The original Knack game, a PS4 launch title about a size-shifting golem, released to a mixed reception. Players criticised the simplicity of the attacks and the challenging, old school combat, where one or two hits could result in death and checkpoints were vastly spaced. Sony Japan Studio takes us back into the same world with Knack 2, a world where humans are at war with goblins and it’s up to Knack, the aforementioned golem, to save the day. This time around, many of the flaws of the original game have been addressed, resulting in a fun and highly polished, family friendly adventure.
Knack 2 is set in a fantasy world where humans harness the technology of relics that have been left behind by an ancient civilisation. The world is beautiful and vibrantly colourful, the structures of the world having a realistic feel to them while the humans, goblins and robots are cartoonish. This works well, and results in a very beautiful and detailed world with characters that are endearingly cute looking.
The combat starts simple, with Knack punching and kicking his way across the city leaving sparking robot bodies in his wake. As the game progresses, you learn to dodge, body slam and power punch your way to victory, gathering new moves as you advance through the story. The enemies are reasonably varied and interesting, with different enemy types requiring different tactics. Sometimes mashing the punch button will take them down, but more often than not you’ll have to strategically employ one of your new moves to get through their defences. The developers have kept the combat interesting by unlocking new moves quite frequently, however the upgrade path is fairly linear. The player may be able to choose the order they unlock three upgrades for example, but all three have to be unlocked before the player can progress up the upgrade tree.
The game also has quick time events during action scenes but these are very forgiving – no laser sharp reflexes required! It’s nice because it means you can relax and take in the cinematic action, which is very polished and entertaining. I played the game on normal difficulty, which was quite a relaxed gameplay experience, but it’s worth noting that there’s three more difficulty levels above it, and one below. I’m not sure how much the difficulty ramps up at higher levels, but it seems like the experience can be made more demanding for the player who enjoys a challenge. The game also has frequent checkpoints so, while you will likely die in battle on occasion while figuring out the best tactic, it’s not a painful experience. This makes experimenting and exploring the world, even leaping from cliffs to see what’s down below (just death), feel rewarding.
What takes Knack 2 from a generic hack and slash platformer, to a fun adventure, is the extremely well integrated local co-op mode. Players can easily drop in (or out) at any time and become an equal participant in the game. Player 2 controls a blue counterpart to the original, red Knack, with all the same abilities. The co-op mode encourages teamwork, with players able to combine certain moves to make them more powerful and some puzzles that require players to work together. But it also allows a stronger player to take the lead, with just one player needing to complete a tough jump while the second can teleport to their location once they’ve completed it. It’s that mechanic that would make this game perfect for parents to play with their kids, or for kids (or adults) of different ages and skill levels to play together.
The size mechanic also makes this game unique, and allows for some fun and innovative puzzles. Knack can shed his relics at any time to shrink himself down to his teeny tiny form, perfect for squeezing into tight tunnels and sliding under hazardous, spike encrusted boulders. As Knack gathers more relics from the world, he can also grow from large to gigantic. This makes enemies look like they’ve been shrunk down accordingly, with previously fear inducing opponents suddenly appearing insignificant. There are also a number of elements in the world such as iron and ice that can be adorned as spiky, floating armour and have a variety of effects. For example, the iron makes Knack heavier and tougher, while the ice enables him to freeze his attackers in place.
The story is simple, cute and family friendly. It’s perfect for kids but won’t bring any surprises for older players. The setting, including Knack’s origin, is covered very briefly at the start of the game but we’re otherwise not given many details about the nature of his relationship with the key human characters and why he’s choosing to follow them around, clearing enemies from their path as they hike unexplored ruins. Knack himself doesn’t seem to be a very interesting character and is somewhat lacking in substance and agency. I’d feel much more engaged with the game if he was a more endearing character and had more personality. When he shrinks down to little Knack, he’s quite cute, but as big Knack, he has a deep, manly voice that feels out of place.
Overall, Knack 2 is a well polished, family friendly game which is casual enough to allow new players to drop in at any point and join the fun. For older, more sophisticated players, the story might feel a bit simplistic and dry, but I feel that the target audience is kids and families. This demographic would likely love the fun, cartoon world. The adjustable difficulty levels and the way the coop has been implemented make it accessible to players of different ages and skill ranges. The combat is reasonably varied and the size based puzzles and platforming elements are fun. Kids and families will have a blast, and for adults it’s a fun hack and slash platformer that doesn’t require too much brain power.
Knack 2 is out on PS4 now.