All Knack 2 needs to do is reclaim a legacy. No pressure, right?
The first Knack debuted on the PlayStation 4 as a launch title, and the hype was real. Developed by Mark Cerny, lead architect of the PlayStation 4 and developer behind games like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon, this was going to be the second coming of the mascot platformer. Instead, Knack landed with a wet thud. Reviews were middling at best. So the revelation that Knack 2 was in development came as a bit of a surprise. Would Cerny and crew be able to address the problems of the first game? Would they succeed in resurrecting the mascot platformer?
Knack 2 begins in media res, with the city of New Haven under attack by a swarm of powerful robots. After Lucas, the main human character, gets us caught up on past events with some narration, we’re thrown right into the action with Knack. Things don’t go well, and from there, we jump six months into the past to learn what led us here. During an expedition with Knack and his uncle, Ryder, Lucas uncovers a lost city of High Goblins, a race that had been at war with humans hundreds of years ago. Teaming up with Ava, a monk of an order descended from the greatest hero among the humans, Lucas and Knack discover a plot by the High Goblins to destroy the human race and take over the world once more.
I don’t want to give too much away beyond the basic premise, as I was actually somewhat surprised by the plot. Its world, with its mix of fantasy and science fiction, is fun, and the turns the story takes keep things exciting. What isn’t impressive, however, is the script itself. Characters spout cliches that would have sounded weak a decade ago, and needless drama is forced between characters for no good reason. At first, I was hesitant to be critical of the script. After all, this is a game aimed at a younger audience. Are kids even going to care that the dialogue is full of cliches? But here’s the thing: Pixar and Dreamworks and kids’ television cartoons have proven that good writing can happen on a kids’ show, so the excuse that it’s “for the kids” doesn’t hold water anymore. The script isn’t unbearable, but even your ten year old might roll their eyes at some lines.
“Its world, with its mix of fantasy and science fiction, is fun, and the turns the story takes keep things exciting.”
The story, for all its interesting twists and subpar dialogue, is really just there to lead you from level to level so you can beat up a ton of robots and goblins, and this is where Knack 2 really shines. As Knack, you have a huge variety of moves that you’ll unlock as you progress through the game. Controls are logical and become second nature in no time. Punches, kicks, extending-arm grabs, and more are mapped to the face buttons — a press versus a press-and-hold determines which move you use. After an hour or so, you’ll feel like a master, and as new moves are added to your repertoire, you’ll feel even cooler. I will admit that I never quite got the hang of dodging with the right analog stick. I know that’s not uncommon in games, but it doesn’t feel intuitive to me.
The progression system is straightforward, with four categories of upgrades that become available as you earn the skills from each category in turn. You’ll have to really invest the time in seeking out every enemy to kill, bug to smash, and box to break in order to have the relic energy you need to get them all. You’ll find secret gadget parts hidden around levels, and once completed, these provide some nice quality-of-life improvements, such as the ability to pound the ground and collect all nearby sunstones. Believe me, you’ll appreciate the convenience by the time you unlock it.
The combat is tight and fast paced. Rarely will you feel unfairly outmatched — the game is challenging, but your move set is more than capable of handling whatever comes your way. Beyond the abilities you unlock with relic energy, you’ll learn some moves as you progress in the story, and these tend to come along just when you need them. For example, early on in the game, you’ll encounter enemies with shields, shortly after which you’ll learn Knack’s extending guard-break punch. The moves are doled out in an intelligent manner, with tutorial sequences that integrate nicely with the story. Knack 2 does an excellent job of teaching you on the go, without ever interrupting the flow of the game.
Platforming, another big focus this time around, is tougher than I would have expected. Early in the game, you might get the sense that every level’s platforming sections will be copied and pasted from earlier levels’, but a few levels in and you’ll be impressed by the variety of challenges. Moving platforms are a given in any platformer, but you’ll be shrinking under whirring blades and dashing through flames and leaping from gears. It is frustrating as tiny Knack to attempt to run along narrow ledges from a side perspective and find yourself falling off into the foreground, which happened a few more times than I’d like to admit. If you die too many times on a platforming sequence, the game will offer to let you bypass it (which only happened to me once, okay?).
“If Knack’s track record has you worried, I’ll say this; Mark Cerny and company heard the complaints, and this is their response.”
Knack is an extremely versatile character. If you’re familiar with the original, you’ll already know what he’s about, but for the uninitiated: Knack is comprised of a bunch of small objects called relics. When you start a level, you’ll be around five feet tall, but as you make your way through, you’ll smash boxes containing more relics, which increases your size significantly. While you might be the size of an eight-year-old kid at the beginning of the level, by the end you might be twenty or thirty feet tall.
Managing Knack’s size is the crux of Knack 2’s non-combat sequences. Most of the game’s puzzles and secrets require you to make clever use of Knack’s ability to shrink and grow, as well as his knack (heh) for absorbing other elements, such as ice or iron. If you get stuck, the game will give you a fair chance to figure things out on your own, but it offers incredibly helpful guidance in the form of arrows and dotted-line paths to nudge you in the right direction. It’s user-friendly without being intrusive.
Its user-friendliness extends to its easy drop-in drop-out multiplayer. A second player can jump in anytime and control a blue Knack. It’s great to see couch co-op in this age of online games, and it’s so easy to play with a partner here. You even have access to some special moves a singular Knack doesn’t which mostly revolve around using your partner’s relics as projectiles to harm enemies from afar. It’s such a cool feature.
Whether alone or with a friend, Knack 2 is a beautiful game. If you can play this in 4K HDR, do it. From lush jungles to nighttime cityscapes to snow-capped mountains, it’s a delight to look at. While I would have preferred one or two fewer rock-based levels (there’s a mountain, a mine, a dig site, and more), even those in the brown and gray color schemes are very pretty to behold. Likewise, the sound design and score are fittingly epic. You won’t want to buy the soundtrack, but it suits the game nicely. Voice acting is competent, but there weren’t any standout performances to my ears.
If Knack’s track record has you worried, I’ll say this; Mark Cerny and company heard the complaints, and this is their response. Knack 2 is all fast-paced action and dramatic plot twists and tight, skillful platforming. It’s not perfect, but it makes a compelling case for the character platformer as a genre. In this era of first-person shooters and gritty action games, that’s a victory unto itself.
*** PS4 key provided by the publisher ***
- Combat is fast and fun
- Beautiful graphics and sound
- Strong plot, plenty of twists
- Script is sub-par
- A little too long, stretched out