The most anticipated sequel of the year is finally out this week, and so is Knack 2, a game that was seemingly willed into existence by people making sarcastic memes about how good the original game was.
Even though I didn’t love the first Knack, it holds a special place in my heart. You see, I won a PS4 early from Taco Bell which came with a copy of Knack and Killzone: Shadowfall. When it was delivered I immediately set it up and starting streaming Knack, being the first public person to do so, way back before I got into professional games journalism. I had more than 2,000 people watching, mostly pleading with me to play Killzone instead; but I persisted. I sat there for what must have been over nine hours playing Knack, begging the game to end.
Fast forward four years and here I am reviewing the budget-priced sequel, a game that addresses a few issues the first game had while continuing to make a lot of the same mistakes.
Knack, for those unfamiliar, is a living, thinking creature created by a scientist with some ancient artifacts. He can grow larger by collecting other artifacts, which also makes him more powerful, or he can temporarily shrink himself down to his basic child-like form to fit into small spaces and avoid enemies’ attacks. Just like in the original game Knack can punch, kick, dodge, and double jump and hover for a brief period.
Knack eventually learns a few other moves that make combat a bit easier such as a ranged punch, a grab that pulls enemies closer, and a few other moves I won’t spoil. The game is very self-aware in that a character references that Knack “…only knows three punches and a kick”, but a majority of the new moves are just fancier punches and kicks with flashier animations. In the end, players will still be pulling the same boring punch or kick combos over and over again to defeat enemies while occasionally stunning them with the new moves when required.
Each stage may involve a few different types of gameplay. Mostly, there are beat ’em up sections that play like baby’s first God of War with a smattering of very simple puzzles and surprisingly enjoyable platforming sprinkled in between. Solving puzzles usually involves simply pulling a crate across the screen to be able to jump to a higher ledge, or pulling levers to open doors—nothing exciting or challenging. Platforming, however, is probably what Knack 2 does best, or at the very least these are the bits I actually liked. Jumping between moving platforms and avoiding electricity or fire while finding hidden chests and XP along the way is a joy, although a too infrequent one.
Knack 2 has, like most games in the beat ’em-up genre, a repetition problem. Repetitive combat, repetitive puzzles, repetitive segments requiring mashing the square button to open doors, and repetitive quick time events. Not only are the actions you’re forced to take repetitive, but actual events are repetitive. Knack swinging on a chain/rope/wire during a quicktime event multiple times, Knack getting knocked down from a high point and being forced to climb back up via a different path, and fighting enemies that look visually different but mostly fight the same. While these things are always aesthetically different, gameplay-wise they are nearly identical.
Most of these are issues that have been carried over from the original game and are amplified by the fact that the game long overstays its welcome, much like the first entry. I believe it took me 10 to 12 hours to finally reach the end credits, which was especially frustrating since gameplay has mostly stagnated and there were at least two other times I was sure I had reached the end of the game before it continued plodding onwards.
The story in Knack 2 isn’t a strong one, though some of the highly dramatic lines delivered by the characters try to make you believe otherwise. The game starts with Knack’s city being overrun by robots, one of which is the size of a skyscraper and starts to stomp at Knack. Then, the screen cuts to a black screen that says “Six months earlier”. From there you’ll see Knack and his human pal Lucas first witness the emergence of the robots before meeting the leader of a group of monks, one of which is a girl that Lucas seems to fancy and who joins the group on their journey to stop evil doers.
The whole story is predictable and feels like a poor man’s DuckTales due to the similarities of characters. Old wise uncle? Check. Handsome pilot? Check. Young people doing most of the hard work? Check. The problem being that characters in Knack 2 lack personality and don’t see much in the way of character development, even though the game is ripe with cutscenes.
While the voice acting in the cutscenes is more than fine, the direction seems to be what failed here. As I mentioned, the game pokes fun at its predecessor’s shortcomings, but for some reason, the lines are read in such a way that it seems like they are playing it straight. Knack 2, in my eyes, exists almost as a joke we are all in on, sort of like Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2; although the first movie did incredibly well, unlike the original Knack as far as I’m aware. I was disappointed time and time again when a line of dialogue was clearly written as a joke then read as if the characters were serious. The game would have been far, far better if it were more self-aware and leaned into the jokes instead of just lifelessly laying them bare with no winking or nudging or comedic timing. This lead to boring characters who were hard to care about participating in a cookie cutter story about stopping bad guys from doing bad guy things.
There were also a couple of specific things in the story that I found problematic. One was a level that had the characters invading the home of one of their exes that had built an army of robots to keep them out. The game plays this as it is supposed to be funny, and I suppose to a younger audience it would be on a surface level, but from a mature critical standpoint the joke is “Isn’t it funny that this woman really doesn’t want this man contacting her but they are trying to anyways?” which is gross.
The other issue I had was with the token black character in the game that also plays into the the “magical negro” trope in that she grants Knack new moves. How or why can she grant Knack these moves? I don’t know, as the game never explains it. She also drip feeds these moves to Knack instead of just giving them to him all at once for some reason. At one point Knack sees a monk character do a move and he asks if she can teach him it, so she does. This is the same character that joked about how few moves Knack knows, yet she withholds new moves until the gameplay dictates that Knack needs to become a bit more powerful. Not a great way to keep gameplay fresh, and logically it’s just plain stupid from a story perspective.
Graphically the game is unimpressive (even playing in 4K HDR on the PS4 Pro) aside from a few fleeting moments with the aforementioned set pieces at the beginning of levels. The framerate hovers somewhere between 30 and 60 frames per second and never impacted my experience with the game. I didn’t experience any bugs whatsoever, which is something that is becoming increasingly rare for games near launch.
All that said, Knack 2 is clearly meant for children or people who aren’t that skilled or familiar with video games. With those people in mind, this is still a serviceable game, and although I wouldn’t call it a great (or even good), I’d be hard pressed to call it bad. Kids will probably enjoy it, and it doesn’t have a steep learning curve or difficulty, though harder difficulty settings are available for those wanting a challenge. If you are one of those people that finds value in game length there is a rather lengthy game here for a budget price, with plenty of optional unlockables such as time trials, score challenges, Knack forms, and Knack medals. These medals are earned by completing optional missions to in every level, but are sadly only available after finishing the game the first time; they would have added a bit more variety if included from the start.
From the perspective of this adult critic, however, Knack 2 is dull, boring, and lifeless. There are attempts to make you think otherwise, like the moments where Knack drives a vehicle for a stage, a few action packed quicktime event cutscenes, and stages opening with beautiful screenshot worthy set pieces. But once these moments pass, you’re back to a basic beat ’em up platformer with lots of ugly plain hallways and caves; a game that feels afraid to let loose and show some character. It’s better than the original game, for sure, but not by much.
There’s always Knack 3.