My family and I were late adopters of the PS4. As a result, we totally missed out on Knack, Sony’s frenetic first-party platformer that, unfortunately, met with mixed results from both games media and the gamers themselves.
Despite the lackluster reviews of the original outing, we were enticed by the recent E3 coverage of its sequel, the somewhat predictably named Knack II. Even with our unfamiliarity with the property—save the title character’s penchant for changing size—we were pleased to discover that SIE Japan Studio has crafted a phenomenal, accessible puzzle-platformer perfect for family gaming.
Seemingly picking up shortly after the end of the previous outing, Knack II begins by thrusting Knack and his human friend Lucas straight into the action fighting massive robots to save a bustling city before backing up and showing players exactly how we got to this point in the story. This sort of in medias res introduction is a great hook for both new and returning players, not to mention a fine opportunity to explain to younger geeklings the concept of your favorite narrative device.
Knack II sees Knack, Lucas, Uncle Ryder, The Doctor, and the rest further explore the causes and continued ramification of the Goblin Wars, fighting both existing cadres of Goblins and their ancient, mysterious automatons that have recently begun to reactivate. More often than not, you do this by pounding the utter stuffing out of any Goblin, robot, or other enemy/obstacle that stands in your way.
Knack’s unique ability to absorb the Relics located throughout a level to increase his mass (and, thus, his attack power) works well both visually and as a functional gameplay mechanic. Watching him grow larger and larger—you can monitor his relative height above your health and experience meters in the upper left—never ceases to be satisfying, and the sheer number of Relics on-hand always assures they’re there when you need them.
But, just as it’s easy to find enough Relics to super-size your player avatar, it’s even easier to shed those excess pounds and revert to Knack’s tiny, adorable original state. This speedy, diminutive Knack can effortlessly platform across thin ledges and sneak into hidden caves to find unlockables and solve environmental puzzles.
As you might imagine, much of the puzzling in Knack II involves growing big enough to trip weight-based switches and/or small enough to traverse tight terrain. This can, of course, become a little repetitive, but the addition of transportation platforms and elemental buffs, like iron and ice, that add specialty attacks and abilities help to keep things fresh.
Combat in Knack II is fun and intuitive, with more and more attack options becoming available as you progress and spend your hard-earned points on a multi-tiered skill tree. In fact, all this punching, puzzling, and platforming is only hampered by one thing—the game’s antiquated fixed-camera system.
Unlike, well, pretty much all other modern games, your right analog stick does not control the relative position of the game camera; it is instead used to quick-dodge, which is enjoyable and ultimately helpful, but this lack of camera control can lead to some frustration. More often than not, Knack II knows who you’re attacking, which direction your dodging, or where you want to anchor that wicked-looking whip of debris you use to swing across gaping chasms. But not always.
Thankfully, despite its expansive, varied levels, Knack II boasts frequent checkpoints. That way, if you fall into the void or get your teeth handed to you by a gang of enemies, you can usually pick up close to where you left off.
While the art style left me rather hot and cold—I love the look of Knack and the environments, but the faces of the human characters are so stylized as to be downright misshapen—the game has a visual cohesion that’s hard to fault. The same can be said for its regular quick-time events, the prompts for and results of which are predictable, satisfying, and, above all else, enjoyable.
With its fun, straightforward gameplay and its enticing E rating, Knack II already has a lot going for it for family gaming, but its real selling point is its local multiplayer. Rather than relegating your Player 2 to the role of one of Knack’s (hideous) human companions, you can actually play through the entire game as a delightful two-Knack team. That opens up the door for continued puzzle-solving and twice as much overgrown carnage, even when playing with a younger, less savvy gamer.
Admittedly, Knack II‘s tale of the pre-historic High Goblins, enduring war machines, and the continued relevance of Knack’s own strange, supernatural origins never seems to be fully realized, but the narrative doesn’t exactly fall flat. In fact, if you and your younger ones are looking for a title that’s a little light on plot but heavy on enjoyable action, Knack II may be just the game your PS4 library is missing.
Review materials provided by: Sony