Emerging as a launch title for the PS4 in late 2013, for many Knack provided an introduction to the console, an action-platformer with Pixar-like visuals, which provided a stark contrast from the abundance of gritty first-person shooters which populated the market. Not only was it the go-to family title at the time, but it also had PS4 architect and platforming mastermind Mark Cerny at the helm. The end result, however, failed to live up to expectations and Knack slowly dwindled into obscurity. Flash forward to 2017 and the team at SIE Japan Studio have resurrected the IP, recognising its true potential and improving upon every aspect of the original's flawed concept.
Knack 2 takes places around two years after the original and catapults you straight into the action, commanding a super-sized Knack to fend off an impending goblin invasion. Following this we are shown a flashback where it has been discovered that rampant 200-year old robots have mysteriously reawakened. This is the mystery that entwines much of the narrative and it's up to you to uncover their origins and find out how they can be stopped.
God of War writer Marianne Krawczyk, was behind the script and it certainly shows as the plot feels much more focused and well-paced this time around. While it's a clear improvement, some of the core members of the cast do lack personality and we still felt very little attachment towards them.
Tagged as a beat 'em up-platformer, the original was strangely short of platforming sections. The same can't be said about the sequel, however, as you'll find yourself running, jumping and gliding across rotating gears, erupting steam vents and loaded cannons. Knack can also shed his relics and shrink down to a miniature size to fit through tight ventilation shafts and make more precise wall jumps. We'd compare these sections to the Clank sections during Ratchet and Clank, as they are focused on solving puzzles with combat taking a secondary focus. Similarly, if you gather enough relics Knack can become enormous, which feels like almost like you're in command of Godzilla as you smash into buildings and stomp goblins into the ground.
Straying away from the original's basic three punch combo, Knack now has a varied move pool at his disposal. He can perform summersault kicks, body slams, charged punches and can even pull enemies up close to land more precise blows. These moves will either be unlocked during key moments of the campaign or can be learned via the skill tree. But to contend with this advanced move pool is a more varied cast of enemies, which are armed with the likes of miniguns, crossbows and plasma rifles. What is great is that enemies no longer scale to your size, which creates an added sense of vulnerability once your relics have been chipped away. Knack can also unleash special moves by shattering red crystals and entering a mode of temporary invincibility. Here you can lash enemies with ranged whip attacks and slam towards the ground to unleash powerful shock waves.
Knack 2 features an all-new skill tree, which is split into four paths and can be used to upgrade attacks and abilities, as well as learning some new tricks. You unlock spendable skill points by defeating enemies and finding crates of relic energy - there are even bugs which you can squish for extra points. All branches of the tree aren't available right away, however, as you'll have to complete the core skills of one branch before moving to the next. While this upgrade system has quite a linear structure and proves to be basic, it does provide a sense of depth to combat allowing you to enhance abilities to best suits your play style.
Reducing Knack to a pile of rubble used to take all but a few hits, which is what much player frustration stemmed from. Now Knack can endure far more blows and his health recovers in a matter of seconds by absorbing his scattered parts. Yellow crystals, which were formerly used to build up special abilities are now used for an added layer of protection and can be often found on the battlefield. Whilst proving to be useful, it did feel a little confusing at first as a returning player, as we often found ourselves forgetting their use. If these aspects make the game sound a little too easy then you're in luck, as there's the option to adjust the difficulty between four different settings.
Similar to the first Knack you can take can take on different forms by fusing with materials such as ice, steel, and glass. What is different this time though is that your form has an impact on combat and puzzle sections and isn't a simple change of aesthetic. Ice Knack, for example, can use his frost breath to encase enemies in ice, and Steel Knack can tether electrical currents together to unlock doors and can swing on suspended objects. Pressing R1 and returning to your miniature form also fuses all of the special particles into a statue, which often serves as an obstacle in puzzle scenarios. We felt like these forms were a huge missed opportunity in the first title, so it's great to see that they have been reworked in the sequel.
The level design has also seen a significant improvement with your journey taking you to monasteries, barren deserts, and high-surveillance museums. It might sound cliched but it really feels like you're going on an adventure by visiting these new locales, and the varied chapters work to add momentum to the story. The places you visit feel vibrant and alive this time as civilians populate the towns and cities you enter and there's been a tremendous layer of detail added to background regions. There's still a degree of linearity, as you'll find yourself following one main path towards the objective, but as we've seen in platformers like Crash Bandicoot and Sonic the Hedgehog; linearity isn't always a bad thing.
Collectables make a return, but this time assembling gadgets feels much more attainable, as with the original it often took multiple playthroughs. Hidden pathways within levels often lead to chests, which contain gadget fragments - collecting enough of the same type allows you to construct a new gadget. You can equip one gadget at a time, giving you new abilities such as being able to teleport to avoid falling and stunning enemies by shattering yellow crystals. There are also red gems, which can be gathered to unlock different forms of Knack, but these are much less common. We wish there was a way to perhaps trade gadget parts with friends; it would have certainly enhanced the social experience and helped during those tricky situations where you're stuck for one last part.
What's also new is that you'll be able to play from start to finish in co-op, either online or offline. Your partner can take control of a blue clone of Knack and can seamlessly drop in and out of the fun during the campaign. Having a friend by your side makes for a completely fresh experience and can help particularly for crowd control or when moving objects during puzzles needed to scale walls and avoid traps. Split-screen would have been great during local play, but we appreciated that it's a platformer that lets you bring your friends along for the whole ride.
Knack 2 may possibly be one of the most improved sequels we've ever played. Combat now has added depth thanks to a new skill-tree and unlockable moves, and platforming and puzzle segments help to provide variation. Playing the game along with a friend is an absolute joy and an improved story and varied environments work to strengthen the package overall. Following a rocky launch, a sequel may have seemed a questionable choice, but we're pleased that Mark Cerny and co have given this another shot, allowing Knack to blossom into its initial potential.
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