About a month ago, I picked up the original Knack for roughly the same price as a sandwich in London. Having already played it briefly and consequently forgetting every second of it, I decided to give it another go – were the memes, for once, on point about the PS4’s whipping boy?
No, because Knack is fine. It’s nowhere near any of its console mascot peers, but it’s a damn sight better than Bubsy et al. In the grand scheme of things, Knack lands somewhere in the middle: not charming enough to sell consoles on its own, too competent to provide YouTubers with fodder for the next decade. It’s fine.
So when Knack 2 was announced, it piqued my interest. Not because I expected it to be a second coming to rival Jesus’, but because it always promised improvement with a new iteration that would smoothen out some of its many quibbles. In that way, Knack 2 certainly delivers, though I was still left wanting when the credits rolled and the bric-a-brac hero danced like nobody was watching.
The improvements are evident from the game’s early stages, a clearly Marvel-inspired (rousing horns and all) sequence featuring Knack and a lot of big bads. The combat, while hardly anywhere near the fluidity of other brawlers, felt much more responsive, the spectacle more spectacular, and the production quality more like what we’ve come to expect from a Sony published game. That kind of sums up Knack 2 as a whole: it’s just more.
Anybody hoping for a reinvention will leave Knack 2 feeling disappointed; it’s more of the same, just done far, far better. The improvements it does bring to the table, however, make it a far more cohesive and expansive experience, rather than the startling emptiness that turned so many away from the original game.
Knack’s biggest draw, switching sizes from little to large and back again, is still present, but it’s implemented far more thoughtfully this time out. Knack 2 introduces better platforming sections that, although nowhere near as responsive as Crash Bandicoot’s recent rebirth, do a good enough job to make them fun. Knack can also shrink to fit in secret areas to unlock part for gadgets, such as one that stuns enemies whenever Knack breaks a sunstone.
The most substantial addition is the couch co-op, which allows a second player to drop in and out at will with Knack 2 barely even breaking a sweat to accommodate them. Player two becomes a second Knack and opens up new gameplay opportunities in the process, such as satisfying combos and team QTE’s. This is rationalised in Knack 2’s story by the Knacks forming together for cutscenes – a neat little quirk that shows off how detailed the unusual protagonist’s detailed design.
The highlights of my time with Knack 2 all came when I was playing with my girlfriend, who is more or less allergic to video games – she still breaks out in hives whenever I ask her to play Rocket League with me. Knack 2’s intuitive gameplay eased her in gently and before she knew what was happening, it was midnight. It’s genuinely great fun to play with someone else, though there are the mild annoyance of awkward camera angles and screen busyness to be aware of.
Elsewhere, Knack 2’s combat is also drastically more interesting; a character even makes fun of the tiring simplicity of Knack’s moveset at one point. The fundamentals from the first game remain, but there’s also far more trimmings this time out that allow for broader ways to take on fights. For example, Knack can now break guards with a spring-loaded punch, perform a flurry of quick punches at once, pull off roundhouse kicks, and even use a boomerang to trap enemies.
These new assets extend to more than just combat, too: Knack’s abilities also come in handy for the game’s many puzzles. While none of them are exactly challenging -the game seems to panic and gives you hints after a short while- they do enough to break up the gameplay loop. The formula is also kept fresh with some inoffensive quick-time events, but there are a couple of vehicle moments that I would have loved to see more of; taking control of a gigantic robot and smashing enemies was unexpected fun and even had me cackling with worrying masochism. This all keeps Knack 2 enjoyable enough for the ten hour or so run through the story, though I was looking forward to playing something else towards the game’s end.
Knack 2’s biggest problem is that it lacks character, a real hook into this silly world of goblins and monks. Almost every line of dialogue is a cliche delivered better elsewhere, its story mere framework to show off the protagonist’s impressive physics. I am not ashamed to admit that it took me about eight hours until I learned any of the character’s names, except for Knack himself. It’s lifeless and, at times, insipid, pulling off twists with zero dramatic impact and delivering quips like your sad uncle who knows you’ve heard it all before but has nothing else to say.
Adding to that, I suffered a couple of nasty bugs during my playthrough. While the framerate remained fairly solid on a vanilla PS4, Knack 2 made me restart a couple of times because a new sequence wasn’t triggered, which left me running around an empty area with no hope of progressing. One particular time saw a cutscene completely fail to even begin and when I took control again, the sound levels were are all over the place.
Still, the good far outweighs the bad in Knack 2. One of its most unsung positives is its depth of content; challenges to beat after the story is completed and unlockables to seek out are just a few of the reasons to keep coming back. With a partner in tow, it gives off a LEGO game vibe: it’s easy enough to play but staggeringly deep in terms of what you can find. There’s even an option for New Game+, which allows you to go through the game again but with all the abilities you unlocked ready to use from the off. While I can’t see myself dipping back in to Knack 2, parents are doubtlessly going to be asked to run through the game again by the kids to collect all of the things.
And that kind of illustrates who the game is for. Knack 2 has been developed to appeal to children and it surely will, even if the game’s difficult spikes may cause a few tantrums. It’s perfect for some bonding time, but if you’re playing solo, your results may vary. No matter what, though, Knack 2’s biggest achievement is something I thought I would never admit before I sat down to play.