The first notes I took down when beginning this review were “Knack 2 is pretty dumb”. In any number of ways, after playing through the rest of the game, that statement still stands, but it’s equally unfair to pass it off as something other than what it is – a whole lot of fun. This 3D action game has combat, light puzzling, co-op and attractive visuals that actually make it feel like a distant cousin to the Travellers Tales’ Lego games, and that also makes Knack 2 a wholesale improvement over its predecessor.
For those that didn’t pick up the first game, Knack is a creature made of Relics, these ancient objects that the inhabitants of this world use to power virtually everything. His party piece is the ability to absorb more Relics, and increase or decrease in size. He’s also pretty handy in a fight, and his repertoire has increased to encompass a whole new range of ways to smack Goblins and their lackeys about.
The tale that Knack 2 tells isn’t particularly complicated, but it breezes along, with Knack and his chums facing off against ancient Goblin machinery and their masters, zipping you from ancient ruins through to bustling cities. The chunky art style of the original returns here, and while I was occasionally disappointed by some bland environments, it all hangs together well, with increasingly large opponents coupled to a pleasingly epic orchestral soundtrack, some moments of which wouldn’t sound out of place in an Uncharted game.
Knack himself is a lot of fun, both visually and gameplay-wise, and after playing the first game I’ve even become used to his bass-heavy vocal delivery. There’s a greater emphasis on Knack’s ability to shrink and grow in size this time out, and Japan Studio have made a good decision in largely keeping you empowered through much of the game. You’ll find yourself regularly switching backwards and forwards in size – all with a swift tap of the R1 button – and it all flows effortlessly.
Getting to the biggest size in the original was seen as a treat, but here it might be the opposite. Besides being quite cute, tiny Knack feels particularly vulnerable now if you’ve just become used to lumbering around. It just feels that much more thought has gone into the sequel and that they’ve listened to the very vocal complainants.
Progression is tied to beating enemies and collecting blue experience orbs, which you can then use to unlock skills on the power-up board. Superficially it looks a little like a Final Fantasy game’s method of improving your character, but there’s little to no strategy to be had here, barring a few occasions where you choose which upgrade to go for before the other. It’s a completely gated system, for no apparent reason, so what could have been a nice way to customise your experience has been thrown straight out of the window.
One of the biggest problems with the first game was the absolutely dreadful checkpointing, which sucked most of the fun out of the whole experience when you bumped into the often excruciating difficulty. Thankfully it’s been completely updated this time out, with a death simply putting you back to the beginning of an area rather than three soul-crushingly hard areas ago.
If anything they’ve gone a little too far the other way, with Normal mode being a touch too easy at times, though there are two higher difficulties to sink your teeth into. It’s obvious that they’ve been keen to ensure that you make it through the game this time, and that it’s a little more reflective of its youthful presentation, with hints popping up if you spend too long wandering around and even the option to skip areas that are proving too tough.
The combat is weighty, and while it’s not hugely complex, there’s enough variety to your moveset to ensure you won’t tire of it during your playthrough. The addition of co-op – which admittedly can make things even easier – really does lift things up a notch, especially when it adds in an array of extra moves that can only be performed by two Knacks. There’s no narrative answer for how there can be two, but the world of Knack has plenty of inconsistencies that aren’t worth thinking too hard about.
The levels are riddled with secret areas and hidden artefacts which make up the components of various power ups to help you on your journey. They’re often hidden in hard to reach places, and I found plenty of fun in working out how to reach certain sections. If you’re clued up about it perhaps they’re not the hardest things to find, but it’s a nice addition for completionists, and provides some replay value once you’ve completed the story.
The biggest similarity that Knack 2 has is with the bevy of Lego games from Travellers Tales. There’s light puzzle solving, plenty of things to smash, and a bunch of platforming sections, but Knack 2 is actually more accomplished in a few ways. Whether it’s the pleasing combat, the rock-solid mechanics, or Knack’s impressive physics, fans of TT’s games would do well to give this sequel a try. That similarity is perhaps also Knack 2’s biggest undoing. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen elsewhere before, and while its rendition of each of its facets is solid, its main problem is likely to be exciting gamers enough into buying it.
Knack 2 is a bright and breezy action romp that keeps up its breathless pace throughout its runtime. Its well-trodden gameplay beats are far from revolutionary, but it is undoubtedly accomplished, and redeems much of what the first game managed to somehow get so wrong. A surprise and a somewhat guilty delight.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 Pro