Release Date: 15/11/2013
Played On: Playstation 4
Available On: PS4
Time Played: 10h 57m
Progress: Finished Story
Developer: SCE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
For a new console to have a killer game available on release day, it usually takes something special. Recently a whole bunch of people got excited about a new Zelda title gracing the shelves along with the Nintendo Switch. So much so, that the game has outsold the console (at time of writing). When I think back to awesome launch titles I've played, I inevitably draw a blank. Often it's much easier to remember the disaster of a game like Lair (PS3 launch), or some shoe-horned Kinect driven abomination.
Then there are the games that end up in the middle of the road and are quickly forgotten because they failed to live up to the hype of the new hardware they represented. Knack is one of these games, as it was largely canned for feeling like a launch title that was thrown together at the last minute, just to have something on the PS4 on release day.
I picked it up in a sale, and I don't think it's all that bad.
Part of me remembers being a kid when I would save up my pocket money and scour catalogues and magazines to find the perfect game to buy. The dollars I earned washing cars and weeding the garden were not to be wasted on any old trifle, so every title I picked had to be the best I could afford. There was no internet for reference, just pictures on paper and words of writers whose names I didn't even know.
More often than not, whatever hot game was around at the time and being discussed by my friends, was high on the shopping list. On the NES, I'd had fun spending an entire day playing International Cricket at a friend's house, so it had to find a place in my collection. Another friend and I sunk hours into Killer Instinct on the SNES, which came with a soundtrack CD that we quickly put on tape and carried with us as Walkman fuel to listen to when we were in class, away from the fun waiting back home.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. As time went on and cash flows went up, the opportunity for more games grew, so the need for quality dropped along with it. By the time I had a job and was earning my own money, I was more interested in trying out different games to see what they had to offer, than I was in sticking to a single purchase that had to last what seemed like a lifetime.
Ask a bunch of adult gamers these days and I'm sure that many of them will have a similar story. Many of us know what it's like to have limited funds and how it transforms a game into an experience that will last for ages. It doesn't matter if you end up with the greatest game ever made, or some soon to be forgotten middleware that you'll never pick up after it's replaced.
As adults, we don't care as much about the value of games, even if our enthusiasm remains strong. If I play a game I dislike, I can play something else. There are always options and ways to move on from a terrible experience, simply via the benefits of adult life and having a cash flow to spend how we choose.
It's why when I took to the internet and soaked up all I could about the Playstation 4 when it was released, I saw loads of people playing Knack, but none of them seemed to be enjoying themselves. Some were playing Killzone Shadow Fall, the other big exclusive for the PS4, but despite being admired for its graphics, no-one seemed to be enjoying that either.
Recently Sony announced that Knack 2 was underway; a move that had social media laughing at the prospect as something nobody wanted, but it piqued my interest. Was this sequel being made because Knack sold well (any launch title is better than none) or was it actually appreciated by the less vocal majority of gamers who don't stamp their feet online every day to complain about how imperfect gaming can be.
This is a logical leap that holds no water and is largely un-testable, so I'm not about to assume anything about how most people browsing social media think. Instead I figured I'd try out Knack for myself and at least make up my own mind.
There isn't much to say about Knack will blow anyone's mind, because it's just not that kind of game. As an adult with a huge library of titles available to enjoy, the best I can say about Knack is that it's a competent adventure that doesn't do anything amazing, but doesn't really do anything wrong either.
I'm forced to think about what I would have thought about the game if I were a kid, playing it through on the shiny new console I had saved up for with my pocket money. It's not always fair to critique something from an imaginary perspective where the conditions are just right, but in this case I think Knack deserves it. I found myself enjoying my time a whole lot more when I played it as I would have all those years ago.
There are loads of frustrating elements to Knack, which are unavoidable and deserve to be criticised appropriately. The platforming is often a little fiddly, the story is superficial and nonsensical in parts, the enemies are basic and annoying, and overall the game feels like it lacks ambition. No limits are pushed, no lines are crossed; there's nothing in Knack that makes it stand out from any other middle of the road game. Think Ratchet & Clank, but boring.
Alternatively, if I was a kid sitting down to continue the journey of Knack and his allies, I think I'd be pretty excited to tackle what was waiting for me ahead.
So much so, that I think a lot of gamers forgot something when they were playing Knack, which is who the game was intended for. We can easily get lost in the expectation that every game will suit us, and that only educational and super childish games are meant for children. These days it's rare for a big budget grand adventure to be entirely aimed at children, so as intelligent super cool adults, we don't have time for this crap.
I said that as an adult, playing Knack is middle of the road boredom with nothing to offer, but I've played all the Uncharteds, Tomb Raiders, Assassin's Creeds, and many more huge adventures that came before it. Playing Knack as a child who doesn't understand the nuances of big budgets and expectations, Knack might just be what the doctor ordered.
The graphics are fun, bright, and original. Knack himself is unique and constantly changing throughout the story, as he grows to the size of a building, before shrinking back to no bigger than a cat. He's a mystical creature built in a lab from mysterious materials that have brought great benefits to society, and he's powerful enough to take down any bad guy that gets in the way.
Sure the story is simplistic in my opinion, as someone who has read and heard a whole lot of stories in the past. There are countless tropes and clichés throughout the adventure, along with twists that can be seen a mile away. Unfortunately I've had the pleasure of watching some children's television in the last few years, and I have to say that Knack's story is actually a bit better than most of the hot TV shows my friends' children are into. At the very least, it's on a par with the best of the bunch, so what I consider to be boring and trite might actually be engaging and understandable to a kid playing it for themselves.
There are hidden collectibles and secrets to discover in every level of the game, which I barely looked for as I played, because the reward never felt worth the effort. Even though I'm the kind of gamer who will spend hours hunting down every last banner or feather in Assassin's Creed, I couldn't be bothered in Knack. However, as a kid I can see that spark lighting up and diving into New Game Plus mode to gather up all the little bits and pieces that I missed the first time round. I would have searched for every last part of each gadget, then played the game again with the full arsenal unlocked.
I don't want to make excuses for Knack, or any game that I play, because I'm sure we'd all be able to find some niche hypothetical scenario for every terrible game on the market. I won't pretend that I loved the game any more than I did, because it wasn't all that great to play.
Although, I can't help feeling that pang in the old nostalgia glands that reminds me of how much I would have enjoyed Knack as a kid.
I'd like to believe that this was a game made with kids in mind, and was never made to please adult players. I like to think that there was a mistake in the marketing department who maybe insisted that Knack had to be sold as something for everyone, because marketing types are terrified of using niche products as selling points. I'm happy with the idea that Killzone Shadow Fall was the big violent game for the adults, while Knack was the adventure for the kids.
I like this scenario because it's sentimental and full of nostalgia for a time when everything didn't have to please everybody. There seemed to be a point in time when movies when from being kids' movies, to being kids' movies that will also make adults laugh.
I hope games don't go the same way and that there are many more in the future that I am too old to enjoy. Maybe there will be a kid who saved up with their pocket money to play the hot new game, and maybe it will be something like Knack… and maybe they'll enjoy it enough for everyone else.