In the modern era there probably isn’t a bigger gaming joke than Knack. The PS4’s very own punchline, it’s got something of a bizarre reputation. Before its release on PS Plus it was common to see “but where’s Knack lol” in every PlayStation blog post about upcoming free games. I’m not quite sure why Knack was singled out, after all, it’s not the first hyped up launch game that disappointed.
The child of Mark Cerny, lead architect of the PS4, upon its first reveal it had that Japanese style (like an Ape Escape or something in that vein) and looked to really be a showpiece for the technical aspects of the hardware. Knack is a creature that can grow by having multiple pieces fly and attach themselves to him. Technically then it looked impressive when it was shown on stage. It just never clicked together as a game, something I discovered when it finally arrived on PlayStation Plus.
Knack from the outside looked like it was aiming for the children/family market, but it soon became apparent that the style of the game definitely didn’t match the difficulty. While there are a number of games out there aimed at the younger folks who treat them as complete morons, whether it is because it impossible to die or they feature puzzles that are no different than putting the correct shape in the right hole, Knack is the complete opposite. It’s difficult to the point of frustration. While in your small form only a couple of hits will kill you, and when you’re being attacked from all angles it’s difficult to dodge. It becomes a little easier when you become Big Knack, but it’s never a walk in the park as even then they throw bigger and more powerful enemies at you. Checkpoints are sometimes further away than they need to be also adding to the frustration.
It’s definitely a game that needs patience, sometimes more than you’re willing to give. On multiple occasions, I almost put the controller down and never returned, yet there was something that kept pulling me back. I just had a sheer determination to see it through to the end, wanting to find out where the story would take these characters. Not that the story is anything to shout about, but it kept me intrigued. Weirdly during the first half, they almost implied that the goblins (who Knack and the humans find themselves at odds with) are almost the oppressed species and it was the humans who struck first in the war. Now that would’ve actually been a really neat flipping of the script, but that idea is too good for Knack and despite the hints of this early on, it’s quickly dropped as we enter a standard “search for the MacGuffin” plot device. Oh well.
Probably the strangest thing about Knack’s existence though is the fact that this was a launch game designed to show off the tech. And for a game in that position to have this much slowdown is quite unforgivable. When the action picks up with multiple characters on screen then the framerate takes a significant dip. Not unplayable, but noticeable enough that you can’t help but wonder how this made it through to the finished product. Even worse is that I’m playing the game many years later and Sony never felt the need to patch a fix (if they could).
Putting my thoughts into words has made me somewhat realise that my time with Knack may have been spent better elsewhere. Maybe it was my sense of completionism, or just the need to see if the game deserves its reputation, but I made it through to the end credits. It’s not a terrible game. It’s an average one that was positioned as something it wasn’t. Sony probably needed something more family orientated for its launch, and that responsibility fell fully on Mark Cerny’s little child’s shoulders.
Does it deserve the reputation then? Not at all. Let’s all laugh at Bubsy instead.