This underwhelming sequel fails to pack a punch
Mark Cerny’s favourite sentient swarm of historical artifacts is back. We’re just not quite sure why.
“There’s a greater selection of baddies to pound, though they are as unimaginative as ever”
To say that a sequel to PS4 launch title Knack wasn’t top of our most-wanted list is something of an understatement. Its forgettable mix of repetitive combat, bland platforming, and weak plotting resolutely failed to set the world on fire, and made for an underwhelming introduction to this generation of gaming for many, earning it a place as the punchline to countless gaming jokes. Unfortunately many of the issues which plagued the original carry over to this sequel. While it’s a clear step in the right direction, it still falls considerably short of being in any way essential. For those not familiar with Knack’s titular hero, he’s a tiny, golem-like creature who attracts chunks of ancient artefacts and absorbs them into his ever-growing body. For Knack, bulking up is less about trips to the gym and more about strolls through ancient ruins in the hunt for archaeological appendages. He can shed the extra baggage at any point, and swapping between bulky-but-beefy and dinky-but-delicate forms is the cornerstone of most of the rudimentary puzzling. Little Knack can scamper across tiny ledges and squeeze into small spaces, while his larger guise can operate weight-sensitive switches as well as being really good at clobbering baddies.
He’s accompanied by his returning pal, Lucas, who looks a bit like a young Ray Romano after getting a graphical overhaul. He – alongside the other companions who tag along – is almost entirely pointless outside of cutscenes, jogging along beside Knack doing almost nothing, occasionally disappearing off-camera before re-appearing after a stretch of tricky platforming. He occasionally shouts orders at Knack, or drops some questionable bantz (including an uncle-based joke which strikes us as remarkably similar to one from The Lion King, oddly). We’re not a fan, but he’s little more than window-dressing for all the punching and – new for this sequel – kicking, anyway.
Said fisticuffs is certainly more refined than before, with a greater variety of moves at Knack’s disposal, including a (literally) body shattering ground-slam, a whipping aerial attack, and a weighty shield-breaking heavy thump. Elemental powers return too, with Ice Knack able to freeze enemies to the spot and Steel Knack able to shatter shields. They would be a nice change of pace if they actually changed the pace beyond a few superficial moves.
There’s also a greater selection of baddies to pound, though they’re as unimaginative as ever, with goblins and generic robots making up the vast majority. With far fewer sequences where you churn through wave after wave of enemies (though they do crop up occasionally), it’s less of a problem, but that’s hardly a resounding success. The odd sequence in which you get to drive a
vehicle, such as a tank, add a variety, but they’re hardly the gameplay revolution that Knack needed to become great.
Most baffling of all is the choice to turn all of the most exciting moments in the plot into QTE sequences, forcing you to bash unrelated button prompts while Knack does something cool. In the few instances where it looks set to expand out into a romping, Uncharted-style setpiece, it wrests away control.
Puzzling fares better, with a few genuine “aha!” moments as you figure out to use Knack’s limited range of moves and abilities to progress. The Witness it ain’t, but it does a decent job of pulling together some Zelda-lite challenges. The problem is, the same solution often reappears in a slightly different puzzle. There’s little here that can’t be solved by switching between big and little Knack a few times, and before long you’re recognising solutions rather than figuring them out. It’s perhaps a way of stopping younger players thudding against every puzzle they encounter, but going through the motions of completing a puzzle you’ve already solved is dull regardless of your age.
While its pursuit of accessibility is admirable, there are several occasions where this actually makes the game more frustrating to play. For example, the third-person camera cannot be controlled at all, presumably as an attempt to make life easier for younger or less-experienced players who have yet to master twin-stick camera control. The issue is, it suffers from the same problem as classic Resident Evil: jumping from one camera angle to another at a moment’s notice is disorienting and it takes a moment to reset your internal compass every time you switch. It’s one of many areas where simplistic design choices give Knack 2 a decidedly old-school feel, albeit minus the punishing difficulty.
Billy gnome mates
One thing it lacks from the Banjo-Kazooie halcyon era of platforming is a likeable mascot. Knack’s only discernible personality trait is ‘likes punching’, and his weird, conglomerate structure makes him hard to warm to. There’s a reason all those ’90s platformers went for personified animals rather than sentient clusters of rock – they’re more appealing. Building Knack to scenery-destroying levels is satisfying, but he’s never more than a vehicle for the destruction, lacking any actual charm of his own.
The visuals and locations are similarly vanilla, beautifully realised but lacking in personality. There are all the archetypal settings you’d expect from this kind of adventure-led game – caves, snow-tipped mountain peaks, and verdant jungle paradises – but all are just visual veneers on the same plodding platforming sequences and battle arenas, lacking any of the Pixar-esque charm you’d hope for.
There’s little to actively dislike about Knack 2, because no one component is horrendously bad. It’s solidly made, and a marked improvement on the first game, but it’s a case of building on sloppy foundations. Each of the refinements makes sense – from increased variety of combat moves, to more nuanced puzzling – but it remains a fairly boring game about punching stuff. The best children’s games leave plenty to enjoy for big kids too, but anyone whose age is in double digits will surely find this more snoresome than awesome. There’s little here for older players who enjoy a bit of childlike wonderment, and that’s largely due to design decisions that only kids would let slide. Young ’uns might put up with unimaginative enemies, charmless plotting, and repetitive fights and puzzles, but they shouldn’t have to.
The pot physics are bizarrely brilliant. Knocking over these jars and watching them smash was a genuine highlight. Format PS4 Publisher Sony Developer Sony ETA Out now Players 1-2
Looks like something epic is about to go down, eh? You’d be right, but you’ll only get to interact via QTE.
Ice Knack bashes through a goblin barricade. Ploughing through the scenery is Knack 2 at its best.