reader comments 18
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I can’t decide if Knack should speak more or just shut up altogether. Sony’s size-changing would-be mascot has just enough personality that I find it strange when he doesn’t respond to dialogue outside of cut scenes. He blurts out the occasional vapid one-liner—like “Oh yeah” or “Ice is nice” when picking up a frost power-up—but otherwise expresses next to no interest in his own world-saving adventure. And when the hero at the heart of a world doesn’t seem to care, it makes it very hard for me to do so as well.
Lack of personality isn’t just a problem with Knack 2‘s title character. The game is shot through with science-fantasy plainness, from the muted color scheme to the generic antagonistic goblins. If you asked me to picture the most trite versions of ancient ruins, a fantasy castle, or a robot factory, they’d look exactly like the ones I trundled all over in this light action-platformer.
As if to put a point on the game’s extremely generic construction, Knack is aided on his punchy journey by “the monks.” Not “The Insert Proper Noun Here Monks,” or “The Monks of Fantasy Town Name.” They’re just “the monks.” Their existence, formation, and current members are tremendously important parts of Knack 2‘s plot about the search for a robot army-commanding super-weapon, and the group doesn’t even have a distinct name.
It’s not that I was expecting much. I played the first hour of the original Knack, in preparation for this review to see if the PS4 launch title really deserves to be the punchline it has become.
What I saw was equally empty of context and somehow both simple and bizarrely difficult. Simple in that you could jump and punch, and that’s about it. Difficult in that, in my experience, you could also die quite a lot after taking just a couple of hits between staggered health pickups. It felt like an interactive diorama for 3D particle effects.
Mechanically, Knack 2 is an improvement in just about every way. You still kick and jump a lot, sure, but there are fewer frustrating deaths. Knack has quickly regenerating health this time around, though he can still die from a handful of blows in quick succession.
That means combat is largely focused on managing crowds of enemies, getting in and getting out to regenerate before they can overwhelm you. That base level of strategy is a tremendous step toward more challenging, engaging fights—one that only improves as Knack 2 introduces even more unique enemies to counter Knack’s own growing list of powers.
Early on, you’re just punching, blocking, and returning goblin arrows to sender with carefully timed parries. By the climax, you might need to do all that while also stunning a hostile robot at range to douse its electrified forcefield, flipping to an armor-breaking charge punch on a third foe, then finishing off a weaker one while the other two are staggered. Even lightning-fingered players will probably die quite a bit when Knack is seriously outnumbered. Luckily, the sequel did borrow one of its predecessor’s positive selling points: lightning fast load times. Those, coupled with generous checkpoints, keep the challenges from becoming too frustrating.
From easy to hard, from small to big
It’s just a shame that all this satisfying complexity is teased out, painfully slowly, over such a blasé adventure.
Once you’ve seen one of Knack 2‘s stack of 15 chapters, you’ve just about seen them all. In each one, Knack and his entirely superfluous human sidekick, Lucas, fly to some mutely exotic locale. Knack starts small, with only as much magical building block biomass as they could stow on a seaplane. You fight some small enemies and hop along different variations of the same jumping puzzle. Knack gets bigger, and you fight bigger enemies. The chapter likely closes with some tolerable quick-time events.
I shouldn’t gloss over the exploration element too much, since it’s also much improved over the original game. See, Knack can now flip between his minimum and current maximum sizes at will, which means most puzzles, and just about every secret area in a given level, are gated by turning small and squeezing through tight spaces. Most of the platforming in this action-platformer is done as small Knack, while most of the fighting is done on a larger scale.
And, once our hero starts pushing 20 feet and beyond, that scale becomes genuinely impressive. The world around him might feel flat, but the floating particles that form Knack do look very nice. Knack can swish those component pieces around on the ground after shedding them or even use their weight in counterbalance puzzles. Knack 2‘s non-combat sequences are at their most interesting when they take this into account, which happens with an unfortunate infrequency.
The right circumstances
I’ve spent a long time thinking about to whom Knack 2‘s blend of all-too-simple platforming and often intense combat is meant to appeal. The story is too drawn out and safely colorless to be the kind of game I would have played through repeatedly when I was young. The crowded fights, meanwhile, require a lot of manual dexterity for especially young kids—not Bayonetta-levels of stick flicking and button mashing, but enough.
Knack 2‘s drop-in, drop-out co-op fits nicely into that dynamic. Not only is crowd control easier by virtue of having more warm bodies for foes to split their focus on, but there’s a sort of “reverse friendly fire,” whereby hitting your ally with various strikes fires projectile attacks. Meanwhile, players can warp to each other at any time with a press of R2. Even if someone does get hung up on a platforming challenge, their partner can take the reins and get past it for both of them.
If you’re like my own poor parents, blessed with two children of about equal age, the game even has a fix for the age-old question of who gets to be player one. When you select two-player mode, Knack simply splits himself across two bodies—meaning both players get to be the main character. It’s a smart little detail that helps cement co-op as the best way to play the game.
One among many
Taken all together, Knack 2 is a tricky sell. It’s not totally unenjoyable. It dodges the worst extremes of simplicity and frustration that plagued its predecessor. The last third, especially, strikes a just-right balance of hectic combat and size-changing platforming. By that point, seven or so hours into the game, it’s as if the developers were confident that even their youngest players could be trusted to have a handle on every concept.
Even at that point, though, Knack barely makes an impression. The sequel never strays from its repeated formula to provide any kind of memorable texture to the world, its characters, or why I should care about either. The game occasionally insists that Knack is viewed as some kind of superhero after the events of the first game, but such statements ring hollow amid the emptiness.
As a result, there’s nothing for the combat and platforming to contrast against. It’s just an endless series of jumps and fights, with nothing significant to break them up, for about a dozen hours. The repetitive formula begins to make every ancient ruin or one-dimensional villain slur together in the end.
It’s not that this kind of passable experience is hard to recommend. It’s more that it’s hard to recommend against the colorful, cartoonish, and personality-driven games oozing out of the walls every week these days. If you’ve exhausted the likes of Overwatch, Lego Worlds, Sonic Mania, and countless other examples, you could at least do a lot worse than Knack 2.
- Surprisingly complex, satisfying combat
- Solid couch co-op brawling
- Those particle effects sure do look nice
- Completely unremarkable story and characters
- Color palette is muted and dull
- Rinse-and-repeat platform and battle formula
- Knack dances to soft hip-hop over the credits…
Verdict: There are plenty of better games to spend your time and money on right now. If you absolutely, specifically need an inoffensive couch co-op brawler right now, try it.