Knack was a classic case of an okay game with some great yet underdeveloped ideas. A protagonist who shrinks and grows with the absorption of relics wasn’t just an immediate way to show off how well the new PS4 could handle a bunch of rocks flying around, but it presented a bunch of opportunities for dynamic and variable game design. Playing with Knack’s size or elemental composition were the things that set the launch title apart, yet they were drastically overshadowed by the brawling combat. The strengths of Knack were in these fleeting moments that felt like first steps towards clever mechanics but never accounted for even a fraction of their potential. Knack II, then, doesn’t just have plenty of room to grow, but all the right relics laid out before it to suck into its body-cluster.
Knack II is actually an action-platformer, unlike its predecessor that seemed to mistake jumping up an occasional ledge to the next fight as platforming. That means things a split between navigating and traversing environments, beating up baddies, and some light environmental puzzle-solving. The balance is really nice, rotating between mechanical focuses as unlocking moves in and out of combat means there are new elements to play with pretty consistently throughout the adventure.
Platforming is a lot of fun, with some pretty classic feeling ledge-hopping stuff sprinkled throughout. The point of difference, though, is changing between bigger or smaller forms. A lot of platforms and tunnels are only large enough to fit little Knack, while the weight or strength of a larger form can be a needed solution to some obstacles. Switching back and forth mixes things up in a really fun way, even if the cleverer scenarios are disappointingly far between.
Combat is another big step forward, with many more offensive and defensive capabilities at Knack’s disposal. Reflecting enemy projectiles, pulling baddies close and stringing together punches, kicks, and special moves isn’t quite Devil May Cry, but perhaps a respectable God of War Junior. The strength of enemy attacks and precise windows of vulnerability mean things will punish you if you play poorly, yet with a bit of patience there’s nothing especially challenging to face. You couldn’t just button mash through, and that’s commendable design work for a combat-heavy family game.
What I love about Knack II are the levels that invoke a sense of adventure. Having multiple paths laid out before me excited me to see where each one lead, even knowing it’d all close in on a linear path eventually. These areas are worth exploring, too, with gadget parts and experience points to uncover. This game stomps on its predecessor’s attempts at hiding secrets. Placing chests behind breakable, cracked walls almost exclusively was one of many puzzling ideas of the first game. In this one, reaching secrets involve climbing barely extruded bricks up walls or slipping through hidden holes as little Knack, moving boxes to reach a different ledge than directed to, or even heading back to an earlier part of the level after going into stealth mode. It’s all pretty traditional stuff for a 3D platformer, but it rewards the creative and thoughtful use of Knack’s unique skillset, rather than the repeated punching of anything that looks off.
The narrative of Knack’s new quest is a fun ride, let down by some extremely disengaging characters. Knack and his annoying ‘friend’ Lucas are back to take down some more Goblins. The plot serves as a direction through each of the game’s levels really well and actually escalates in fun, if predictable, ways. A few of these characters, though, are confusingly disinteresting and poorly developed. Most infuriating is Lucas, who insists on sharing the hero role with Knack. Everyone seems to consider him in this light despite his lack of direct involvement in anything. The particular moments where he does help out don’t necessarily reflect his character – which is largely hollow – but rather as redundant attempts to create evidence to his helpfulness. I don’t buy it. The rest of Knack’s allies are largely forgettable too. They kind of feel like characters from a kid’s show that airs during school hours and only lasted eight episodes. The few funny lines here and there hint at how a character like Ryder could be pretty likable, but the incessant, derivative dribble throughout is insistent on keeping that from fruition.
The weird thing is, there’s some really good writing here too. The villains fit extremely cliche archetypes, but execute on them pretty well, with reasonable motivations that track really easily. Knack as a character has some great moments here, as well. The first game never really strung together a solid personality for the character, bouncing between presenting him as a cute little silent toy or a monstrous, weird, confident giant. Knack spends a lot more time in-between in the sequel, with a certain cartoony cool-guy attitude that somehow makes a lot of sense. Now, as a defined character, Knack’s bigger and smaller forms serve well to reflect his more sentimental and intimidating sides respectively. It often feels like Knack is the only character in his team who realizes how poorly written his allies are, smugly going along with their silly conversations out of obligation. What especially caught me off guard are how particular some of the quick-time-event driven action scenes are. I wasn’t expecting impressive choreography, and it does a lot to sell Knack and his abilities as cool.
The boisterous soundtrack emphasizes the playful tone. The score elevates dramatic scenes but ultimately expresses joyfulness on top of any tension. The visuals serve the cartoony style well too, except for a few choice examples. Some characters’ faces look a little jagged up close, and some wide shots of sprawling areas later in the game are exceedingly lacking in detail. It isn’t hyperbolic to say you could genuinely mistake them for N64 games, in some instances. These aside, though, things look bright, clear, and inviting.
Knack II is a great example of a sequel making things right. A lot of the characters dampen the story as they did the first game, but Knack’s personality and the cartoony villains are enough to keep things entertaining. The strengths of the first game are re-tuned and expanded here, making for a God of War style brawler for a family audience, without sacrificing too much in the way of depth. The platforming the first game promised is here with traversal challenges designed less impeccably than a Mario Galaxy, but a few notable steps above a Pac-Man and The Ghostly Adventures. Though the potential of a few of Knack’s abilities isn’t quite maximised yet again, it certainly feels like they put some effort into it here, and the result is a solid action platformer.