The next generation of consoles and their associated launch games are now upon us, and despite the Xbox One having the family-friendly Kinect peripheral and all the extra fancy entertainment features, it’s the PlayStation 4 that boasts the most pure family-friendly next-gen game with Knack. Directed by the PS4’s lead architect Mark Cerny, Knack serves as a bit of a showcase for the PS4’s capabilities while also providing a fun, if not sometimes flawed, gaming experience that a wide range of ages can enjoy. It’s nice to see options for families when many console launches tend to cater to the hardcore gamer, and fortunately Knack performs admirably enough to warrant consideration.[row][divider_1px]
What is Knack?
Single Player – Knack is predominantly a brawler/beat ‘em up game with some platforming elements. You play as a Knack, a “robot” made out of ancient relics that can grow in size as he absorbs more of the relics. You’ll spend most of the game using melee attacks against multiple enemies.
Multiplayer – A second local player can jump in and out of the game as Robo Knack, a smaller, silver version of Knack (hence why my kids decided to name him “Chrome”) who assists the main player with taking on enemies and does not affect progress when defeated. Ideal for younger or less skilled gamers, but also a great asset when used.
Story – The main campaign can be quite long, hitting anywhere from 12-18 hours, though it’s fairly repetitive and the story writing is fairly simple. It’s quite apparent that this is focused on a younger audience. The plot revolves around a conflict between humans and goblins, though things apparently are not always as cut and dry in this conflict as they may seem.
Difficulty – Hard. You may want to play on Easy as we found Normal difficulty to be challenging and sometimes frustrating. You cannot change the difficulty setting once you’ve started the story.[divider_1px][/row]
A Knack for carnage
Knack is a fairly repetitive game. Go to an area, beat up all enemies, go to the next area, rinse and repeat. There will be some platforming involved to sometimes break things up, but that’s not the focus of this game. At least the combat is fairly satisfying, and some of the heavily populated enemy areas will require a bit of strategy to defeat. This gets intensified as Knack picks up relics and grows into a massive, destructive force. Good thing or not, the game heavily controls Knack’s size to fit the section of the chapter that he’s in, so it’s not something you have much direct control over.
A Knack for punishment
Knack is old-school hard, especially considering that it seems skewed a bit towards a younger audience. We played on Normal difficulty and at times regretted that choice. Some areas will feature multiple bad guys with a mix of ranged, area of effect, and heavy close attacks. Trying to account for all of these and avoid the odd cheap one-hit kill is a lot to manage. Plus, the special attack meter fills up really slowly, forcing you to be conservative with using your specials. I’d have liked to have seen the game be less stingy with them, but I guess that’s supposed to add to the challenge.
And when you do fall in battle, the checkpoint system will sometimes have you pulling your hair out. You’re not quite sure where checkpoints are, and if you fall in just the wrong place, you’ll find yourself sent back three or four areas that you have redo again until you get it right. Fortunately there’s no Game Over screen (you’ll probably die a lot), but a few times I found myself saying, “I’m all the way back HERE again?!?!”
A Knack for helping out
Knack features local co-op play, which ends up being very useful (provided you shelled out for a second controller). It allowed my kids to jump in and help me out, which came in handy in some of the trickier spots. Instead of being two equals, a second player plays as Robo Knack, an unacknowledged smaller version of Knack who acts in an assisting capacity. As he defeats enemies, he gains health that can be transferred to Knack proper when his health bar is taking a beating.
Thanks to our friends at FamilyGamerTV for the video.
In addition, Robo Knack is ideal as a scout/fodder who can charge into battle, attracting enemy attention and weakening them for Knack to try and finish them off. If Robo Knack falls, there’s a recharge period and he can jump right back into play. This actually makes for an ideal way of playing with kids as they’re essentially invincible and can take risks. That is, if you don’t mind having your kids exposed to Knack-on-goblin and Knack-on-human violence. Fortunately, there’s no blood involved as vanquished enemies simply disappear.[row][span2][/span2][span8][divider_1px]
A quick note on this, since this is our first PS4 title. Remote play on the Vita worked fairly well, though proximity to my router was key. Plus, I found connecting my PS4 to a LAN instead of WiFi helped a bit too. The main issue is that the Vita’s WiFi antenna can be generously described as subpar, which made getting and keeping a connection a challenge at times. My PS4 and router are in my basement and I was able to play down there, and in certain rooms on the main floor of my house. You can also have the Vita connect directly to the PS4 since it can act as a wireless hotspot for that purpose, though you’re still at the mercy of the Vita’s WiFi antenna. Remote Play may end up best serving the same function as the Wii U’s GamePad in that you can play a game on your PS4 while the TV is being used for other purposes.
As for playability when I did get a good connection, Knack only uses the two analog sticks and the four face buttons, which makes it a simple transition to play on the Vita and a good demonstration of just how useful this feature has the potential to be.[divider_1px][/span8][span2][/span2][/row]
A Knack for adjustments
I’m used to playing open world games where the right analog stick is used for changing the camera, so it took some time to adjust to the fact that Knack uses a fixed camera angle and maps dodging to the right stick. Once you do adjust, that dodge can be useful against certain enemies, but you’ll have to get over that initial instinct. Plus, the fixed camera for the most part works, but there were time times I’d wished I could change the angle I was looking at, especially when I was at the far end of a room and an enemy was at the near end of the room out of my sight line.
The GamerPops Recommendation
Knack is not a game that will make you rush out and buy a PlayStation 4. But if you already have the system and you’re looking for something fun to play with the kids, it’s worth a pickup, and not just by default. Despite some of the game’s frustrating elements, it’s still an enjoyable romp that makes it easy for kids to get into, and in fact almost seems designed so that you’ll *want* to get their help. Knack will eventually get surpassed by another game, like most launch titles, but for now, it’s the go-to game for families that find a PS4 under their Christmas tree.
A review copy was provided to GamerPops.
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