Knack was introduced to gamers alongside the then brand spanking new PlayStation 4. System designer Mark Cerny worked on the game and presented it to the world. While at first it seemed like a nice throwback to fifth generation action-platformers, Knack fell short of expectations with a lukewarm response. Over the three years, Knack turned into a meme and a constant PS Plus freebie. Now Sony’s Japan Studio is bringing the little build-a-monster back for a second romp. Does he live up to the promise or have they not found the blocks to build on?
The Electric Knack-aloo
Knack 2’s story picks up not long after the first’s curtains close. The world has been saved by the ancient powered robot and his sidekicks. Yet the world must call upon him again. The game opens with a devastated city of New Haven under threat from a new kind of enemy robot. With a hard cut to black and zip back in time, the story unfolds about how the armies rose. After a fateful outing at an archaeological goldmine, robots are suddenly springing back up into action and Knack, his buddy Lucas and all their cohorts are on a mission to find out why.
Ryder and Lucas are generic character archetypes you will almost assuredly have seen before.
Knack 2’s plot is your mesh of stock standard B-tier animated film clichés stretched over a 12 hour period of time. The writing leaves many a moment where the line can be stated well before the characters says the obvious. Throughout the game, Knack will find himself in company but very little is actually said. The relationships are present but are explicitly told to the player because there is so little meat to interactions. Knack 2 does not have a bad plot and does feature some character development, but it does very little to draw interest for anyone looking for more than a bare-bones cartoon.
Knack 2 does not have a bad plot and does feature some character development, but it does very little to draw interest for anyone looking for more than a bare-bones cartoon.
Knack 2 does have some fun moments but they are fleeting. A few lines can provide a good laugh but they are few and far between hackneyed storytelling. The plot is secondary and the game knows this. It could have been salvaged with deeper characters and more back and forth. Knack himself can feel disconnected from the world, rarely ever engaging with other characters. He comes off as lifeless instead of having any deeper characterisation than that of the “cool good guy.” Lucas has the most character of the game but he never escapes a Justin Long archetype that was outdated years ago. It is unlikely that any character will seem fresh to the player and even the big story twists can be called in advance. Knack 2 falls very short in terms of story and investment won’t come naturally. So with Knack 2‘s story being simply the adhesive to hold the levels together, what about the pieces all around?
Knack gon’ give it to ya
With a story leaving a hell of a lot to be desired, it is worth noting how the gameplay absolutely saves the game. Knack 2 follows the goal of bringing back an older action platformer again except they get it right this time. Players will be going through fifteen chapters jumping across moving platforms, solving puzzles and most of all: kicking a whole lotta ass with Knack.
Knack 2’s defining characteristic in a game is Knack’s changing size. Knack is a malleable little devil able to grow bigger as more ancient pieces are found. He can also shed it all and turn into little Knack who can traverse small crawlspaces at the expense of health. Knack’s size acts as an incredible little gameplay detail with the bigger he gets, his strength and durability follow suit. The level design works around this mechanic allowing the player to feel more powerful with each red box the player smashes. Size also plays a direct role in terms of damage. Each hit from the enemy knocks off Knack’s pieces until there is nothing left to take out. This means the more hits, the weaker Knack gets. There is a small recharge until those pieces return but it can lead to some clutch dodging.
Little Knack might die in one hit, but who can’t love this adorable little Lego man.
Size is all well and good, but it doesn’t mean anything without some techniques to play with. Knack is not just based around a three combo kick and punch. Instead as the game progresses, he gets quite a few moves to use against the enemies. At first it starts with a jump kick and body slam but as it goes on, more special moves are unlocked. Certain moves will be tied to new enemy types that require a bit more than mashing. For instance, shielded enemies can have their block destroyed with Knack’s big punch or they can be dragged with his hook shot. Knack 2 delivers a versatile move set that gives a lot of options to play with. Every encounter requires more than a mad rush into a fray, instead making players utilise everything at their disposal to triumph.
Knack 2 is not itself a difficult game with deaths often resulting from a cavalier attitude and carelessness. In case of death however the game is extremely forgiving with its checkpoint system, sending the player a few seconds back at most. Knack 2 is thus best played on Hard difficulty to bring out the best of the player. With little punishment, deaths never cause frustration. The added challenge should be the only way to play as it provides the rewarding experience.
Knacking on other doors
Combat might be the standout but it is not the only style of gameplay presented to players. Knack features puzzles and platforming sections littered throughout levels. No single chapter has a clear focus on one with an integration of all styles in some capacity. Both the puzzles and platforming bits are well designed. Platforms will have your usual moving blocks and timed jumps. The game does not require any real precision being quite charitable with timing and landings. At worst the player might struggle with depth of platforms.
Where platforming essentially remains the same throughout the game with some new things to dodge, puzzles provide a surprising and welcomed variety. Some puzzles require a certain block to be in place while others may be a bit trickier. Puzzles can be tied to different kinds of Knacks after he absorbs new material. These open up whole new possibilities and even new ways to fend off foes. Sometimes a whole new puzzle might pop up to never appear outside of the section they are introduced. This means that the puzzles always feel fresh and when they do make a small return, it doesn’t feel like scraping the barrel but instead provides a nice callback.
Knack does not only grow in size but in abilities. Knack 2 features an experience meter that provides Skill Points. Players can head over to a skill board where these points can be spent on new abilities and bonuses. These range from attack speed increases to some really powerful new moves. Experience (or Relic Power) is gained through beating enemies and finding Relic Chests. Filling a circle nets the player one quarter of a new skill point meaning Skill Points won’t come fast. By the end of the game with some diligence however, most of the board should be filled up. It is unfortunate though that the board is more streamlined then it initially seems. For players to get to the next part of the board, they must fill out all the smaller objects in the quadrant before. This is done to maintain balance but the linearity is disappointing.
In order to get to the next quadrant, all the silver blocks must be filled in.
While the story might take around 12 hours to complete, the game is by no means done there. Upon completion, Knack 2 opens up some extra gameplay modes. These come in the form of time attacks and combat arenas. These are nice distractions but they won’t take long to get the highest scores. The real replayability comes in the Knack medals. Players can hop right back into levels to try to complete small objectives. These are a nice mix of objective types forcing the player to try a few new strategies and go for some high scores. This is a big bonus for replayability and adds fun little tricks to the already completed missions.
Knackablu, I summon you!
Knack 2 is intended for a younger audience, a much younger audience. So like the first game, this one has an excellent coop feature. Knack 2’s coop allows for instant local hop in. With a second controller, a blue version of Knack springs into action sharing all the same moves as the real one. The game difficulty does not scale up meaning that even on hard, the game can turn real easy real quick with a coop partner around. With the ability to instantly warp to each player at the press of a button, it can put one player as the clear carry while the other just punches.
QTE’s require both players to put in the work
There is a lot more for Knackablu to do than just wallop enemies and draw attention. Sony Japan took care that the second player feels involved in all aspects of the game. Knackablu is never acknowledged in the cutscenes and by all accounts does not exist in the world. In the QTE segment, the two merge in a dual coloured Knack. Both players are required to hit the prompts on screen in order to progress. Even in other sections, the second player is not just ignored but acts alongside the real Knack. The coop also features exclusive moves that requires both knacks to provide some devastation. When hitting the other player with a special move, this triggers a new attack that can take out enemies quick.
By doing holding down square into your partner, the game has its only projectile attack.
The coop mode makes Knack 2 an easy recommendation for kids. While it can have some tough moments for those not accustomed to 3D action gameplay, allowing for instant drop in and out means kids can get a little help from friends. Even the helping player doesn’t feel that they have been shafted of enjoyment. It is unfortunate that Knack 2 does not feature online coop however. While couch coop is wonderful, there is no reason the game couldn’t go online with other players. The real shame is that the coop is too good to restrict to just a partner in the same room.
Knack 2 places an unusal emphasis on its collectibles. Instead of just trinkets or a step for a trophy, they act as significant ways to change the game. Throughout each level are small pathways that lead to a treasure chest. In each chest is either a Crystal Relic or a gadget piece. Starting with the latter, they are some game changing additions.
Gadgets comprise multiple components that when all pieces are found, can add new gameplay features. One of the best is the “Combo meter” which actually adds a combo meter into the game. It is a significant inclusion and makes the collectibles something to look out for. The crystals take longer to get but add significant changes. A box might feature one of four types of crystals. Collect all and then Knack has a new costume to use in the middle of combat by clicking the directional buttons. These Crystal Knacks are not just cosmetic by have their own special moves and bonuses. These require up to 15-20 gems each meaning that many boxes are needed to grab them.
The soundtrack hits all the right notes with each new section. Each piece of music fits the vibe perfectly as set out by the area players are traversing.
However, this is where some frustrations stems up from the treasure system. All boxes are random drops meaning no guide will tell you what a box might have. There is a chance for a new piece of equipment or just another crystal. While the box is randomised, the game allows the player to choose other options. At times, the game will offer other in games explorers, giving players a choice between their discovery or an NPC’s one. However, if the player has a friend who plays Knack 2 and they discovered the same box, whatever that player found is an available choice too. This is the only online aspect of the game and it is a nice social feature. It is a great feeling to have a friend help you out by just playing the game and getting lucky. It is a nice touch but sometimes those random drops can really sting, especially when the collectibles hold such significance.
Knack 2 The Animated Adventure
Knack 2 evokes a look akin to an animated film. The designs of the characters and world take a whimsical tone. It is a colourful adventure moving through a variety of locations. The game is not quite the stunner through graphical fidelity using less detailed textures within the game. It is not a bad looking package and does carry its own charm but it won’t provide any jaw dropping visual feats. The colour scheme really helps the look though with Knack 2 featuring some really wonderful use of bright colours.
Knack 2 on a PS4 Pro runs like an absolute dream. Over the fifteen hours, the harsh frame drops could be counted on one hand. Knack 2 runs at a steady 60 frames per second and rarely lets up even at 4k resolution. Players have the option to switch to 30fps but it never seemed necessary for a smoother performance. Knack 2 is a delight in terms of performance and even ran well in coop mode. For those with an HDR television, the colours mentioned earlier only stand out much more. On a PS4 Pro, Knack 2 really does shine.
The soundtrack hits all the right notes with each new section. Each piece of music fits the vibe perfectly as set out by the area players are traversing. This does make them somewhat forgettable as they never quite standout enough to draw attention. They work in the context of design and do have their own pleasantries. The soundtrack won’t have players scrounging to hear the song again, but they do add a nice touch to the presentation. Voice acting is solid with good performances from most the cast. The real shame is that the actors don’t have much to work with considering the script never tries to go beyond the generic. Working along those lines, they go for very by-the-books characterisations. It just adds to the blandness of the story and characters but none do a necessarily bad job at providing voices.
Knack, Knack, Knack!
Knack 2 might stand as one of the nicest surprises this year. Where the first game fell to meme status, the sequel might actually pull it out to be a real release to take note of. While the story doesn’t aim high enough to make it interesting, nearly every other aspect of the game is strong enough to carry it. For the younger audience Knack 2 becomes a great recommendation. A brilliant coop mode coupled with the cutesy look means that if there is a kid who needs a game to play without excessive violence, Knack 2 becomes a must buy. At a lower price point than the average release while still clocking in at 12 hours without extras, it is hard not to give it a go. Yet the intended audience should not deter older and more experienced players from picking it up. With rewarding combat, great puzzles and just wonderful level design, Knack 2 is an absolute treat and well worth considering for purchase. Knack 2 makes good on the first games’s faults and shows that there was reason to have faith in the little Knack-attack.