Knack Review: Misunderstood Gem or a Missed Opportunity?
It was one of the most anticipated PlayStation 4 launch titles. But with an unfortunate Metascore of 54, it's clear that Knack missed the mark. Most critics have a litany of reasons as to why the game was underwhelming, uninspired, and ultimately unimpressive.
However, there are quite a few supporters of the title, all of whom are in agreement: the critics got this one wrong. They just didn't understand what Mark Cerny and Co. were trying to do. They didn't get that Knack is supposed to be about old-school charm and accessibility.
It's absolutely possible. I sometimes disagree with the majority of reviewers, too. In this case, though, I'm here to tell you why the critics are not wrong. Trust me, they're not "missing" anything.
I fully comprehend and appreciate the aim of the developers. I heard all the information on the game throughout 2013, I saw all the preview footage, and I welcomed the concept. Knack was designed to bring new players into the PlayStation fold; that's where the aforementioned accessibility comes in. It's also a respectable homage to action/platformers of yesteryear, which were more about simplicity and fun. It's supposed to be a pick-up-and-play game that will satisfy anyone of any age. It won't offend anyone, it has a good heart, and the entertainment factor should be obvious.
I get all that. I really do.
In fact, my girlfriend and I went through the entire game. She has never been a big gamer but she enjoyed herself, as did I (to some extent). With the game on Easy, she could get a handle on the controls and perform well. I think the co-op could've been much better (the camera was all wrong and the second player doesn't feel anywhere near as useful as the main player who controls Knack), but it was fun. A good way to pass the time. Therefore, I could conclude that at least in some ways, the designers hit their goal.
Why the Goal was Missed
However, you can't get around certain glaring and painful facts. Firstly, while Knack was supposed to ooze charm and good-hearted style, it just comes across as lifeless, bland, and boring. There's zero character development, the story is predictable and poorly paced, the writing is mediocre, and each "new" setting was just another set of linear corridors with a fresh coat of paint. There was some enemy diversity but in general, you used the exact same three-hit combo and the same few skills throughout the entire adventure. There were technical issues as well; unreliable camera among them.
If you're going to present the player with an old-school, old-fashioned game, go right ahead. Nobody saying that wouldn't work, and I imagine a great many would want it. But you can't produce a game that just doesn't go anywhere, that feels as if development was halted halfway through. There's no progression. There's no advancement in the gameplay or story. The characters aren't the only aspect of the game that feels lifeless; the game itself is lifeless. Repetitive to a fault, there's a big difference between Knack and games that are better: Other titles, even the ones that are going for a retro foundation, build on that foundation.
Fans will say critics fell under the spell of PlayStation 4 anticipation. They say reviewers were expecting too much, that we were anticipating some sort of revolutionary piece of "next-gen" software. That's not true at all. Everyone in the industry knew what Sony was trying to do with Knack. We just know they didn't succeed.
Conclusion: Unfortunately, a missed opportunity
While I can appreciate the goal of the developer, I can't close my eyes to the obvious. We shouldn't be giving games passes because they adopt old-school principles. There are proper homages and then there are attempts that make you go: "wait, even the old games you're respecting were better than this." Sure, you'll have some fun with Knack. I did. Nobody really said you wouldn't. That being said, the idea that critics just "missed" the point is grossly unfounded.
Don't be blinded by what you wanted to see. Just look at what's there.