One of the more surprising things during the PlayStation Experience keynote was the announcement of Knack 2. The crowd almost didn't know how to react. Some laughed about this rumoured announcement actually being true, while others cheered when they realised that Knack and Lucas are going on new adventures. Well, Knack is definitely back, and it's no laughing matter.
We learned this when we got a hands-on session with the game, and an interview with its creators. They didn't want to reveal a lot about the story, but they did tell us that it takes place approximately two to three years after the first game. Lucas has done something that affected his village in a very bad way, and he's now trying to fix things. Knack, Doctor Vargas, and Ryder are obviously coming along for the ride, and together they travel across the world with a view to making everything better.
With the game being set two-ish years after the original, Knack has learned some new abilities. The first we got to play around with was being able to change his size whenever we want; a nice feature that's also reflected in the environment. A hundred collectables are spread around the game, and most of these require using your brain and/or Knack's abilities; whether it be seeing a suspiciously small open window that can be entered by making Knack small mid-jump while on a balancing board, or a narrow ledge on the opposite side of where you're supposed to go. Finding one of these will reward you with Relic Energy (experience points) or gadget pieces. Finding all the pieces of a gadget set will give you new abilities. Gain enough Relic Energy and you get to enter the new skill tree. Here you get to choose from a multitude of upgrades, including stronger attacks, more health or new abilities that suit your play-style. Who doesn't like having more incentives to explore the world?
We'll also get to play around with new elemental abilities, including a metal Knack. One of its abilities is dropping small pieces of metal on the ground, which can be used to lead electricity. An ability that might come in handy when encountering an elevator with no power, closed electrical doors, etc. Variety seems to get a lot of focus this time around, and not just in terms of platforming and puzzles, but combat as well.
Both Knack and his enemies have improved their combat skills. Knack will now do different attacks depending on if you're pushing or holding the different buttons, and combining these will deliver different results. This will come in handy as different enemies have different strengths and weaknesses. One of the examples we came across was a Knack-looking creature that was able to block any attack, except the power attack. This is done by holding down the circle button. If you just were to push it, Knack would kick instead. Another example is the projectile throwing enemies. You now have the ability to shield yourself by holding the L1 button. Timing this perfectly will reflect incoming projectiles right back at them. If you find it to difficult it's also possible to just dash out of the way with the right analogue stick.
Then there's the symmetric cooperation. Whether you're offline or online, a friend can join you instantly as a blue copy of Knack. This doesn't just create more chaos as there are now two players, but gives you some fun new mechanics to play around with as well. You can see some of it in the trailer, as you can help each other to perform powerful attacks. Hold in the square button while next to your partner, and you'll do a lot of rapid punches that sends their parts flying towards the enemy like a turret. Another cool thing is that you can body slam it to make the parts cover a fairly wide circle around you. Different attacks suit different situations.
Those of you who just wants to bash your way through enemies will also be pleased, as certain ones contain powerful crystals that will make you stronger and invincible for a few seconds. This won't only spawn a horde of enemies, but also gives you new powers. Your Knack(s) will now glow like gold and wield a sword that easily cuts through enemies. These sequences seems to be nicely spread around the game, and they do a good job of changing things up once in a while.
Another thing that changes are the levels. As Knack 2 is aiming to please both big and small, Japan Studio has included an interesting detail: your choice of difficulty affects the level layout. Choose "Easy" and you'll go through parts of the levels that are easier to navigate. Choose "Hard" and you'll have to go through longer, more challenging platforming sequences. A nice feature that makes it easier for those who aren't that skilled, while giving more experienced players the challenge they seek. Top this off with the more forgiving checkpoint system and you have yourself a game that suits everyone.
Many like to use the example of going from Assassin's Creed to Assassin's Creed II, when talking about a series that started with interesting ideas and then really transformed itself when it came to the second game. Knack 2 definitely seems to fit into this category. We thought that the original Knack had some problems in level design and variation, but those seem to have been fixed now. The level design is more detailed and open, which gives room for exploration and more varied activities. Throw in the implementation of co-op, a deeper combat system, an upgrade system, and more replay value and you have yourself a game that will please fans, while also pulling in the doubters.