In Defence Of Knack

In November 2013, the Playstation 4 was released. The console enjoyed huge success, holding huge sales and boasting a strong, unique line up of launch titles. Killzone: Shadow Fall, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and a bunch of yearly titles like Fifa and Madden. However, despite all of these big releases, there was one audiences that caught the collective eye.

Knack was released alongside the console, and was largely touted as the must-have game for the system. The ad campaigns were significant, confident and colourful. The game touted beautiful next generation graphics, a sophisticated new particle physics engine and gameplay reminiscent of the PS2’s greatest platformers. However, when the game was finally let loose, it received less than favourable reviews. Hell, it was almost laughable, with the pick of the litter being Gamespot awarding the game a paltry 4/10.

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A year on, the game’s name has been dragged through the mud. Very little has been said about the game, other than the fact that it was a real turkey. However, when I was given the game very recently by a loved one, I started it with the fear I would turn it off ten minutes later. I was very wrong.

Let me first start by saying this; Knack is in no means a great game, and certainly not the revelation it purported to be. However, when I think back to the reviews it received, I despair. I expected bugs, broken gameplay and horrible visuals. What I was greeted with was a colourful, attractive, simple platformer, not unlike Telltale’s Lego series of games. The characters were well voiced and full of life, despite dubious intentions & motivations, as well as some ugly design models.

As mentioned before, the game is very simple. Your goal in each level and it’s sub stage is purely to reach the end by any means necessary. 90% of the time this will be done through combat alone, a two button affair with one to attack and one to perform a special attack. However, there are some occasions where Knack will have to climb terrain or traverse through stealth sections. While this all sounds very repetitive, it holds a cathartic quality to it that few other titles do. I found myself returning home, kicking back and playing Knack for an hour or so and becoming completely enthralled. It may well be that short playing sessions are what is required to enjoy what is effectively, a children’s game. It was a breath of fresh air, some colour injected into what is a very dark time for gaming, both literally and metaphorically.

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While I feel it’s possible the game was given such a response due to the fact it was a flagship title for a brand new generation of consoles, this should not be the case. It also begs the question, would the game have been better received were it released on the Vita? A system begging for first party titles, surely it could have benefited from such a high profile release.

For a moment, let’s just reflect on that score awarded from Gamespot I mentioned above. While the website’s reviews are regularly questioned by it’s fanbase, this review when largely unnoticed. To bring it into perspective; in the same year the website gave the critically panned Aliens: Colonial Marines a 4.5/10. This means that the staff at Gamespot saw fit to give a game that while repetitive, is functionally sound and enjoyable, a lower score than the title widely referred to as the worst for several years. Now, I’ve played Aliens: Colonial Marines, and I can tell you from personal experience, it’s nearly unplayable, frustrating and wholly unforgivable. Does a new IP taking a chance deserve the same treatment as a soulless cash in on a popular franchise?

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Now, it may well be that since the game was initially reviewed by critics it has been heavily patched and bugs have been sorted out. But that begs the question: Does this not merit a re-evaluation? While it could be argued it shouldn’t, as the developers & publishers shipped and released a broken game. However, this cannot be the case. In a very current example, Assassin’s Creed: Unity was released this week to lukewarm responses due to dozens of game breaking bugs, and several review sites have pledged to give the game a second chance once issues have been amended.

We live in a strange new age for video games. A time where publishers can weaponise embargoes, bribe critics and influence gamers despite a products quality. Knack is a good game. It isn’t perfect, no. But the response it received has left a cold feeling inside me. The harsh grilling has all but certainly destroyed any hope for a sequel, and in that, a chance of improvement. In a time where Call Of Duty is re-skinned and sold as a new experience, gaining high praise, what hope is there for a game that just tries it’s best?

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