing on the environment whatsoever and the fact that the character can be one shotted by several enemy types – despite having full health and armor – is unnecessarily brutal and heavy-handed.

Still, Knack introduces some neat ideas with online co-op and the reward sharing system. As platformers go, it’s an entertaining enough way to spend a few hours. The problem is, it could and should have been much more. The game feels held back far too often and it’s hardly a showcase next-gen title that gives a feel for the horsepower the Playstation 4 is capable of.

I find myself unable to look past those frustrations to outright recommend Knack and am left wondering why Sony didn’t feel the same way.

Time Played: Ten Hours

If you have any specific questions about the game, noticed any problems or don’t feel we’ve answered something specifically enough, sound off in the comments below and we’ll get right on replying.

About the author

Ray Willmott

Ray is one of the original founders of Expansive. He is also a former Community Manager for Steel Media, and has written for a variety of gaming websites over the years. His work can be seen on Pocket Gamer,, Gfinity, and the Red Bull Gaming Column. He has also written for VG247, Videogamer, GamesTM, PLAY, and MyM Magazine,
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