This article was originally published on my Google Blogger website.
I might have been in a minority, but Knack was easily one of my most anticipated games of 2013. It wasn’t only going to be a launch title for the PS4, but was also inspired by Playstation classics like Crash Bandicoot with simple controls that require surprising precision and mastery. In addition, Mark Cerny, the director behind this new IP, desired to design the game so that anyone could play it. Casual and hardcore gamers, kids and adults, you name it. In other words, he wanted to strike a balance by creating something anyone could instantly learn to play – solo or with another person – that could either be a smooth sailing journey or a brutal challenge that tests even the most acute of reflexes. In the end, I think Mark Cerny and Japan Studios accomplished this feat.
This robot and his fearsome hand drills could probably kill Knack in one hit on the Very Hard difficulty. It’s no walk in the park!
However, despite meeting this difficult goal, I think Knack suffers from several problems. The most notable thing is that it’s more akin to God of War than Crash Bandicoot. While this is certainly not a bad thing in itself, the reason why I don’t like this is that the game was closely compared to classic PS1 platformers, which, outside of the accessibility and controls of the game, does not actually resemble that much. If you look at Crash Bandicoot, it’s focused on the platforming mechanics and the precision of jumping and turning the titular protagonist in the creatively and cunningly laid out levels. Enemies serve (excluding boss battles) as tough annoyances with simple functions that seek to disrupt you at every corner, which help the game maintain an excellent mix of challenging sidescroller and 3D platforming gameplay. It never grows tiresome due to the plethora of eccentric environments that introduce new enemies and diverse stages to hop into at a perfect pace.
On the other hand, Knack, while having excellent settings and solid gameplay, quickly becomes a repetitive experience with a nearly constant flow of combat scenarios. What platforming there is shines in the first level of the game, but becomes spare and effortless to do after the first 30 minutes; it’s merely a boring segue in between combat areas, adding nothing meaningful to the game in the long run. Many months ago, I thought this game wouldn’t become repetitive by combining and balancing platforming, short puzzle solving, and simple combat. I was wrong. And oddly enough, I played and reviewed another game recently that falls into this same trap: The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning.
I may be alone in this belief, but I think Knack has an identity problem. It appealed to fans like me that love the platforming of Crash Bandicoot (or even Croc: Legend of the Gobbos) and the variety of levels and challenges in Spyro the Dragon. But in the end, Knack is a much simpler God of War with less variety, lacking level design, and a protagonist that isn’t portrayed well enough. It turned out to be something I didn’t expect and, even if I put my original hopes aside and evaluate it without that prejudice, is still only decent.
Perhaps this gives the perception I couldn’t care less if Knack receives a sequel or not. You’d be dead wrong.
Oh, I would love to see a follow-up. The rich world of Knack is brimming with potential for more stories and mechanics that can further flesh out the gameplay. It could also go in drastically different (perhaps controversial) directions in several areas for the better. The hypothetical Knack 2 should not only evolve to build upon its predecessor’s action-based gameplay, but also go beyond this to fulfill its latent yet vast potential to recreate the decade-old, exciting antics of Crash, Spyro, and Croc through a new and improved lens.
This is the beginning of a new series of articles I plan on writing called “Sequel Suggestions.” I thought that, instead of writing a review for Knack, it would be more important to specifically talk about how a future title can be made better with a few major points I’ve listed. You can be the judge of them and perhaps add to what I’ve said with some objections or things you think I missed. I just hope I have a knack for doing this. Sorry…had to be done.
Tighter, Harder Platforming Coupled with More Creative Level Design
What exactly do I mean when I say this? For starters, it’s important to clarify that this game indeed requires precision in combat (especially on the Hard difficulty) when it comes to dodging and attacking (whether while on the ground or in the air). However, when it’s time to do a bit of platforming, it’s simpler and more forgiving. None of this gameplay offers true danger or excitement, whereas I sometimes spent 3-5 minutes trying to beat a particular set of punishing enemies. This was great for the first 2-3 hours, but the appeal wore off.
The platforming was easy to get through, and I can hardly remember one place in the game where I struggled jumping over a certain ledge, timing my movements accurately, etc. And one of the reasons for this is that the camera can range from being 2-4 times farther away from Knack than the camera normally is from, say, Spyro in his original game trilogy. Since that’s the case, the running and jumping is more “loose” since these things don’t need to be entirely responsive during combat (trust me, dodging and attacking only need this requirement constantly). It’s why the platforming isn’t hard. The difficulty is left for the combat action, and the platforming acts as a breather to recover with some health and energy for the next fight. You could say it wasn’t put to good use.
Knack sure is a beautiful game. I love the Pixar-like visuals because they bring the game to life. But due to the breezy platforming, you race past it pretty quickly.
I propose a different take on this (most likely) intentional design choice. Since the combat is hard and engaging, I would like the same for the platforming. Knack’s movement and jumping should be tweaked to be tighter and sharper. And although nonsensical in realistic application, it’d be cool to have stages similar to the bizarre ones present in games like Super Mario Bros. or Crash Bandicoot. They’re a blast to play through and can be memorable due to their design. The level design in Knack is largely horizontal for the sake of practicality; there are a lot of flat plains and open areas, so there isn’t much verticality or complexity in the level design. So, bring in those intensely narrow spots you have to jump on that hang over a chasm; put flying and/or jumping enemies with different strengths throughout various obstacles Knack must traverse; throw in a section where you have to outrun something hazardous whilst avoiding enemies and obstacles (like in the Marble Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog); have a part where you have to solve a quick puzzle involving hitting things in a particular order, or how about a spot where you need to find a key in another area to access the next combat section? The camera could also be brought in closer to Knack during these sequences from a side scrolling or 3D perspective, and zoom out to the normal view of Knack when he’s in the typical combat area.
Perhaps I’m asking for too much and not clearly stating what I want, but I can tell you that envisioning it is much easier. What I want to get across is that there should be more cleverly crafted sections, new challenges, and refined controls for the platforming in Knack 2. The combat becomes repetitive after a little while since it’s not effectively broken up in Knack, but if it can be spread out evenly with some more imaginative platforming in between, these two things could flow seamlessly with each other. The Darksiders series is a perfect example of how to balance these two genres back and forth (which even juggles puzzle solving too). It has it’s own style of accomplishing this, so Knack 2 can take inspiration from Vigil Games on how to avoid repetition by staying compelling.
A Larger Moveset with a Multitude of Combos to Master
Knack may have been meant to have a simple control scheme due to accessibility, but I think this is holding it back a bit. As I’ve said, it proves to be a good challenge on the Hard difficulty, but despite this, I can’t help but feel that it should have had a few more buttons in play to allow for different types of moves, combos, etc. The platforming sections need not be like this, sticking to a simple jump and attack control scheme overall. But when it comes to the areas with several enemies to defeat, it would be exciting to have a control scheme with heavy, medium, and light attack buttons (probably using triangle, square, and circle, respectively). Whether or not the bumpers can be implemented into combos is optional (I’d lean to using these for activating the super moves, which are used with circle in Knack). While the simple control schemes worked for the classic PS1 platformers, this game needs a bigger moveset since it’s more focused on “beat ‘em up” gameplay.
The gameplay is solid, responsive, and challenging, but it gets old sooner than it should.
All Knack does in the game is perform a three hit combo if you repeatedly hit square, curls into a ball and slams downward if you jump and press square, and lurches forward to punch if you dash and press square. This makes his attacks…well, limited in application and visual appeal. It’d be so cool to see Knack kick, flip, and punch in a variety of ways. In addition, seeing him incorporate the “Relics” that make up his body to do special moves could end up being a brilliant idea. What if he does something quickly like form his arm into a small hammer, morph into a giant boulder, or even shoot out Relics with mock pistols after or while he’s in the middle of performing a move? He has the ability to change his size with Relics, so why couldn’t he alter an appendage or his whole body structure into a weapon? Not to mention this idea could also spawn some satisfying quick time events to perform on enemies (if done right and in moderation).
Since Knack is inspired by God of War’s hack-and-slash gameplay, I think the sequel should be meatier here, which would make it more engaging and satisfying. However, it should definitely not be on par with it in terms of depth and complexity; the game needs to have a larger moveset that can still be learned by the younger/casual audiences, but is nevertheless harder to get the hang of than the first game’s control scheme. But when it comes to all players, it should be an enticing incentive that anyone can choose to master or not.
A Skill Tree That’s Upgraded by Finding Collectables, Completing Challenges, etc.
Besides the usual trophies you hunt for in Knack, earning or finding rewards in a sequel to strengthen Knack’s abilities would be something to look forward to. The only way to give him different characteristics in Knack is to collect Crystal Relics or pieces for gadgets. For example, if you manage to find all seven pieces for the “Combo Meter,” he’ll be able to increase the power of his attacks the more he hits his enemies. As for Crystal Relics, let’s say you collect 15 of the ruby ones. If so, you’ll unlock Vampire Knack, which will grant him stronger attacks, but will also cause his health bar to slowly drain. To replenish it, Vampire Knack needs to defeat enemies and gain their health (hence the name).
This is Massive Knack, and he is a spiky, shiny, mean, green machine.
I collected at least 20 collectable items throughout the game. I didn’t try to get any of the Crystal Relics (I just found a couple), but I wasn’t even able to unlock a single gadget. They’re supposed to be easier to find, but I found every piece for at least five of the gadgets except the last remaining one. I had four out of five for this gadget, three out of four for that one, etc. Crazy, right? Well, instead of making these upgrades hard and just out of reach, why not make even better and unique gadgets and gem relics like these extremely hard to earn in Knack 2, while incorporating many of the benefits of the first game’s gadgets and Crystal Relics into a skill tree for the sequel?
Think Borderlands 2 when I talk about this. Imagine a system where Knack defeats enemies, finds secret stashes, or takes risks to earn varying amounts of “points,” if you will. These points serve the purpose of upgrading specific stats of Knack – like strength, defense, health, and speed – and slowly increasing the distance of his dodge move, capacity of his super move energy, and what not. However, there’s something else. Certain categories of specific stats eventually lead to an ultimate upgrade that gives Knack a massive boost with a certain stat or a special move/combo. Perhaps these things could be unlocked by completing challenges (killing a certain amount of an enemy, using a specific string of combos, etc.), or challenges could earn Knack something similar to the Bad*** Tokens in Borderlands 2 that add minute yet important boosts to a certain ability/stat.
Could something like this work in Knack 2? At least it sound awesome in concept!
Again, this is something that is largely speculative. It would be entirely new to a sequel to Knack. Would an RPG-like upgrade system work well in a game originally intended for all audiences? Could it be simplified and integrated well into the overall game without giving rise to exploitation? These are questions I can’t answer, but since it sounds amazing in my mind, perhaps it might be able to work.
Unique Abilities and Characteristics for Knack’s Forms
I’m not talking about the forms Knack gains with the Crystal Relics like Vampire, Diamond, or Brittle Knack. What I’m referring to here are Invisible, Ice, Wood, and Metal Knack. These are four forms you get to play around with more than once throughout the game, and they can be found in plenty in specific levels. Ice Knack is one of the first ones you experiment with, which, surprise, is when Knack is composed of a mix of Relics and ice shards. He looks extremely cool (no pun intended) and seeing him grow as you accumulate more ice shards turns him into a fearsome monster. Can he do special moves in his icy form? Does he gain a unique pro and con? Not really.
Knack gains a decent amount of defense (can take an extra 1-3 hits) and loses his ice form slowly when exposed to the sun, but there’s no exciting aspect to this form other than that he looks better. Metal Knack fairs better since he can have the metal sucked out of him from magnetic devices or be slowed down immensely on a magnetized floor in some areas in the game (which adds an interesting dynamic to the gameplay). However, it’s not particularly interesting, kind of like Invisible Knack. In some levels, he will have to run through laser defenses in this form, but it reduces him down to his smallest size until you summon all of his relics back to him once past the lasers. However, just about nothing dangerous happens while assuming this state because you only have to use it for a couple of seconds most of the time. It’s cool in concept, but poorly utilized in the gameplay.
Metal Knack looks like a Transformer, and I’m completely okay with that. Roll out!
To remedy this, why not have a side scrolling platforming section where Invisible Knack has to traverse a laser-invested hallway replete with booby traps, security devices, and enemies to pass? This adds the tension and excitement of being in his weakest form, but makes for a unique level that gives real meaning to this form. And for ice, what if it gave Knack the ability to deal more damage, perform special ice combos, and access to a temporary ability (such as shooting icicles at enemies from a distance or creating ice patches for enemies to slip on). Ice Knack could also have a weakness of not only melting in the sun, but also sliding around when trying to stop like Luigi in the Mario games (which would make you play more carefully with these newfound advantages). The same can be said for Wood Knack. This form could have the best defense and a special counter move where Knack forms a quick wall of wood that bursts outward when hit for a devastating attack. The weakness could not just be a vulnerability to fire, but also slower movement (requiring a more defensive strategy to combat).
I could continue to make recommendations for how these forms could help Knack defeat his enemies in more distinct, entertaining ways, but I’d be prolonging this point more than I need to. Did I mention that Knack could assume even more forms for a sequel? Why not Water Knack and Fire Knack? These could happen if he gains the ability to retain not just solid matter, but liquids and gases too. It’s plausible, so wouldn’t it be amazing to see?
A More Mature Story That Touches on Issues of Racial Tension, Morality, etc.
Before you laugh at this seemingly ludicrous point, allow me to explain. This is something I didn’t give thought to until reading Tom McShea’s review for Knack. The first paragraph has him ruminating on some moral and ethical issues presented many times throughout the campaign, and I won’t bother replicating what he has said, but he makes a few interesting points. Some minor spoilers here, just so you know.
I don’t think any sane enemy would approach Knack when he’s like this. It’d be like trying to hug a porcupine…you just don’t do it.
Knack is a conscious being able to think for himself that can wonder what is right or wrong, good or evil, etc. So, throughout the entire game, why does he blindly follow orders like a soldier without asking any questions until near the end of the game where, to be vague, he is forced by someone to make a decision on the spot? Why were the goblins (the main enemy faction in the game) supposedly forced out of their settlements by humans to live in the wild? Besides wanting to understandably wipe out the humans, is their desire to steal relics from humans justified in a misguided way since they keep it all to themselves, avoiding the sensible idea to make a compromise with the goblins?
“Well, it’s just preposterous to deeply ponder about a kid-friendly game like this,” you may be saying. But to be honest, these questions almost beg to be answered because of how the story presents these issues. Let’s say that Knack is inspired by Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot in terms of narrative. If so, why is the story taken much more seriously? Time is taken to invest in all the characters (revealing serious faults and troubled pasts of some of them, like Dr. Vargas) and one of the villains actually questions Knack about his motivations, violent behavior, and how he feels about being pushed around to do this and that (which Knack brushes aside every time by saying “because you’re evil” or whatever). This may sound silly, but it would not only be important to have those questions I presented to be addressed, but I would also like if they play a pivotal part in shaping the story for the next game.
Don’t get me wrong though. Knack 2 should most certainly have a story that’s playful, kid-friendly, and humorous. However, it would be intriguing to see it touch the issues presented that are left hanging in the first game. For example, in the sequel, wouldn’t it be fascinating to see Knack come into his own and begin to think about what he’s doing? What if he went rogue and decided to go off on his own to discover more about what he truly is and where the relics exactly come from (a tantalizing issue that remains unanswered)? What if he even takes a turn to the dark side for a time, siding with Gundahar (the goblin king) who enticed Knack to join him to further fulfill his love for destruction?
My vision for the narrative of Knack 2 is quite different from what one would expect and is definitely the most questionable. But when I look back at the first game’s narrative and think about what it could’ve been, I think this new IP would be better off going in this bolder and slightly darker direction. Would the tone fit and work alongside the gameplay? I believe it’s possible, but should the next game keep the same positive vibe without exploring these deeper and more mature things? I’m still a bit conflicted on this one.
Make Knack Likeable By Letting Him Be More Independent
You might have gotten an idea earlier that I think Knack should be improved as a character. However, I will say that nothing about his design should be changed. I, for one, think he looks great because he can alternate from being cute to ferocious to bizarre in appearance at any point (I’ll let the massive nose slide). I also like his resolute courage and dedication, playful sarcasm, and heroic yet somewhat doofy temperament. But like I said before, he doesn’t think for himself. Just about everything he does is a command from someone else, and he even salutes and gives the typical “yes sir” when told what to do. It’d be fun to see him banter back and forth with the other characters more often, revealing more of his personality and characteristics about him that might have been suppressed in the first game.
In this scene, wouldn’t it be funny if Knack let out a noise of exclamation and said something like “Hey, didn’t your mothers teach you to not shoot rockets in the house!?” I grant that’s a bit goofy, but he would definitely say something like this. Knack should speak up more often!
Knack has massive potential to be a distinguished Playstation mascot like Spyro or Crash because of how unique he is. Spyro was a fiesty “dragon with attitude” that spewed a lot of humor and sarcasm in his first adventures, and Crash…well, he just stood out due to his craziness, and I don’t think he had any dialogue! However, to make Knack memorable, he needs to express himself in the next installment clearly and loudly, and this could be helped with…
A Better Scriptwriter and More Effort from Some Voice Actors
Yes, the story in itself for Knack is enjoyable because of its good pacing, diverse cast of characters, and world to build off of. I don’t think the writer needs to be changed. What I’m specifically talking about is getting a new scriptwriter for the characters’ lines, especially when it comes to our eponymous hero.
The conversations the characters have seem random, off-kilter, and awkward at times and, when it comes to Knack, groan-worthy. At first, his puns and one-liners are charming in their own way, but after a while, they just get really bad. I can’t tell you how many times I rolled my eyes when he said something that (insert typical Hollywood action movie stars) are known for saying in films. I do like Knack’s personality and his fittingly deep voice, but Ikechukwu Prince Amadi (his voice actor) needs to work on being a lot less campy. Other voice actors for the characters Lucas, Victor, and Dr. Vargas can work on this to a lesser extent as well, but it’s important that Mr. Amadi deliver a solid performance that’s more genuine and effective for moments of humor, seriousness, and so forth. As long as this can be done, Knack 2 could see a massive improvement here.
The cast of Knack is diverse, compelling, and entertaining. If all the characters (to varying degrees) have improved voice acting in the next game and are more well written, then Knack 2 will be one step closer to blowing everyone away.
Phew, now that went on for a bit longer than I expected. I normally expect my reviews to be longer, but delving into what improvements can be made for a sequel to a game is even more difficult. If you caught some odd sentences here and there, please understand this is a very long article I had to edit through for a long while to see if there were any noticeable inconsistencies. Anyway, I have some questions for you.
Did you buy Knack, will buy it, or pass over it? How much do you like the game and why? What are its greatest strengths and weaknesses? Do you think the changes I’ve listed should be made to Knack 2 (perhaps some of them)? Or are some of my points ridiculous? What changes would you like to see for a sequel? Let’s discuss the divided reactions to this PS4 launch title below!
Thank you for taking the time to read my work. If you enjoyed this first installment of “Sequel Suggestions,” let me know in the comments below and I’ll see if I should write another one a bit sooner than I plan to do. Also,if there’s anything you’d like clarified, I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Here’s to 2014. I look forward to hopefully entertaining and informing you this year!