Knack 2 is a pleasurable, intelligently designed 3D puzzle+brawler+platformer that’s suitable for gamers of any age but it falls just short of joining the PlayStation classics. The Finger Guns Review;
“Daaaaad, after we’ve done our homework and read our book and tidied up our bedrooms and put our things away and we’ve had some dinner… can we please, please, please play on Knack 2?”
This is the question that has been posed to me several times a day since Knack 2 released 13 days ago. It’s a request that comes complete with a massive hopeful smile that even the Pre-Christmas-Spirits Scrooge would find it hard to say ‘No’ too. My brood of kids have fallen head-over-heels in love with the Return of the Knack. My eldest son has now started his second play through, moving up to the Hard difficulty as he does so, while the Twins are replaying the game on Easy in Co-Op just for the fun of it. What my kids don’t know is that after they’re all tucked up in bed, I’ve also been powering through it and sharing many of the same sentiments.
Knack 2 begins a few years after the end of the original. Lucas, now a teenager, is showing his uncle Ryder a discovery he made while out adventuring when dilapidated, ancient goblin machines mysteriously spring to life. These machines, remnants of a bygone war with the High Goblins, become the MacGuffin which force Knack (a being made of magic rocks called Relics) and his friends to set out to discover a plot full of intrigue and betrayal. For fans of the original game, there’s a raft of returning characters, often in fresh roles as well as new friends and enemies and some easter eggs for those who really pay attention. The plot itself lacks any kind of nuance – it’s as subtle as a punch to the face and telegraphs its twists early on – but it’s on par with most straight-to-DVD animated movies. Most importantly, it’s very easy to understand. My 5 year old twins can give you a rundown of what’s going on and why because it explains itself repeatedly and in simple terms.
That’s a recurring theme with Knack 2 – Accessibility. While playing you can see where the conscious decisions were made to make sure that the game is enjoyable for people of all abilities while still remaining challenging. The co-op mode is one of the best examples of this; When in co-op, 2 Knacks appear on screen, one Orange and one Blue, except when in a cutscene in which both combine together into a multicoloured Knack. During the games many QTE’s, both players have to rapidly press a button to fill a bar but it doesn’t require equal effort. One player can fill 75% of the bar while the other does 25% so long as the bar is filled completely. This means that players with mixed abilities can complement each other. The same can be said about the puzzles and combat too, all of which are designed to be easier in co-op. An Example – During one level, you have to use a weight switch to open a door in order to progress. In single player, you’d have to use pieces of iron (more on these in a second) to hold down the weight switch and then walk through to prgress. In co-op, player 1 can stand on the switch while player 2 walks through the door. Player 1 will then be dragged forward passed the door to reach player 2. It’s simple things like this that mean even younger kids working together can overcome the game’s most difficult puzzles. It’s telling that I’ve had to help my 5 year old sons overcome a section only a handful of times which is a drastic reduction compared to most games they play.
Knack himself has had a overhaul since his last outing. A kick has thankfully been added to his combat repertoire of punching, punching and even more punching. He can now parry projectiles using his relic shield too as well as dodge them using the right thumbstick. The crystal powered superpowers have been removed and replaced with a barrier which prevents damage. All in all, the changes are positive ones that offer a fluid, varied and a far more intricate feeling to the combat. Button mashing is still an option (as is often demonstrated in my house) and in the lower difficulty settings, enemies slowly telegraph their attacks giving you ample time to do something about it but you’ll need to learn the granular changes if you want to survive in the games harder difficulty settings. The other major change is that Knack can now grow and shrink at will. A quick press of the R1 button and the titular character can shed or collect relics to change size, allowing him to either shrink into small spaces or beef up for combat. This mechanic is used intuitively throughout, once again playing on that inbuilt knowledge that all children have about size and danger as well as concentrating the platforming aspects of the game.
As you progress through the plot, Knack is granted several new moves and powers. As in the original, Knack can absorb some materials that aren’t Relics like iron, ice and crystal. Each new substance offers Knack new abilities such as the Iron Whip or the Ice Slash and when you shrink down using R1, the substances form a statue of Knack which can be used to solve puzzles (like the aforementioned weight switch). Knack also learns new moves which he can use in combat and as a means to clear puzzles. These are drip fed to you and are always followed by a section which heavily requires the use of the new skill to hammer home its use.
Visually, Knack 2 is a huge improvement over the original. This is in part due to an obviously concerted effort by the art teams at Sony to spice things up. There’s much more colour and detail here but still falls inline with the bold, solid colour aesthetic that was set out in the original game. There’s a much more cinematic feel to Knack 2 with the camera panning around on background details and revealing landscapes that add to the world building.
In many ways, Knack 2 reminds me of the God of War games. Sure, there’s no deicide or ultraviolence, but it uses many of the same mechanics and a similar level structure. Certain enemies are vulnerable to certain attacks and are immune to others, just like God of War. The soundtrack is full of brass pomp and building bass that crescendos during boss battles, just like God of War. There’s a requirement for precision platforming and an eye for detail as you scan the environment for secrets, just like God of War. There’s plenty of action packed QTE’s, just like God of War. Knack 2 is an unlikely but enjoyable version of Kratos for kids, something you might expect given that it was co-written by Marianne Krawczyk who wrote, among other many other projects, many of the God of War games.
It’s not all perfect however. There are a few chapters that overstay their welcome with a few too many fights against the same enemies and 1 chapter in particular that probably didn’t need to exist at all. The game feels like it’s an hour and a half too long (clocking in at 12 hours for me when doing a 100% Hard run and around 15 for my kids who are playing at their own pace) and could have done without as much filler. There’s also a pretty jarring moment in the game when it transfers from “BASH EVERYTHING IN FRONT OF YOU. BASH BASH BASH!” to “ssshhhh. You need to sneak into this compound” in seconds which I’ve watched confuse all of my kids into submission. It’s not that this is a particularly bad stealth section – I imagine it was designed to limit the punishment for being seen for young players and does just that – but it certainly needed signposting more clearly that this was, in fact, a stealth section. There’s another section where an enemy appears that’s immune to all of Knack’s attacks and the idea is that you should run away from it – but that’s not clearly signposted either which means my kids spent 10 minutes fighting the same single enemy before they figured it out.
Those small niggles aside, Knack 2 is an improvement upon the original in every single way. It’s a family friendly 3D platformer come puzzler that puts as much importance on appealing to children as it does adults and succeeds with both. When I ask my kids what score they’d give Knack 2 out of 10, they say “ten hundred out of ten” but for me the filler and occasional confusing section mean that it falls just short of joining the likes of Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank in the annals of 3D platforming history but it’s still a solid, polished and thoroughly entertaining game.
Knack 2 is available now on PS4 (review version).
Disclaimer: We purchased a copy of Knack 2 in order to complete this review. Please see our review policy for more information.