Game Reviews

We Review: Knack II

Knack II continues the adventures of our titular sentient collection of pointy things, and takes him on new adventures to fight more goblins and evil nasties. The original game was released as a PS4 launch title back in 2013, and although we did not get a chance to review it, we have the sequel here to make up for the lack of Knack.

Knack II’s story starts in media res, with Knack (and a Knack-buddy if you’re playing co-op) ranging through the capital city of Newhaven, defeating robots who have started rampaging around and causing work for people who need to clean up afterwards. From there, the story jumps back to six months prior, giving you the full, wart-and-all opportunity to see how things can go from delightful to catastrophic in just a few months. You know, in much the same way that global politics has gone recently. Knack (helped in absolutely no way by his useless human handler) has the unenviable task of saving the day as he careens through around fifteen chapters worth of what amounts to a lot of goblin butt being kicked.

Sony apparently wanted Knack to be the Crash Bandicoot of the PS4 age (until they actually just relented and released a remaster of the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy and made Crash Bandicoot the Crash Bandicoot of the PS4 age). It’s a fair aim: a game that isn’t a hard-core first-person shooter that looks good and plays good. Knack II, like its predecessor, is a brawler game with platforming elements, more in line with God Of War or Devil May Cry than Crash, to be frank. Knack himself is a colourful enough character, but he lacks that spark of personalization that brings the character to life. Which is ironic, really, considering that he’s supposed to be something brought to life by a spark.

The game is presented as a series of screens with no camera control (don’t worry—you get used to it), and Knack must kick and punch his way around each of the levels whenever he’s not solving puzzles. The key part of Knack’s identity and abilities is that Knack’s core persona is a three-foot-tall animated being, and as he finds more of the things that make up his form (called “relics”), he grows taller. However, he’s able to quickly lose all the accumulated relics and drop down to his twee three-foot version again, and recombine into whatever sized beast you had previously.

I found the use of Knack’s height as a measure of health a novel take on the mechanism. A 16-foot Knack is a powerful, lumbering thing, able to destroy whole villages with a single, mighty footstep. Three-foot Knack? He’s a one hit wonder, although he’s a speedy little blighter. The more hits you take from various foes will temporarily knock relics off your body, causing you to shrink and also become less powerful. It’s the price you pay for playing badly.

In some parts of Knack II, Knack has access to relics that alter his attacks, gives him extra powers, and in general functions as a puzzle device. For example, one of the first ones you’ll encounter are iron relics, that make Knack hit harder and allow him the use of an iron whip. The whip is then reused later on to swing from beams and hooks, the only caveat being that if you take too much damage and lose the extra material, you can’t use that power anymore. These other parts also remain separate if you disassemble and reassemble Knack, leaving a Knack-shaped statue in place. Naturally, this is used for holding down pressure plates and suchlike. As I said, a puzzle element.

As Knack lumbers through the levels killing things, he’ll earn enough upgrade points to power him up, and you select these powers on a skill tree. They add more finesse and options to you combat combos, so that by the end of the game, you’re a far more effective fighting machine than you were when you started. It’s fun to eventually deal out the hurt more than you take it. Some skills will be freebies, given to you via the Glorious Gift of the Cut Scene, and what usually follows is an obstacle course built solely on getting you used to the new power. And then to top it off, there are extra powers and abilities that are hidden across stages, and that you must assemble as you find the well-cachéd chests. Many of them are insanely well hidden, too, and only accessible as mini-Knack. What I liked about these chests is that way that social gaming has been included. You will pull something random from the chest, but if you don’t want it, you can see what your friends have pulled as well, and choose that instead. This helps to more quickly build those useful items that the chests eventually provide.

If it weren’t clear that this game were a homage to traditional-style action platformers like God of War, the quick-time events will hammer that point home. Thankfully, they’re not a core mechanic of Knack II, and only occur during what amounts to glorified cut scenes when Knack is doing Something Clever such as using a wrecking ball to defeat several robots. They’re not annoying, not essential, but they’re there.

I encountered some odd glitches during my time playing Knack II, one of which teleported Knack across the screen at inconvenient times. You can tell it was a glitch because Knack would be doing something, like pushing a boulder around, and suddenly he’s across on the other side of the screen, running into a wall. This didn’t happen often, but it did occur enough times to annoy me, especially if it occurred at a point where I’d be climbing a wall and then find myself mysteriously at the bottom again.

Graphically, the game is pretty. The characters have a look similar to what you’d find in a Pixar or Dreamworks film. I think the intention was to get a point where you feel you’re playing a film, but the fixed camera ruins the effect somewhat. The levels are distinct enough across each of the chapters that you know roughly where you are, but it doesn’t hide the similarities of the layout. Once you’ve figure out the way it works, it’s fairly consistent. There are very few novel takes on an existing puzzle once you’ve encountered it.

Overall, I enjoyed Knack II. It’s a fun platformer, and the drop-in-drop-out co-op gameplay meant that I was able to summon aid in the form of my son; what was more likely to happen was that he was able to call me to assist with some of the harder fights. Knack II has an okay, if clichéd story, but the game doesn’t feel like it outstays its welcome.

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