Knack ii

This un­der­whelm­ing se­quel fails to pack a punch

Games Master - - CONTENTS -

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.

Knack Ops

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.

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