Developer: SIE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: 06/09/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4
When the Playstation 4 was originally unveiled, Sony showed off two first party titles that would launch alongside it – the stunning person shooter Killzone: Shadow Fall and the vibrant platformer Knack. Whilst Killzone: Shadow Fall offered a fantastic look at just how glitzy and action-packed first person shooters were going to feel on the new hardware though, Knack felt a little uninspired and bland. It wasn’t a bad game by any means, but it wasn’t one that would leave a lasting impression on gamers that were excited to see what their new console could offer them.
Four years have passed since then though and Knack is back to give it another shot. Following on from the last game, Knack 2 sees the titular hero teaming up with Lucas once again as they look to protect Newhaven from an army of vicious robots and the malicious High Goblins that control them.
You know what though? Whilst the original game was a little lacklustre, Knack 2 is actually a really charming adventure that despite being simple in design will offer hours upon hours of platforming entertainment.
Knack 2’s story continues on from the first game, with Knack and Lucas once again facing off against a Goblin threat. There’s a twist this time around though – these Goblins are a more advanced form known as the High Goblins, and they have robots help them out on their quest for domination. Other than that it follows the same run of the mill formula from the first game, with the bog-standard adventuring elements never changing up too much from start to end.
Whilst the story does a decent job of keeping the cogs of the game in motion, I couldn’t help but to find it a little uninspired. There’s certainly potential for Knack to be a really likeable character, but instead his presence is barely felt outside of the gameplay – it’s like he’s just there to be bossed around by Lucas to perform any action that is asked of him. There was an opportunity here for the relationship between Knack and Lucas to have been expanded on a lot more in order to make them more believable characters, but instead they both simply play cliché roles that wouldn’t feel out of place in any family-friendly action adventure. At least the villains had a bit more personality, but even their motives never felt particularly unique.
Whilst Knack 2 fails to deliver from a narrative perspective though, it’s gives a great performance in the presentation department. When playing on the Playstation 4 Pro, everything in the game looks great with a slick and constant 60fps on offer throughout. I was often in awe at how pretty everything was; the game is full of vibrant colours that really bring the world to life, which is something that is further enhanced when played on a HDR compatible TV. Believe me, Knack 2 looks absolutely phenomenal at times.
Even the sound design is on point, with a fantastic soundtrack that mixes up grand pieces with charming little tunes depending on the level or situation you find yourself in. That being said, the original game was never criticised for its presentation, but rather how it played. Thankfully, a lot of the issues that gamers faced in the predecessor are fixed here.
Knack comes equipped with a lot of the abilities that he had in the last game, though this time around they’re better utilised to offer more entertaining gameplay. There’s no lengthy, boring tutorial to introduce you to these abilities either; you’re thrown right into the action, with the game teaching you how to play in a more exciting way as opposed to having Knack demonstrate his capabilities to an audience in a bland laboratory.
Once again, Knack is able to change his size, though this time the player is able to do it freely with a quick button press rather than during pre-set moments during levels. Whilst the shifting between tiny Knack and big Knack was a prominent feature in the last game, it never felt like it was cleverly utilised due to the fact that you could only use it on specific occasions. Now though, it flows together nicely in gameplay; you’ll be switching between both sizes a lot more often as you work your way through each level, with a clever balance of both needed if you’re going to conquer some of the platforming sections and puzzles that are thrown your way. Whilst the mechanic hasn’t been changed all that much in concept, the fact you can do it freely makes it feel less like a gimmick and more like something that can actually affect gameplay. Both sizes come with varying pros and cons too: when you’re massive you’re going to feel more powerful in combat but won’t be able to reach certain areas, whilst little Knack is much nimbler but packs less of a punch.
Much like the last game, the combat mechanics are pretty basic. You’ll have a series of simple combos you can unleash, whilst defensive manoeuvres typically consist of simply blocking or dodging enemy attacks. Combat can vary up depending on what size you are though, with the larger Knack much better at taking on foes than his smaller counterpart.
Whilst combat is simple in design though, this time around Knack can learn some new abilities and expand upon his existing skills. It helps to stop the game becoming a boring button-masher, with Knack’s revamped move set ensuring you’re always expanding upon your capabilities as you progress through the game. Whilst you can make your standard attacks a bit more powerful or introduce new moves to integrate into your combos, you’ll also unlock abilities like the Boomerang and Hookshot that add a few neat tricks up Knack’s relic-sleeve. Don’t get me wrong, Knack 2’s combat never steers towards complicated levels and it always feels simple to perform, but it has a lot more variety this time around to ensure it never starts to feel more boring the longer you spend with the game.
Much like in Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy earlier this year, it’s nice to come across another platformer that doesn’t depend on overly large open environments, but rather ones that offer a finely crafted pathway of carefully designed areas that feature optional detours for players who feel a bit more adventurous. Each location in the game looks absolutely stunning and with such a variety on offer you’ll never grow bored of seeing the world around you. The only times it ever felt a little bland was when you were put into one of the larger areas, but even then you typically had busy environments around you to keep everything feeling a little interesting. To its credit, the original game offered some great landscapes to ogle as you were smashing your enemies apart, but Knack 2 really ups the ante.
The levels themselves are great to venture through though, with each location offering a great mixture of platforming, puzzle solving, and combat. Don’t get me wrong, like most aspects of Knack 2 nothing ever feels over-complicated nor do the levels offer anything you wouldn’t have seen in platformers before, but what’s on show is enjoyable to play through. You’ll have to use all of Knack’s abilities if you’re going to get through each level too, with some of the puzzles utilising all different aspects of his skillset. Platforming is also a lot more prominent than in the original, with plenty of moments where you’ll need to pull off well-timed and quick paced jumps if you’re going to survive. It all adds to the variety and constantly keeps you doing something different, which is a vast improvement of the bland adventuring elements of the first game.
Those who hated the cruel checkpoint system of the first game will be pleased to know they’re a lot more balanced this time around. The first game could be pretty difficult despite its family friendly nature, so the few and far between checkpoints could prove to be frustrating for gamers. Now though, they’re a lot more balanced and won’t force you to play through the same things over and over again each time you die. It’s a small detail, but one that goes a long way in showing the improvements that have been made between games.
Each level features a few hidden treasure chests that need to be found, with each one containing the components for some of the many power ups that Knack is able to use. I remember hunting down the chests in the previous game, but being left a little underwhelmed by their contents; this time around I actually wanted to find them just to make sure our hero was well-equipped for each scenario he faced in-game. Actually finding them could be quite a task, but it was something I enjoyed; whilst some chests would require destruction to find, others were easy to see but required a bit of thought to reach. It made it a lot more entertaining to explore each level, with decent rewards on offer for more adventurous folk with a keen eye.
One big change that has been introduced in Knack 2 is the implementation of drop-in local co-op play, allowing two players to adventure through the entirety of the game together. Whilst it’s great to be able to play through with another player thanks to the simplistic nature of the game, having two players actually opens up a couple of new co-op attacks to unleash some serious damage on your foes too. It even overcomes the common local co-op flaw of platformers where one player might hold back the game by struggling to get through a particularly tricky jumping section – players just warp next to each other when they stray too far away, so a lot of the frustrations that come along with the mode are alleviated immediately. The fact you can drop-in and drop-out is a nice touch too. My nephew loves Knack, but struggles with some areas of the game; being able to just jump in quickly to help him out without having to take him directly out of the action was great and is something I’m sure a lot of parents will appreciate.
It should take players around ten hours to get through Knack 2, so it’s a fairly lengthy game. There’s plenty of replayability on offer too thanks to the hidden chests and plethora of challenges the game throws your way – every level has its own set of challenges to complete, so there’ll always be different ways for you to tackle them. There’s a lot more on offer rather than just the story this time around, and whilst the challenges or extra game modes might not necessarily offer as deep an experience as the story, their presence adds a lot more longevity to the experience. Not bad for a cut-price game…
Whilst Knack 2 might not necessarily offer anything that you wouldn’t have already seen before in the genre, it improves upon the prequel in almost every single way. The gameplay is more refined and enjoyable, combat has been expanded upon but still remains accessible, the game world is stunning and slicker than ever, whilst the introduction of co-op play offers a whole new way to play the game.
Whilst I’ll admit that I don’t think Knack 2 does enough to really cement Knack’s status as Sony’s platforming mascot, it has certainly improved the reputation of the series and proven that there’s a place on the Playstation 4 for its fun, platforming action. If you were let down by the original game, don’t be put off giving Knack 2 a try – you might find yourself pleasantly surprised by the charming adventure on offer.