I’ll be the first to admit it: I was not a fan of the original Knack. Granted, I’m not the only one. Critics and fans alike were not thoroughly impressed when it launched back in 2013, with most of the criticism leveled at the game’s simplistic mechanics and uneven difficulty. I was initially skeptical when a sequel was announced, but it seems like most of my doubts were unwarranted. Against all odds, Knack II stands as one of the more enjoyable PlayStation exclusives this year, and is a must-own for fans of action-platformer games that dominated the early 2000s.
If you haven’t bothered to play the original, you need not worry. While it’s most certainly advertised as a proper sequel, Knack II won’t confused newcomers when it comes to narrative. The game kicks off in the middle of a large-scale attack on the city of Newhaven, and through a series of flashbacks, you’ll come to learn of the events that led up to the current day assault. Despite a few references to its predecessor, Knack II doesn’t demand that players be familiar with the events of the first game; I myself never bothered to finish the first Knack, and I had no trouble keeping up with the story.
On the surface, Knack II might seem like a retread of the tired mechanics which bogged down the original, but after the initial tutorial level, it’s clear that many of the core gameplay loops have been reworked and retooled. As you might expect, the titular Knack has the ability to alter his size by absorbing ancient relics (artifacts which also serve as society’s power source), but this time around, you have the option to grow and shrink Knack at will.
What’s more surprising is how well the developers manage to leverage this mechanic throughout the ten or so hour story. While it’s always advantageous to keep Knack as big as possible (in order to excel in combat), you’ll often need to shrink down to his smallest form in order to navigate around the environment and avoid obstacles, or to find secrets that are hidden off the main path. On the other hand, switches and other objects can only be moved by Knack when he hits a certain height, and the game often incorporates Knack and his size (and weight) into its many puzzles.
That’s right; Knack II doesn’t shy away from puzzles, which often require you to switch sizes often. The best puzzles make use of some of Knack’s alternate forms; for example, Iron Knack (who is surrounded by chunks of iron) can lay down chunks of metal, which serve as makeshift wires which can conduct electricity. The puzzles themselves are fairly straightforward in nature (don’t expect brain teasers that rival those seen in The Witness or The Talos Principle), though it’s clear that certain sections were designed for those playing co-operatively with a friend, which makes solving some of these puzzles a little tedious if you decide to tackle them solo.
Combat has also been revamped, eschewing the simplified (and sometimes boring) system from the original Knack for a more nuanced one. From the get-go, Knack has the ability to dodge, parry projectiles, block attacks, and perform simple combos built from basic punches and kicks. Before long, you’ll gain access to a rather large skill tree, where you can learn new moves, improve existing ones, and outfit Knack to be more proficient in combat. These additions are by no means revolutionary (in reality, they are fairly standard), but they greatly improve the fluidity and strategy of each combat encounter, which were (if I’m being honest) generally a slog back in 2013.
Oddly enough, it’s not the improved mechanics that I fell in love with, but rather, Knack II’s focus on its titular character, and how the developers manage to integrate his abilities directly into the minute-to-minute gameplay, as well as the story and well-choreographed cutscenes. While I’m not usually the biggest fan of QTEs (quick-time events), Knack II uses them to their strength. Some chapters and sections end with a cutscene, which usually sees Knack pulling off some complex acrobatics or environmental maneuvering in order to defeat a few enemies and save the day. They are fun to watch on their own, but it’s oddly satisfying to have (some) control of these moments through the use of QTEs.
There are still some minor issues which rear their head every now and then (the game’s lack of camera control can occasionally pave the way for some wonky angles and awkward movement), but at the end of the day, most of Knack II’s stumbles are very minor inconveniences in what is otherwise one of the biggest surprises of the year. While the original Knack seemed constrained by having to serve as a launch title for the PlayStation 4, Knack II feels like a game that has been given the proper amount of time to grow, and it’s all the better for it.
This review is based off the PlayStation 4 Pro version of the game, which we were provided with.