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July 2019

Knack 2

Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SCEE (EU), SCEA (US)
Developer: Sony Japan
Release Date: Sept. 15, 2017


PS4 Review - 'Knack II'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 11, 2017 @ 12:45 a.m. PDT

Knack 2 is a fun, pick-up-and-play adventure with a diverse set of combat, platforming and puzzle gameplay mechanics.

Buy Knack II

Launch titles for consoles are often a mix of tech demos, rushed games to take advantage of the relative lack of titles, and the occasional big title made to get people to buy the system. In many ways, the original Knack was a typical launch title. It wasn't exceptional or even particularly memorable, but it was a competent first look at what the PS4 could do. The sequel, Knack II, is released well into the PS4's life cycle and attempts to revive what was otherwise a forgotten launch title. The result is a perfectly competent game, but it certainly doesn't redefine the franchise.

Knack II brings us back into the shoes of the titular Knack, an ancient robot with the ability to collect parts to make himself bigger or smaller. Along with his teenage sidekick, he saved the world a while ago — and now he must do it again. The game throws players into the action as a swarm of evil robots smashes up a city and then zooms back to six months prior to explain why evil robots are on the loose. It's standard kids' movie fare, with plucky heroes facing down villains in a battle for the fate of the world.

Knack II thinks it's far more charismatic than it actually is. The characters, writing and plot would work well if the writing were tighter, but it's not. At best, the quips and characters elicit a smile, and at worst, they're forgettable. Even Knack himself, effectively wandering out of a forgotten kids' movie, lacks the quality that makes characters endearing. His world is also a bizarre hodgepodge of random ideas ranging from ancient technology to goblins. Random mixes can work, but here, they just don't.

Perhaps the strangest thing about Knack II's tone is how triumphant and excited it is. Far be it from me to say that any game should be too self-effacing, but Knack II approaches its characters and plot with the air that it's a long-awaited entry in a fan-beloved franchise and not the sequel to an average launch game. It gives the game a weird tone where I'm clearly supposed to be excited to see the return of characters, mechanics and plot beats that I barely remember from the original game. At times, Knack II seems to confront the fact that the original game didn't set the world on fire and makes the occasional self-effacing joke, which undercuts the otherwise forthright nature of the experience. The in-between nature of the experience feels odd.

The gameplay is an improvement over the original game, but it doesn't break any molds. Knack II is an action/platformer, and combat revolves around the now-standard two-button combo system that's used in most simple platformers. Kicks and punches can be strung together in combos, and Knack gradually unlocks new abilities as he advances. If you've played an action game in the past decade, you can pick up the basics of Knack II in a heartbeat.

The core gameplay loop is quite fun. The enemies aren't particularly difficult, but they have enough bite to make it fun to figure out how to get past enemy swarms without taking too much damage. The combo system is basic, and you'll rely on a few attacks to do everything, but there's also some room for depth. Unlock upgrades to freeze enemies or stun foes when smashing objects in the environment. There's also sunstone energy you can collect to get shields and special moves.

There is a puzzle element to Knack II, though it's rarely very complex. At the touch of a button, Knack can eject built-up detritus to return to his basic Knack form. Another touch, and he can bring the parts back to him. This swapping between sizes can be used in combat to avoid enemy attacks, but its primary use is in solving puzzles. You may need to be in a small form to sneak through a vent or passageway, in a large form to weigh down a switch, and so on. You can get special armored shells made of ice or other material to temporarily change Knack's properties.

Since the puzzles are a brief interruption in the beat-'em-up gameplay, they feel fairly perfunctory. There are a few puzzles that really shine, and they are the moments where Knack II is at its best. A part of me wishes they'd take Knack in more of a puzzle direction instead of a combat direction.

If I had one major complaint about Knack II, it's that his gimmick of being made of a bunch of smaller pieces doesn't feel like a natural part of the gameplay. The game does a better job than the first of trying to implement it, but it feels like something where they came up with the look first and then tried to force the gameplay to fit it. It's easy to mentally compare it to something like Sonic's rings or Mario's power-ups, but it lacks that natural flow. It's a shame because the game comes close sometimes. There are a few areas where Knack gradually grows and shrinks in size in ways that feels really cool, but they're not common enough.

One very welcome addition to Knack II is co-op gameplay, and it's extremely well implemented. Co-op is local only, but it does wonders to help the game feel fresh. The two Knacks in co-op can fight together or use special moves that involve both Knacks to easily defeat enemies. It turns most of the game into a cakewalk, but it also makes it a fantastic choice for kids and adults to play together. It could probably use some more bells and whistles (or online co-op), but neither is enough to drag down the experience. It's standard co-op gameplay, but that's all it needs to be.

Knack II's biggest issue is that it plays well enough and looks fine — but nothing beyond that. It's a fun game, and I had a good time with it, but it's an average action/platformer that doesn't advance the genre in any way. Instead, you can play the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, which provides more bang for the buck.

Knack II is a nice-looking game that uses a Pixar/Dreamworks art style that looks rather generic but is bright and colorful. The characters don't look very interesting. Knack is adorable in his tiny form but looks more like a villain when he's big, and the human characters are so bland that I could barely remember which was which. The title runs smoothly enough, and players have the option of limiting the frame rate to allow for a smoother performance. The voice acting and the soundtrack both fall firmly into Knack II's "competent but unexceptional" standard. They do their job and do it well enough, but neither stands particularly well on its own.

Knack II is a standard kids' platformer that's safe, simple and enjoyable, but it has little going for it beyond that. It's competent, but it's difficult to recommend it unless you're looking for something to play with a younger gamer. Players will enjoy the title for the duration of the play session but will likely forget about it in a week or two. There's certainly a place for that sort of game, and Knack II does the job well for its budget price tag of $40, but it's disappointing to see a title with so much potential and so little ambition.

Score: 7.0/10

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