Review

Knack Review

  • First Released Nov 15, 2013
    released
  • PS4

Falling to pieces.

Mercy is not part of Knack's vocabulary. He happily uppercuts a defeated enemy into a steaming lake of molten lava and flings an aircraft by its tail into the unforgiving ground. And don't believe for a second that he sheds a single tear for the pilot engulfed in the flaming wreckage; Knack doesn't let sentimentality distract him from a good fight. The only thing he desires more than brutal destruction is finding creative ways to exterminate his many foes. At least that's how the cutscenes play out. When you're given control, Knack mindlessly punches his way through corridor after corridor of enemies, and you're left wondering why Knack gets to have so much more fun than you do.

Oppression is the theme that binds Knack's overarching narrative together. Goblins have been forced from their lands by the imperialistic humans, and after surviving in the wastelands for generations, they finally have the power to mount a rebellion. Goblins aren't the only creatures who have to deal with oppression. Knack was created by a benevolent doctor who has found a way to turn ancient relics into a sentient being. The philosophical implications of this discovery flip the very notion of life on its head. As Knack muses about the nature of love during a quiet cutscene, you realize that, like Frankenstein's monster, he is capable of self-reflection and poignant observations. And yet, he is treated like a weapon. Does he deserve to be viewed as an equal even though he was birthed through alchemical experimentation? Such ruminations are glossed over. Instead of realizing his humanity, Knack usually acts like a meathead, cracking his knuckles while he waits for his next fight.

Even Knack can appreciate fine art.
Even Knack can appreciate fine art.

Instead of realizing his humanity, Knack usually acts like a meathead, cracking his knuckles while he waits for his next fight.

Relying exclusively on combat isn't inherently bad. There are plenty of games that slowly build on their fighting mechanics and provide enough twists and detours to keep you riveted. However, Knack's combat lacks the necessary depth to captivate your senses. The core problems stem from your meager repertoire. Knack has only five ways to attack the many enemies who confront him, and you learn every one of these moves in the opening tutorial. Three of these attacks--a whirlwind, a projectile blast, and a shock wave--serve as special powers that can be activated only when you collect enough sunstones. Another, your jump attack, propels you toward your enemy as a wrecking ball. But because both you and your enemy recoil when contact is made, you can't use this as the setup for your combos. Which leaves you with the standard punch. So you punch, and punch, and punch some more, for that is how victory is achieved in Knack.

There is weight behind your attacks that makes you understand the pain you're causing, and slow-motion finishers hammer home just how strong Knack is. But solid mechanics mean nothing alone. Because there is such little variance between fights, you're quickly lulled into the bored stupor of predictability. Knack absorbs relics into his body, which allows him to grow from a pint-size pet into a hulking monstrosity. Remember when a mere goblin took three hits to kill? Well laugh at those miniscule fools as you plow through them without breaking a sweat. Behold Knack, destroyer of goblins, devourer of worlds! Sounds pretty amazing, no? No is right. As you get bigger, so too do your enemies, so there's no difference in how fights play out. You still just punch your way to success and perform the weakest double jump known to games, only now you're fighting tanks instead of men.

There may be a red carpet, but this is hardly an event.
There may be a red carpet, but this is hardly an event.

During a moment of enlightenment, Knack realizes that his ever-changing body can be composed of more diverse parts than just relics. Ice, wood, and other materials automatically get pulled into the vacuum of your body in certain levels, shifting your appearance from runic golem to elemental beast. But said changes are only skin deep. Sure, a flaming arrow may melt your icy heart, so you can lose your outer shell that serves as a shield, but there's no mechanical difference between normal Knack and his earthy counterpart. Still, Knack does occassionally introduce ideas that hint at a real evolution. For instance, in some levels, you have a crystalline body, which initializes Stealth Knack. It's finally time for some real variety, right? Not quite. With the tap of a button, Knack can walk through the laser beams that serve as a high-tech security system. But enemies can still see you, even though you're invisible. It's hard to stifle a laugh when the doctor says, "No more sneaking around" after an enemy shoots at you, as if sneaking was ever an option.

So you punch, and punch, and punch some more, for that is how victory is achieved in Knack.

There are 13 chapters in Knack, and every one of them plays out in the same tired manner. You start out small, gradually build your size until you're huge, and then arbitrarily shrink back down when the chapter wraps up. There's always a convenient excuse for this transformation. How else could Knack fit in a biplane if he doesn't lose his precious relics? And then you start the whole cycle all over again. In the beginning of the eighth chapter, the doctor plainly states that you must grow as large as possible, as if we somehow missed the pattern that has been cemented from the onset.

If you're craving exploration, there are opportunities to veer slightly off the main path if you have sharp eyes. Weak walls can be knocked down to find extra relics and sunstones, along with collectible treasures that imbue Knack with new abilities. There are tons of collectibles strewn throughout Knack's expansive worlds, but these pieces are worthless on their own. If you're lucky enough to complete a set, you get a perk that gives you a passive ability. It wasn't until I reached the ninth chapter that I completed my first gadget, more than eight hours into my adventure. And what did I receive after all that effort? Enemies released a small amount of sunstone power when defeated. Don't expect these collectibles to inject the diversity Knack so desperately needs.

Just look at that Knack punch.
Just look at that Knack punch.

It's hard to stifle a laugh when the doctor says, "No more sneaking around" after an enemy shoots at you, as if sneaking was ever an option.

The most baffling part of Knack is its surprisingly high difficulty. Considering the cartoony artistic design and simple mechanics, you might assume that this game would be a cakewalk. But after you die a half-dozen times in the tutorial, that belief will be banished from your mind. When Knack is in his smallest form, he dies from just one or two attacks, and can stand only a couple more when he's bigger. So death comes frequently. If you're vigilant, you can avoid enemy advances by performing well-timed rolls, but even these should be used with caution. You're not invincible when rolling, so you can't abuse this maneuver. Now I love a good challenge, but dying is an annoyance in Knack because the combat sequences aren't interesting enough to play through once, let alone multiple times. There is a cooperative mode if you need a helping hand or want to offer one. Knack is as vulnerable as ever, but the second player controls Robo Knack who respawns after dying. Sadly, the action isn't any more fun when you're dragging a friend along for the ride.

Knack's downfall is that it focuses entirely on combat, but doesn't offer enough variety or depth within its system to compel you onward. Any early thoughts you may have that there must be more to the punch-punch-repeat action than meets the eye are banished once you plow through hours of the same basic sequences. And even Knack's few attempts at diversity are merely competent. The occasional platforming scenario lacks the joy of movement so necessary for jumping to be engaging, and the platform placement doesn't require any cleverness to surpass. There's not one element of Knack to rally around, to excite you. And without that special something, Knack crumbles just like its piecemeal protagonist.

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The Good

  • Well-realized environments that you want to exist in

The Bad

  • Little variety to distract from the nonstop fighting
  • Even enlarging Knack or turning him invisible doesn't change the action
  • Artificial environments and enemy interactions
  • Tiresome combat with a meager move set

About the Author

Colorful adventures are where Tom wishes he could spend just about all of his gaming time. Tom played through a finished build of the game and it took roughly 10 hours.
1034 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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hochstreck

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lol? On higher difficulties this game mechanics can become quite interesting and challenging. Its part Action-RPG. I highly disargree to this review!

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DinoFarmBlake

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Why doesn't the field of game design or game journalism see the transparency in what they're saying?

If the combat is boring and shallow for 10 hours, it's boring and shallow for ONE hour. What this reviewer is advocating for is just more of what I like to call "iron lung game design." Punching and jump attacking is shallow and boring. So we need to "add variety" to make it not boring, right? Ok. Now there's a rail shooter segment. Then a top-down segment. Then a special item that is basically a square peg you have to put in a square hole. Then there are unlockable collectible joobleejoos. Then there are RPG elemets so you can unlock different KINDS of punches and kicks. SO much VARIETY? Or maybe ALL of those systems are boring, no-brainer chore machines. Their function is to DISTRACT you from how boring the system of interaction is by feeding you an endless stream of mass content.

Tetris is fun to play for 5 minutes, and 5 hours. Because the system itself is rich and interesting. This game is another "mash A to win." The "variety" you're speaking of are just "Flavors of winning," which amount to a different art asset for "pressing A."

I'm so sick of this concept of "variety." Would you say Chess lacks "variety?" Howbout tennis? Howbout soccer? Most people would say no because the system itself is inherently interesting.

It's so hard for us to imagine that video games can actually be INTERESTINg to play without a mountain of assets and content to keep you dazzled for long enough so that you don't realize you've been "waiting for it to get interesting" the whole time. That's why, when Knack 2 comes out, Knack 1 goes in the garbage. These pieces of software don't actually have value, because there's no actual core gameplay system. It's smoke and mirrors, and has been for the last like 20 years.

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Kalan_Arkais

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@DinoFarmBlake I think he was referring to "variety" as in more complex gameplay, not more gimmicky features tacked on to the game. I think Tom was probably thinking along the same lines you were.

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DinoFarmBlake

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Edited By DinoFarmBlake

@Kalan_Arkais @DinoFarmBlake

I can almost guarantee he wasn't. "Add variety to keep things interesting" is a transparent statement. It is actually saying "distract me with new little chores until I beat the game."

Further evidence of this is the Mario Galaxy games, which get awesome reviews, but are the same exact thing. Before you stop and realize you're doing braindead chores, you've got a DRILL cap, then a BEE cap, then a CLOUD cap, then the INVISIBLE FLOOR ghost thingy, then the SHOOT YOURSELF OUT OF A CANNON thing, then the Collect the 8 coins thing. Are any of these actually interesting? Or are they just raw, inherently complex content thrown onto a mountain of content with nothing at its core? "Jumping" as a core mechanism was at its richest in the original Super Mario Bros. That core mechanism has been obfuscated by gimmicky, highly-themed input mechanisms ever since.

I have lost all confidence in the industry's ability to design systems with any competence. "Iron lung game design" is a vain attempt to "throw money at the problem" when there is no gameplay system.

Oh, and just to be clear, I'm not advocating for "moe complex" for its own sake. A game system should be elegant, that is no more complex than is absolutely necessary to provide depth of play. Mario Galaxy is WAY more "complex" in terms of just raw "stuff" you have to learn and execute than, say Go or Chess, but Go and Chess are far, far, far deeper games.

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DinoFarmBlake

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@PS2fweak @DinoFarmBlake
"
Fans of the Mario Galaxy series would probably argue the variety those games offer is what makes them interesting games. "

Couldn't have said it better myself. That's my point. Irong lung game design. these "flavors of mashing A to put the square peg in the square hole" are expensive, asset-intensive stopgap measures to obfuscate the reality that nothing is actually happening.

Here's a good way to illustrate what I'm saying. If you accept the assumption that, if a system asks you for input, your input should actually matter, and it should actually be interesting, we can then start to evaluate what constitutes interesting input. I believe interesting input is a meaningful decision.

A decision is the razor's edge between a guess and a solution. On the one end, you have a guess. Pressing A in final fantasy, guessing if it will be a crit or a miss. Or rolling the dice. Nobody would call these "decisions." On the other end, you have a solution. "Put the square peg in the square hole," "light the four torches," "walk down the linear corridor." These aren't decisions. They're labor, because the solution is obvious and unambiguous.

Decisions involve the "should I" not the "can I." At its best, on a first playthrough of super mario bros, you can choose to follow a 1 up before it falls down a cliff, or play it safe and take it slow, but not have the extra life for later. This is a real "should I" in which you're evaluating the ripples of your decision in the gamestate and future gamestates.

This is, of course, ruined by the fact that it's non-random content, and you can ultimately just memorize the game, and whether or not you "should" get the mushroom is no longer a decision, it's a solution.

Modern mario games, and most modern video games, are pretty much completely either a guess or a solution. They keep you playing with gambling compulsion loops like Wow, or they keep you playing with "light the 4 torches." "hit the switch to change the walkable blocks." "Do your chores."

The iron lung is the polish, presentation, ad mountain of new content. It's an advent calendar. Open the doors, eat the chocolates, throw it in the garbage. Once Mario Galaxy 2 came out, will you ever play Galaxy 1 again? If not, what I'm getting at may be why.

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PS2fweak

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Edited By PS2fweak

@DinoFarmBlake Depth creates variety and variety can create depth. Simple games can sometimes be the deepest because of the variety of ways you choose to play. Just look at most sports. Tell a guy to put a ball in the goal and you'll quickly see a ton of variety.

Your Mario Galaxy "evidence" is questionable and your statements are incredibly loaded. You call them braindead chores, but many call it fun gameplay. People aren't as ignorant as you think. If they don't like something they will stop playing it. Fans of the Mario Galaxy series would probably argue the variety those games offer is what makes them interesting games.

Go and Chess may be far, far, far deeper games, but most people avoid games like that because they don't seem very interesting. This is why it's pointless to make blanket statements. Mario Galaxy, Go, Chess, and Tetris are all loved by millions. A game system should be...



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mont345

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4 really, I no not to come to this site for reviews from now on, no way this game is a 4, would say about a 7, 4 means the game is trash and unplayable. GameSpot lost all what little credibility that they had!

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PS2fweak

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@mont345 Really? Knack is the game that made you feel this way?! Nobody likes that game...lol

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ExplicitMike

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@mont345 They had credibility? They lost it a long time ago. Tom's opinion is always fucking nuts. Fable the journey sucks for me, but he thinks it is at the same level of fun as The last of Us? Apples and oranges be damned. Fable the Journey blows. DC and gunstringer were the only kinect games that I liked, and I wouldn't rate them anywhere above 7.

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PS2fweak

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@ExplicitMike @mont345 The thing about apples and oranges is we have expectations for how they should taste. Tom expected The Last of Us to taste a certain way, but it didn't meet his expectations. I'm sure he had very different expectations for Fable the Journey. I don't even know what Fable the Journey is. Is it even in the same genre as the Last of Us?

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ad0234

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@mont345 Actually, a 1 or at the most a 2 means it's trash and unplayable. 4 simply means it's a poor offering, not that it is unplayable.

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bfa1509

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Edited By bfa1509

The Good: Well-realized environments

The Bad: Artificial environments

Well which one is it?

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voljin1987

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@bfa1509 both.. artificial refers to the fact that the environments cant be explored.. well realized refers to the graphical design

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R4gn4r0k

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Edited By R4gn4r0k

Knack has such an interesting visual style, which reminds me a lot of Kameo, shame it doesn't have the gameplay to back it up.

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RossRichard

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Wow, glad I skipped PS4 launch. Maybe when Infamous and a few other good games come out I'll bite.

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da_funk4

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what a shit game

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Venom_Raptor

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Edited By Venom_Raptor

Hmm... must mean it's good to get a 4 from Tom!

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Born_Lucky

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Edited By Born_Lucky

Eh, I remember when EGM gave Drakan: The Ancient Gates a 3/10, and claimed the worst part of the game was that there were no dragons in the game.


Later, he admitted he didn't play past the first level.

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RedWave247

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Edited By RedWave247

@Born_Lucky That example doesn't apply here, though, since Tom said he played to at least Level 9 of the 13 levels.

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PixelAddict

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Well... this is disappointing to read. Will have to jump on over to metacritic and see if all the other critics hate it, too.

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sadface1234

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Game looks extremely simplistic with no innovative gameplay. Yet, the potential to start a great platformer franchise was here and it looks like it was squandered.. This did not just get a poor score because Tom reviewed it, other critics are saying the same things.

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exclusiveburner

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I gotta say I hate this guys reviews.

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chyng85

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Quite disappointing huh~

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deliman

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Well yea, but...the graphics look nice...?

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RedWave247

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@deliman I played a demo of it in Target last night. They're...okay. Honestly, they're not very impressive and nothing that I saw couldn't be accomplished on the PS3.

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vhiran

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Tech demo just like Ryse... very sad that these things exist at all.

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DiscGuru101

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Edited By DiscGuru101

@vhiran - Knack is no tech demo. It is kid-targeted shovelware.

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auron11022

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Is this the time when we start judging indie games on the same scale as all the other games?

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RedWave247

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@auron11022 They're already judged as such.

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auron11022

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Edited By auron11022

@RedWave247 @auron11022


No. Indies have always been given the benefit of the doubt. They get passes for things mainstream games would get lambasted for.

Hopefully the new gen marks a time when reviewers will start thinking that indies don't deserve special treatment.

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DrizztDark

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Edited By DrizztDark

Man this game looked like shit from the start and never even thought once about getting it.. I just don't get why some are so butthurt over it doing bad in reviews... I mean look at it, looks geared towards the 10- crowd

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West123

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@DrizztDark im with you i dont get why people where talking about this...

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daikkenaurora12

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@DrizztDark It actually reminded me of Crash Bandicot.

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gorgonaut

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I just saw a developer for this game claim that the PS4 allowed them to shave a YEAR off development. After seeing this, I wonder if they might have been better off using that extra year to come up with an interesting game idea

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super_davem

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The PS4 lack of good exclusives was apparent at E3! This review shouldn't shock any of us

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Vodoo

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So this is what the "beastly" PS4 can do, huh? What the HELL was Sony thinking?!!

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ExplicitMike

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@Vodoo You must be thinking launch line ups are always good. beastly games will come.

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X-7

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@Vodoo To be fair it is Tom McShea reviewing it.

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F-Minus

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@X-7 @Vodoo To be fair, the game is getting bad reviews from virtually anyone. And if you play with the demo for 5 minutes you will see why that is so. It's just bad game.

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notjustin

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Edited By notjustin

thought it would be a good game for my kids

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Chaos_Dante_456

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The next generation huh?

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Buck_Swaggler

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"I was forced to play a game I didn't want to play so it's a 4."

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dlCHIEF58

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@Buck_Swaggler

Tell that to all the other game reviewers that panned this glorified tech demo as well.

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Vodoo

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@dlCHIEF58 @Buck_Swaggler This doesn't even qualify as a tech demo. Maybe for the PS2 lol.

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StinkB

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It does look like an incredibly dull game, but weird that this review doesn't mention graphics at all, or are the graphics as mediocre as the gameplay?

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StHapns247

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@StinkB Other reviews say the graphics are nothing to get excited over.

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hoyholyhoy

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Every review I've seen this guy do seems far more negative than any other reviewer on this site, not necessarily bad, just always so negative. I dunno, I don't really care about this game anyway, not like one bad review for one game I don't care about that came out on launch is gonna make me sell my ps4 back.

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Leeromain

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Well it wasn't on my list of games to buy at launch, never had much love for it.

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theKSMM

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This game looked like a large tech demo when it was demonstrated at the PS4 announcement. I guess it didn't turn out to be much more than that.

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kai_311

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It looks like Kameo Elements of Power was more fun than this, which was released 8 yrs ago. But I need to play it first before I could say what my final verdict is.

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Knack

First Released Nov 15, 2013
released
  • PlayStation 4

Knack is an action game for the PlayStation 4 where players take control of a creature with mysterious powers named Knack who is created to help neutralize a resurgent goblin army. Knack steps forward to protect mankind - until it becomes clear that an even greater danger is posed by elements of the human community.

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Average Rating

185 Rating(s)

6.5
Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
Everyone 10+
Fantasy Violence