The day was November 15, 2013. My PlayStation 4 had just arrived and there was a whirlwind of experiencing the launch titles for the console. Our review of Knack came five days later, a game that seemed to focus on being an impressive tech demo for how the PS4 handles particle physics rather than a next-gen evolution of the action-platformer genre. Within a couple of years Knack was largely forgotten, a footnote to the PS4 launch that failed to make the same kind of impact as games like Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter did in console generations before.
And then Knack 2 was announced. Not content to accept the mediocre reception, Mark Cerny and his team set forth to improve on everything that was criticized about the original Knack. Cerny himself walked me through many of the changes at E3, addressing the very things I wasn’t too keen on in my review of the first. When we are critical of something, it’s often because we see the potential and want it to succeed. I was eager to give Knack another chance, seeing the fire that Cerny had for the creation of this sequel. Little did I know that fire was a raging blaze as Cerny and his team went above and beyond for Knack‘s return.
A Knack For Variety
As an action-platformer, Knack felt like it did the bare minimum. A couple of attacks and a a platform here and there left the whole thing feeling repetitive by the end of the ten or so hours it took to complete the campaign. Knack 2 fixes this, and despite being a longer campaign—taking me more than 13 hours to finish on hard mode—I never felt like it got boring or repetitive. There are a number of things that Cerny and team did with the combat, the puzzles, and the platforming that helped it have a lot more variety.
Instead of a limited arsenal of moves, Knack gains an entire catalog of new attacks, combos, and power ups that keep the combat interesting. Adding moves progressively throughout the campaign meant that I was constantly figuring out how I could work these new abilities into my gameplay. Add in a variety of enemies and changing strategies required to beat them, and every encounter is an interesting combo brawler with some legitimately tough parts on higher difficulties. Do I use the boomerang to tether a dangerous enemy while I take on everyone else? Or do I tether the enemy I plan to attack? Use a powerful punch or somersault that leaves me vulnerable, or use consistent weaker attack combos?
Additional platforming in Knack 2 is more than welcome. I feared some of the same platforming would get repetitive by the end, but they managed to keep it just varied enough so I never felt like I was jumping through the same hoops. Knack 2 capitalizes on the idea of variations on a theme, constantly finding new ways to have Knack navigate the environment, even as it evolves the elements that I grew used to. A big (and small) portion of this is the ability to size change Knack at will. Pressing R1 drops Knack’s pieces to the ground, and tapping it again gathers them together again. This seemingly small ability has huge ripples for the kind of variety Knack 2 has in platforming and puzzles.
Knack 2 gets the cadence right. There’s a dance when it comes to giving the player combat sequences, platforming sections, and puzzles. Go too heavy or too light on one or another and the play feels imbalanced. Knack 2 tends to mix it up, so after a huge battle, I was usually met with a puzzle or platforming section, or even a QTE sequence that helped to break up the gameplay. It kept me from getting too bored of one thing, even as every element is full of more variety than the first had anyway. Variety within variety just makes Knack 2 feel bigger and more bold.
The first Knack’s story hinted at too many threads that it never fully picked up, leaving the whole thing to feel frayed. Knack 2 takes a far more straightforward approach with its narrative. It’s fairly simple with a couple of fun and unexpected twists and turns, and the execution leaves the story feeling complete by the end. If Dreamworks Animation made a globetrotting Uncharted-esque adventure, I can see the resulting film being Knack 2. It’s nice that they opted for a complete story, rather than trying to seed ideas that don’t end up coming to fruition.
A Knack for Replayability
Completing the campaign is just the beginning of the Knack 2 adventure. Upon finishing, I was met with multiple pop-ups telling me that I had unlocked New Game+, chapter select on the world map, Time Attack mode, Coliseum Attack mode, and challenges. That’s not even mentioning the ability to go back through the game and continue to open chests to unlock gadgets and crystal versions of Knack with special abilities.
Challenges are a new way to play Knack 2, giving different requirements on each chapter such as completing it with a certain score, under a specific time, or other unique objectives like defeating a certain number of enemies as small Knack. Time Attack will have players racing through portions of different stages, with rings giving boosts and defeating enemies freezing the timer. Coliseum Attack is a wave-based mode, providing players one minute to get their combat score as high as possible. Kills without getting hit increase the points received. All of these modes can utilize unlocked gadgets and crystal Knacks, so there’s a good reason to replay stages and even jump into New Game+ to unlock everything, especially for the trophy hunters.
Much as they did with the first game, difficulty significantly impacts the game. Hard and very hard aren’t for the casual players. I needed to use every move in my arsenal to complete some combat sections, and in some cases, it felt like there was some pretty punishing timing on the platforming later in the game. Easy mode makes combat much more simple to manage, and even shortcuts players so that entire portions of the platforming are cut out. In some ways I wish that the difficulty was separated between the two so that players could determine the individual difficulty of the platforming and the combat, but that might mess up the cadence I talked about, so it’s not a big negative at all.
Co-op was present in the first Knack, but it felt a lot more like an afterthought than a legitimate focus. The natural way in which Knack 2’s cooperative play lets a second player jump in and out feels great. My wife played bits and pieces of the game with me. Just powering on the controller and pressing X was enough to bring her in. Some of the platforming puzzles are adjusted to be more cooperative in nature, and there are combat advantages with two people. Punching through your partner shoots pieces of them out at enemies, and body slamming will scatter their pieces and create a bigger effect for the attack. Pressing R2 will teleport you to your partner, so parents playing with kids can help them get through difficult platforming sections with ease. Or maybe it’s the kids that would be helping their parents.
Knack 2 is an improvement on the first game in every way possible. Mark Cerny and his team have proven that they can take criticism, iterate on it, and then give players even more for their money than was expected. Launching at an exceptionally friendly $39.99 is even better when you consider that Knack 2 feels like a much bigger game than the first. Knack 2 plays it safe, but it does so in the best way possible. It’s not an innovative action-platformer, but it stands as an example of an incredibly polished and fun example of the genre. In many ways, it feels like playing the PlayStation 4 for the first time again, only this time, I’m happy to say that Knack 2 delivers. It seems that Mark Cerny still has a knack for creating mascot action-platformers.
Knack 2 review copy provided by publisher. For more information on review scores, please read our Review Policy.