September 6, 2017
Sony Interactive Entertainment
SIE Japan Studio
Across the internet, Knack is often referred to as “our lord and saviour” or “the divine one”, a cheeky and sarcastic dig at his overall irrelevance in the pantheon of gaming mascots and heroes. Knack 2 comes along and tries to rid itself of this moniker, this slander, this blasphemy, in what could go down as the truest form of the phrase “the sequel nobody wanted”.
All memery aside, Knack 2 is not the worst game I’ve ever played (it’s no Duke Nukem Forever, trust me), but it certainly lacks a special sauce that would make me ever consider going back. Carefully crafted by Sony’s Japan Studio, Knack 2 is a pretty, mechanically sound, but ultimately flat and repetitive title that did not resonate with me. “You’re too old to review a kid’s game,” you might say, but here I am getting the platinum trophy in Ratchet and Clank. “Platformers aren’t for you,” might cross your mind and yet Mario and Crash Bandicoot remain, to this day, as my main jams. Unfortunately, Knack 2 exists in a world where it just isn’t needed, and it struggles to find its feet and prove otherwise in its long-winded 15 chapter campaign.
“Knack 2 has tried to expand its appeal by bringing in elements from other mascot platformers … the end result feels like a bad doppelganger.”
Here’s the thing about Knack: it tries too many things and falls short of all of them. What I mean by that is Knack 2 has tried to expand its appeal by bringing in elements from other mascot platformers and action games, and unfortunately the end result feels like a bad doppelganger. It blends 2D and 3D platforming ala Crash Bandicoot, it has upgrade cards ala Ratchet and Clank, it features a skill tree system ala Styx: Master of Shadows, and the combat system (updated and expanded from the OG Knack) feels lifted straight out of Jak and Daxter. However, where each of the original games succeeds and enriches the experience with these factors, Knack 2 unfortunately feels like a hot mess; like Christmas left-overs baked into a pie.
The plot of Knack 2 is about as basic as an episode of Saturday morning cartoons with robots and goblins threatening life as we know it. Essentially each chapter follows the same rinse-and-repeat structure: arrive at locale, fight enemies, help humans get from A to B by solving puzzles, quick time event, and a boss fight. After the first few, you’ve seen them all, but that doesn’t stop Knack 2 from stretching out the story as much as possible to try and win the audience over.
The inclusion of silly quick time events seems very last-gen, and while I can see that the developers wanted to make the cinemetic sections more interactive, it isn’t very fun just hitting square and triangle 6 times while Knack flies around like the superhero he desperately wants to be. A shorter campaign, more dynamic story beats, and meaningful interactivity would have been a wonderful change and a huge improvement, and probably would have left a better taste in my mouth.
A few redeeming elements of gameplay is the shifting between regular old big Knack and small Knack (or as I like to call him: Snack) to solve puzzles, and the implementation of drop-in/drop-out cooperative play. I like a game that makes you think and, while the puzzles are incredibly simple, I enjoyed the mild challenge they posed. Add in a second Knack, and the ways to solve puzzles open up and allow the players a bit more creativity which I think is a step in the right direction.
Another interesting gameplay feature is the modifiers Knack can pick up in the world. Break open a box of iron ore, and you become Iron Knack, who can deliver devastating blows and create electrical currents to solve puzzles. Shatter a large ice deposit and transform into Ice Knack, who can freeze enemies in place and stop levers and gears from moving. Need to slip past laser security systems? Then Crystal Knack is your best friend, who turns transparent and can easily pass through beams without alerting the enemies.
Knack 2’s combat is better than what came before, and drip feeds you additional moves and super-moves throughout the game in an effort to keep things fresh. It’s one of the game’s strongest features, the fluid and mostly engaging combat, and there is something very satisfying about utilising your range of moves to defeat a large crowd of enemies. Some environmental hazards can aid or ail you in battle (yellow crystals disorient enemies, while red crystals explode and stun Knack), making things a lot of more interesting and requiring care on the battlefield.
The aforementioned super-moves are available in special scripted battle scenarios where a giant hybrid crystal will drop and you can unleash powerful crystal swords, or drop like a grenade and watch Knack’s body shrapnel destroy anything in range. Unfortunately these are few and far between, and a “special meter” would have been more effective rather than the crystal being handed over whenever the game sees fit.
In co-op, combat becomes a new beast. A second body on-screen helps avoid annoying moments like being surrounded by ranged enemies and being unable to move. Using a second Knack to flank enemies and assist in soaking up hits allows both players more freedom and flexibility in battle. With combat already being fairly decent in Knack 2 compared to the first, adding in 2 players is another leap forward.
Those with a keen eye can often find secrets and hidden caches in the environment of Knack 2. See a small opening on a cliff? Chances are small Knack can climb the wall and slip through the opening to find a prize. Doing this requires close attention to the environments and, to be honest, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. All good platformers have strong visuals and vibrant colour palettes and Knack 2, while not necessarily a good platformer, delivers in spades on this front. The varied locales on Knack 2 provide an opportunity for some great artistic detail, and the character models of Knack, his human counterparts, and the villainous robots and goblins are all vibrant and sharp. Some of the larger set pieces actually venture into “impressive” territory, especially the old temples and swamplands of the middle chapters.
- Co-op gameplay improves the overall experience
- Fluid combat
- Great art style and animation
- Flat and overstretched campaign
- Undercooked systems and dated mechanics
- Bad implementation of quick time events
It pains me to see Sony try so hard to foster another mascot for the Playstation audience and miss the mark by such a wide margin. Knack 2 exists in a world where we simply do not need it, and I think we knew that with the original Knack. Will we see a Knack 3? Who knows, but I’m not sure Knack has it in him for another bout of disappointment.