Sony’s extensive collection of production studios has never succeeded in creating a family-friendly action game to stand alongside the finest Mario adventures, but that hasn’t stopped them trying. And that makes Knack’s failings all the more galling. This is a game with none of the Ratchet & Clank series’ grinning humour or satisfyingly experimental weaponry, nor the bright characterisation or kinetic appeal of the best Jak And Daxter titles. It wants desperately to be a joyous romp but over its 49 levels, dragged out across 13 chapters, turns out to be a plodding slog.
Mostly, this is down to its combat, which is weighted so heavily over the only other key element – jumping around the place – that the flimsy, unengaging platform-based sections might as well not exist. Enter an area, identify your opponents, exploit the same simple patterns you’ve used during your 50 prior meetings with these types, and run along past some pleasantly rendered but uneventful scenery to begin the process anew. At its heart, it’s the same sort of action that powers the Skylanders series, but it lacks the range of shiny collectibles, the charisma and, obviously, the variety of characters and physical toy counterparts of Activision’s child-entrancing powerhouse.
It doesn’t help that Knack’s pacing veers about so haphazardly. The lead character’s ability to change in size and makeup depending on what can be absorbed around you means that one moment you’re puny and vulnerable and the next you’re a brutal mass capable of destroying a tank with a snappy flurry of punches. But then the game contrives to strip you of your power, and the sense of progression is crushed immediately.
In your character’s basic state, Knack is at its most frustrating, a crowd of enemies capable of wiping the floor with your weedy body in an instant, necessitating restarts from checkpoints that are doled out at a miserly rate. For a game ostensibly aimed at younger players, going up against titles such as Lego Marvel Super Heroes, Knack can’t help feeling like something of an antique.
The game also fails as a high-profile PS4 launch title in terms of what it’s putting onscreen. The particle effects serve their purpose, but everything from the vapid story sequences to the hackneyed goblin foes feels blandly feeble. A chapter setting entitled The Barren Wastes? Yes, you think, no need to ram it home.
About halfway through the game you encounter an area strewn with a dozen or so crates, so naturally you smash them all open. Just one box reveals anything of value. It’s an effort/reward ratio that feels entirely out of kilter for a game of this style, and one that reasonably sums up Knack as a whole.