The original Knack was a misaligned and somewhat reviled game – and it’s a shame too, because the game didn’t deserve the scorn it received. It was a solid beat’em up with a good story that at least tried to go for something grandiose. It gave you a good mix of a lot of different action, but also failed to find its own voice. Knack’s ability to change sizes was a nice gimmick, and seeing all of his different particles separate and reform in real-time was impressive – but the overall game felt a bit incomplete. You could tell there was a grander game they were going for that just couldn’t be accomplished.
Knack II takes what worked about the first game and eliminates what didn’t – resulting in a more streamlined experience. The original game was too hollow when it came to what you could do, and was a bit too reliant on obtuse puzzles to keep its gameplay flow feeling natural. You could bash some enemies to bits and then have everything come to a grinding halt to solve a puzzle. Puzzle-solving is still an important part of Knack II, but it’s executed far better overall and feels more natural thanks to a snappier pace.
Knack II is a faster game than the original and a far more responsive one at that. Now, your on the ground brawling sessions are a breeze thanks to a wider variety of attacks. Beyond just being able to punch and transformation attacks, you also have kicks and body splashes to destroy enemies. On the defensive side of things, blocking allows you to either avoid damage with an extended press or fully parry projectiles when you master the timing. This allows you to not only take less damage, but also be far more efficient during arena battles where you have multiple enemies coming at you and also have to deal with things like arrow traps.
Knack can sustain a fair amount of damage before he dies, but it’s always better to minimize your damage level and keep him as healthy as possible to prepare for bigger battles. Knack may be able to go from small to big, but some enemies dwarf even him by wide margins and can make you feel ant-sized by comparison. Knack’s transformations go beyond just going from big to small now. While that is still a key to progressing and getting through either small crevices or getting past platforming-based sections, the puzzles are more involved thanks to teleportation.
If Knack gets on a teleportation pad, he can shift his particles from part of the map to the other. This allows him to get to new areas to either get hidden goodies or simply progress on the map. It’s a solid mechanic and one that further allows the game to stand out since it’s so involved and downright beautiful to see him go from one giant creature and then seeing him disassemble right before you. The greater variety in puzzle types helps out too – and while things like block moving puzzles can get old, they’re usually sprinkled in with other kinds of puzzles to prevent that one type from getting monotonous and also have new mechanics added in to keep you on your toes. You may start off having to get from Point A to B with a block and then later have to shift one block to one area, open a box up, move another box over, and then have a limited time to not only move a second box in place – but also jump around and reach your destination.
Knack controls quite well here and whether you’re brawling with a half-dozen enemies or evading attacks with the right stick – which allows you to not only dash to avoid attacks, but also traverse faster including mid-air – everything flows well. Moving from punches to kicks before unleashing unlocked attacks works well – as does darting around the screen to evade, or even transforming from big to small Knack to avoid enemy attacks. This is risky, since you take far more damage, but is a rewarding way to end a battle. The skill tree system allows you to mix and match attacks even more – and chaining things together lets you not only do more kinds of damage, but also ensures that you learn the different ways to tackle various enemies.
For example, if you’re surrounded by a shielded enemy and several unguarded ones – you’ll learn to go after the shielded rival first. A hard circle punch will break his defenses and then allow you to rain down attacks on him before taking out the lesser foes. Since he does more damage per strike, taking him out allows you to keep the highest amount of life and ensure a victory against the larger group.
Visually, Knack II is impressive and uses a blend of particle effects for Knack along with stunning environments to make the world come alive. It’s a very cartoonish world in some regards, but that’s not an altogether bad thing. The art style is consistent and the texture work is impressive – and holds up nicely even when viewed up close. Knack himself has a great sense of scale – so when you’re battling giant foes, he feels fairly small and yet also gigantic when paired up with tiny enemies that are there to test his technique and not just pure brawn. The sequel uses a more cinematic approach for its transitional scenes and it leads to the game having a grander scale than the original.
Knack II’s soundtrack is far more epic than the original and the whole score has an almost movie-like quality to it. With a grander storyline about saving the world, it fits and is a lot of fun to listen to. The voice work is not exactly epic and more in line with a reasonably well-acted direct to DVD/digital film. It’s solid, but unspectacular – outside of Knack. His voice work conveys a sense of power, but also vulnerability and a bit of nativity as well. He’s an endearing character, but also has his violent side – which comes across with his attacks and their sound effects. As big Knack, he sounds like a giant come to life, while tiny Knack does a pittance of damage by comparison,
Knack II fixes a lot of what didn’t work about the first game and feels exactly like what that was trying to be. It’s an action-packed brawler that also delivers some simple, yet satisfying puzzles. The newly added depth to not only your offensive attacks, but also your defensive options allows battles to feel fresh and rewarding. You can have several different game plans going into a battle and will eventually find one that works. Visually, it’s a great game and its sound design is largely impressive – even if the voice acting isn’t always up to snuff. Anyone who missed out on the first, but wants a high-quality action game on their PS4 should grab Knack II as soon as possible. It’s perfect for those fans or for younger players looking for something bright, colorful, and funny at the same time.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
This review is based on a digital copy of Knack II for the PlayStation 4 provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.