If you’re wondering why Knack, of all games, has been given the sequel treatment, I’m not 100% certain I can answer that question, other than to suggest that someone important at Sony has a bit of a soft spot for the peculiar monster. The original game was, for lack of a better word, a bit naff; prioritising its looks as a brand new ‘next gen’ title over its level design and gameplay. Combat was highly simplistic, levels were restrictive and linear, and the game was unjustifiably difficult, combining to form something that felt dated for a PS3 game, let alone PS4. Dialogue was cringey, the story uninspired and frankly a little bit silly; who could say who the game was actually for? Was Knack supposed to be the PS4’s new mascot? A children’s game? A challenging beat ‘em up that’s whimsy meant it could be enjoyed by all ages? It was a mess, and I don’t think anyone was really desperate for a continuation. Yet here we are, and surprisingly I’m glad they did. For Knack 2, not only improves upon the first game in just about every way – and let’s be honest, that’s not difficult – but turns Knack into much more of a viable character for the future.

The game takes place a while after the events of the first game, and plays as a lead up to dramatic events that are shown of the future – with returning character Lucas, and of course Knack, looking on in horror as their home city is ravaged by towering robots. It’s unclear how the city came under attack, but Lucas seems to blame himself. Back pedal to a more peaceful time, and Knack is simply adventuring with his friends. Goblins are still a slight issue, but not on the scale of the first game. That is until a new enemy makes themselves known, and brings along with it an ancient threat. That’s all I’ll say about the story so as to avoid spoilers, because really the drive of the narrative is in finding out how things got as bad as they did in the snippet we saw of the future, and of course why Lucas feels responsible. Knack, by the way – in case you’re unfamiliar with the first game – is a mysterious creature made from powerful relics found in this fantasy world. He can take on relics to make himself bigger, as well as shed them depending on what the situation requires.

The story of the first game was pretty weak, so I was quite impressed with the direction they took for this sequel. It’s definitely a more cohesive and fluid narrative, and the forecast of things to come shown at the beginning was a clever touch – acting as both a tutorial and an intriguing story dynamic. The dialogue and voice acting is heaps better as well – using the same cast as before – making the whole experience a lot less cringe worthy. It still has its moments, like how diabolically evil your final foe is portrayed, but at times I honestly thought this wouldn’t make a terrible animated movie – especially with the game’s new found cinematic flair. I suppose some, however, can take or leave the story. I’ve heard criticism levelled at the idea of Knack as some kind of bizarre, ill-fitting mascot, and I don’t entirely disagree, so on that front I understand if this isn’t enough to entice you back in. But when it comes to the gameplay, which was the first game’s perhaps least forgivable area of contention, this is where we see the most improvement.

It’s obvious straight out of the gate that Knack’s combat has been given a makeover. Not only does Knack move more fluently – less like the tank he was before – but his whole move set has been given an upgrade. Actual moves have been implemented beyond the simple punch. Knack can kick, grab, body slam, block, deflect, and throw out powerful ‘special’ moves. These aren’t the same special moves from the first game as those have been thrown out, but attacks that you unlock as you progress in the game, and can use at will instead of relying on an energy bar. A boomerang, for example, which wraps itself around foes, temporarily trapping them so you can beat them up unassailed. If you hold down the circle button you unleash a powerful punch that breaks through shields and blocks, and if you hold the square button you throw out a flurry of fast punches. There’s much more variety in the combat than before, and while there’s no real combo system, all of these moves can be tagged on to each other to create a fluid fight (if you pull an enemy towards you, for example, you can blast them away with that power punch).

Where the first game’s combat grew tiresome quickly, Knack 2’s fighting is actually really enjoyable. Gone is the crushing difficulty (though still a little tough), and there’s now a legitimate sense of progression with the character and his power. This latter point is thanks mainly to the levelling system – yes, you read that correctly, Knack can now level up. The levelling system is fairly linear, to be honest, though there are four areas to spec into. These simply deal with speed, agility, strength and skill, and will offer mainly passive upgrades, such as increasing the speed or power of your attacks, but also some useful improvements such as a dash attack, increasing the number of boomerangs you can throw, and so on. You’ll be stuck in whatever skill path until you’ve fully upgraded it, then moved on to the next one; there are a few special skills that you don’t have to acquire before unlocking the next path, though for these you’ll probably need to replay the game, or at least some of its chapters.

You gain experience essentially just from defeating enemies and finding secrets, though if you unlock the sunstone gadget, you can use sunstone crystals – which are now only useful for applying a shield to knack – for experience points when your sunstone meter is already full. It starts off quite slowly, and had me thinking initially that the levelling process was going to be a painful one, however things quickly pick up, and I had no difficulty in unlocking all the basic skills by the end of the game. It’s a simple addition, but one that I feel is a boon to the game. It accentuates the game’s improved combat mechanics and variety, and even the small freedom you have in choosing what skills to unlock first encourages you to mix up your playstyle a bit and try out different moves.

Another interesting addition to this sequel is its emphasis on platforming. The first game is better described as a brawler than an action platformer, which some were a little disappointed in, but Knack 2 raises the bar in that respect. Now we have actual puzzle platforming sections that test Knack’s various forms and abilities. Knack will be required to time jumps over obstacle course-like sections, as well as utilise his ability to shrink and gain size to get to hard to reach areas. Shrinking size is a common feature throughout the game’s platforming, requiring you to shed those relics in order to climb along small surfaces. This is also the case for the light puzzling the game offers – having you use large Knack to apply weight to a pressure pad or to pull a block, and small Knack to get into vents or past hazards.

The platforming and puzzling are much better implemented than they were in the first game (though the first had very little of either, to be honest), and Knack being much smoother to control definitely helps with this. There’s good variety with these elements as well, so levels don’t become quite as predictable. On which subject, Knack’s elemental forms return in good fashion. We only had glimpses of these forms in the first game, and only for specific situations. Whereas in Knack 2, they are a much more integral part of, not just puzzles, but whole levels.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, well Knack, along with having the ability to take on more relics, can also apply other things to himself as well. Metal, ice, and translucent material all have their individual uses. With metal and ice, Knack gains some new moves for combat, including an ice breath that freezes foes, but can also use these to solve puzzles. Ice can freeze things in place, dealing with moving hazards; metal is a good conductor of electricity, meaning you can connect power to switches and doors that were in need of juice; and the strange translucent material creates a see-through Knack, good for stealthing past sensors. They all add a bit more variety to proceedings, and particularly within combat, these forms can be a lot of fun to use.

The puzzling, platforming, and how the Knack forms are implemented all illustrate the game’s improved level design. Areas are much more open, and the rate at which things are thrown at you is well paced. Levels are still ultimately fairly linear, but things feel less restrictive and predictable than they did the first time round – by the time you’d played a few levels in the first game, you basically knew what to expect from there on, but this isn’t the case here. Even secrets are better implemented – instead of being unhelpfully hidden behind breakable walls, they are now generally in hard to reach or spot areas, encouraging you to explore the more open levels, rather than punch at random bits of wall because they look funny.

Knack was a bit of a figurehead on the visual front when PS4 first came out, so it’s no surprise that the visual fidelity is continued here. However, cinematically, this is a far more interesting experience than the first. Obviously cut scenes look pretty good in general, but the consistency of the plot helps them this time around – with proper ‘scenes’ of exposition and dialogue; like I’ve already mentioned, this wouldn’t make a terrible animated movie. But even within the gameplay, there are some pretty impressive set pieces. An early example being when Knack takes on some giant robots by swinging a wrecking ball into them – requiring you to engage in some simply quick time events. There’s a few of these throughout the game, and they’re all pretty cool to be honest, but particularly the latter portions of the game, the design of the levels gets more flair as well. Climbing one of these colossal robots for example, and even controlling one yourself – there’s clearly been much more effort put into this as an action packed spectacle, and that’s a significant boon to the game.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the whole experience, particularly as I was by no means a fan of the original. It’s improved in just about every possible way, and this sequel is, by its own merits, a pretty solid action platformer. In some respects the story can still be a tad lame, and I wasn’t so impressed with having to repeat a whole chapter near the end of the game (that introduction where you play a scene from the future? Yeah, they make you play it again), but aside from those, I think the only real contention most might have here is with the character. If you weren’t enamoured in the slightest by the concept in the first game, things probably aren’t going to change for you here. It’s difficult to place the game if you ask who it’s really for, though I suppose that never stopped other more light-hearted series from working. There’s also a coop mode if you for some reason want to play this with a friend (I say that dismissively, but the cooperative experience supposedly has some cool new combat elements – I never played this though).

I think if you enjoyed the first game in any respect, then this sequel will be right up your alley. If you didn’t, there’s still a very good action platformer here, though perhaps ask yourself if you will be invested enough in the concept to see it through. From my end though, I’m glad they gave this another shot.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games, but my 'real job' is as a postman. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29