Knack II Review (PlayStation 4)
When the PlayStation 4 launched in 2013, Knack was one of a small handful of exclusives to arrive with Sony's latest console. Unfortunately for Sony, it wasn't met with much acclaim, leaving the fate of the franchise up in the air. Now four years later, Sony's Japan Studio and director/creator Mark Cerny are back with a sequel that improves on the original in a lot of ways. Knack II calls back to the action platformers of Sony's early days, and though it doesn't do anything remarkable, it's a simple and enjoyable escape.
As premises go, Knack II's inoffensive story has a familiar feel to a number of cartoonish action game sequels. There's the mysterious threat from an ancient civilization, the accidental resurgence of said civilization by our heroes, and the quest to undo their mistakes before a greater peril befalls the world. The beats might hit familiar notes, but the execution is better than what we saw in the original Knack.
The characters and world are explored a bit more convincingly, making the stakes feel more honest. Knack himself is still a bit of a lumbering brute that lacks any defining traits beyond being a good hero, but he doesn't feel out of place in this world. Knack II's narrative still feels like that of a mid-tier animated studio's feature, but at least this time around it has more oomph than a direct-to-video sequel.
Knack can string together basic combos, and timing any blocks correctly will deflect incoming attacks back at enemies, provided you're physically larger or of the same size. A leveling system comes along for the ride this time because every single game must have at least some RPG elements in the modern era. It's a good decision though, as players are able to craft a Knack that has more skills at his disposal than those simple combos rather quickly. By the time you reach the midpoint of the story, Knack is a much more formidable hero than anything we saw in the first entry.
The core of Knack II is still getting that polygonal creature to grow to impressive sizes, but there aren't artificial reasons for the character to revert back to his miniaturized form. Knack will almost always start off at around 6' tall, and only shrinks down when you want him to with a press of the R1 button. We definitely had more fun than we should have kicking all the little bits of Knack around when he miniaturized. Reverting is as easy as hitting R1 a second time, though you don't want to get caught in "baby" form while fighting any enemies, as you'll find Knack's journey ends rather easily without his relic-powered largess.
The platforming and puzzle-solving elements all make efficient use of Knack's size manipulation, with gameplay constantly requiring you to alter Knack's height to keep stages from feeling too samey. Knack II is at its best when the puzzles require this shifting back and forth to complete, tasking players with more thoughtfulness than merely flicking a switch or moving a box to the right spot. It's also the only way to find some of Knack II's hidden secrets, like gadget parts you can find and assemble to give Knack passive abilities. These abilities, like immediately respawning after falling, do make an impact over the long haul, even if you don't seem to see the benefits right away.
Cooperative play is included this time too, and it certainly works. A second player can drop in or out of your game at any point, with the only real advantage being special combo moves in combat that make taking on larger numbers of foes more manageable. Not that Knack II's combat ever becomes overwhelming, but having a second set of particle-powered hands and legs around can come in handy. Platforming is a bit more chaotic, but if anyone ever gets left behind, the game warps that player to the other a few seconds later.
Consequences aren't very dire in Knack II, and dying only sets you back a little bit. The checkpoint system is rather generous, respawning you back at the start of just about every room you entered or puzzle you attempted. Any pressure from having to perform to the utmost of your ability is removed, and that can take away some of the drive to enjoy what Knack II is offering. Without Knack II truly keeping you on your toes, it's easy to fall into a bit of a zen state while playing, which detracts from the overall experience. Games that put a little pressure on the player keep you invested, and though Knack II has a number of difficulty settings for players of all skill sets, you're never truly overmatched on any of them.
Knack II is more engaging than its predecessor, but there's still not much about this franchise that can make it one of Sony's defining original properties. This sequel is an easy game to enjoy, but Knack II fades from memory just as fast as the character can shift between forms. It takes a little while to get used to Knack II's old school sensibilities, like the fixed camera and simplified control scheme. Once you settle in, Knack II feels like hanging out with an old pal you casually accepted a friend request from on Facebook for the sake of old times. You won't be going to a movie together any time soon, but you don't mind the endless updates about their kids on social media.
This review was completed using a copy of Knack II provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.