There are several moving parts in the PlayStation 4 launch title Knack, literally. That’s not to say this is a particularly complex game, or that the family-friendly visual style is a ruse. No. The main character Knack, a robot designed to beat the ichor out of villainous goblins, is made up of many, individual moving parts. Like the rolling sticky ball in Katamari Damacy, he grows larger as objects in the environment are absorbed into his being. Knack feels in many ways like a standard beat ’em up, but it serves as an acceptable showcase for the PS4’s processing strength, as the tiny silver robot blossoms into a building-sized behemoth wrapped in a swirling haze of glowing rocks and rubble.
War never changes… but Knack does. Goblins are bad news. The human race struggles to survive in an all-out war with the green-skinned brutes, but the enemy’s superior strength creates a desperate situation. We simply can’t stand up to the menacing creatures and their terrible war machines. That’s why we build one of our own. Enter Knack.
Knack is a little robot that possesses a unique ability: he’s able to draw on ancient energy sources in the world around him to enhance his power. By drawing scattered “relics” into himself, Knack grows from a pint-sized automaton that could easily be mistaken for a child’s toy into a lumbering behemoth capable of crushing even the largest goblin threats. He uses this ability to single-handedly confront the goblin menace in a linear adventure that seems to split evenly between light puzzle-solving and out-and-out brawls.
Thinking big. Knack grows in size as he absorbs the bits and pieces of destroyed objects in various levels. These objects take on a variety of forms and makeups, so it might be the metal-and-plastic shreds of a demolished power generator in a city-set level or glinting shards of ice in a snowy cave. The result is the same: the more you absorb, the bigger you get, and the more damaging your direct attacks become.
Absorbed relics – basically just the useful detritus of destroyed objects – don’t just increase Knack’s size, they also restore his health. There are other relics as well called sunstones; these yellow crystals fill up a separate meter that can be spent on dealing out a variety of powered up special attacks, all of which effectively weaponize jumbo Knack’s amassed relics. One attack triggers an explosion centered around the little robot, with the relics functioning as shrapnel that deals out significant damage. Another attack creates a spinning vortex out of the bits and pieces of Knack’s enlarged body.
Goblin beatdown. Combat is simple and accessible, with an emphasis on quick, single-button combos and rapid movements. The DualShock 4 controller’s right analog stick is used exclusively for directional dodging. If you’re familiar with the God of War games, it works like that. Knack employs fixed camera perspectives that adjust dynamically as you move through the world, so there’s never a need to move the camera around.
Pipsqueak play. Pressing the triangle button at any time allows you to shed Knack’s second skin, temporarily reverting him to his tiny robot form. The relic-free Knack is able to slip through tight spaces like air vents or stroll freely through infrared alarm sensors for the purposes of puzzle solving. Once a particular lever has been pulled or obstacle bypassed, pressing triangle again quickly recalls your more powerful relic-enhanced skin. The puzzles offered during our hands-on demo were relatively simple and straightforward, nothing more complicated than running through an air vent to reach a lever on the other side of a locked gate.
Shared upgrades. Knack‘s upgrade system turns out to be one of the game’s more unique features. Hidden chests are scattered throughout the world, usually tucked away behind some destructible wall or down a not-so-obvious hallway. Inside each chest is a part that fits into some device or another, items that upgrade Knack’s abilities. It could be anything from a health increase to an additional sunstone power meter to a different skin for Knack (accessible after the game is beaten once).
The twist with this feature is that you’re able to swap out and share parts with people on your friends list. Don’t like what pops up when you crack a chest open? A list appears on the screen when you do showing what your other friends have got to offer, including pieces of other devices and upgrades that you can swap yours for.
Pixar pixels. We’ve only seen small bits of the story in Knack, but it’s clear enough that the animated cutscenes share plenty in common with the works of family-friendly film studios like Pixar and DreamWorks Animation. Our hands-on demo focused entirely on gameplay, but even there you get a sense of the 3D cartoon feel from the stylized look of the goblins and the two humans that seem to regularly join Knack on his adventures.
Still, you can get a sense of the PS4’s impressive technical capabilities as Knack bulks up his outer shell with additional relics. The larger he grows, the more individual bits and pieces you can see swirling around his body. We’re told that the most jumbo-sized version of Knack incorporates roughly 5,000 individual particle effects. The console can surely be pushed further, but the visual wizardry of Knack’s relic-infused form is impressive to look at nonetheless.
Knack might not be the most obvious technical showcase for the PS4’s capabilities, but it fills a very necessary niche in the console’s launch lineup. It’s also a charming, highly accessible game set in a beautiful new fictional world. There’s a lot of promise here for a full-blown franchise treatment, something that Sony is no doubt already planning for, but the game seems to stand just fine on its own as well.