The sequel nobody asked for turns out to be the game nobody needed to play.
DEVELOPER: SIE Japan Studio
PUBLISHER: Sony Interactive Entertainment
PLATFORM: PS4 (Reviewed)
RELEASED: SEPTEMBER 5, 2017
Knack 2 is better than Knack. But saying that is such faint praise it’s practically transparent. The original Knack, which I consider one of the worst games released in it’s year, was so badly designed even the usual “Git Gud” crowd would agree that it’s idea of difficulty was one of the cheapest ideas around. With one-hit kills and knock-outs from nowhere, in what was paradoxically a children’s game, Knack 2 at least solves that problem. Knack can take more than one punch, which is nice for something allegedly so big and powerful. All things considered though, Knack 2 still isn’t a very good game. I respect Sony for continuing to try with this thing, but maybe it’s time we admitted that Knack is never going to be Crash Bandicoot, doesn’t deserve to be Crash Bandicoot, and is, ultimately, the “Bing of Platformers”.
Much of the gameplay remains unchanged from the first. In Knack 2 you play… Knack. Not a great name for a character, not a name that kids are gonna want on t-shirts, but that’s the one Sony went with. Knack is a loose collection of spheres, cubes, and pyramids; a jumble of relics with a face like Telly from Sesame Street. By collecting more relics throughout the level, he can add them to his body and grow up to 30ft tall, but he can shed his physical collection at the press of a button to become a tiny little version of himself. By switching between the small and large versions of Knack, players can navigate simple environmental puzzles and platforming sections. The platforming is by far the superior aspect of Knack 2, with some well designed jumps and challenges that, unfortunately, do get undermined due to the fact that Knack himself circumvents a lot of it do to an overly powerful hover maneuver that lets him float over large distances and often ignore large sections of platforming.
The truly tragic part is that the hover maneuver is the only thing Knack is good at. The only thing Knack can do competently actively renders vast portions of Knack 2 moot. And this becomes severely noticeable once you work out just how useless a protagonist Knack actually is. I’m not talking in terms of story either. As a player character, as the audience’s avatar, as something to be controlled and manipulated within the game, Knack is god awful. He is slow, he is sluggish, he is unresponsive. In battle it’s a wonder he survives anything. He has three punches and a kick. it’s even lamp-shaded within the game itself: He has three punches and a kick. He can dodge up to three times before having to stop and leave himself open to attack. And even then he has to take small breaks between each dodge, again leaving himself open to attack each time.
In terms of range, neither is attack nor his dodge are adequate enough for anything the enemy is throwing at him. His punches barely extend, and his dodge barely gets him anywhere. When he blocks, he’s almost casual about it, slowly lifting his arm and then manifesting a shield. This becomes especially noticeable when players are expected to parry projectiles. Knack himself, of course, doesn’t get an sort of ranged attack until the game is practically over, and even then it’s not very good. Enemy ballistics fly swiftly at the player, but Knack himself just isn’t all that bothered about blocking them. The delay between pressing the button and Knack’s block being effective is enough to make sure that parrying always feels slightly off, slightly miss-timed.
And that’s how Knack feels to control throughout: always slightly off. Never as responsive, never as fluid, never as fun as any other video game protagonist in a comparatively highly produced game. By contrast, Knack’s enemies look like they’d be a blast to play, and this might be the very first game I’ve ever played where even the starter enemies, even the most basic of mooks, look like they would be a lot more entertaining to control than the player character himself. Enemy blocking is responsive. Enemies can duck and weave, dodging attacks at the drop of a hat. Their attacks have range, hell some of them can even shoot. I’d rather play as any one of the robots or goblins in Knack 2. The fact that I have to play Knack, and he’s not some bargain basement stock enemy, demonstrates that this entire series was built on entirely the wrong foundation.
Knack is among the very worst player characters I’ve ever had to deal with in a video game and I do not say that lightly.
Knack 2 is superior to it’s predecessor through sheer dint of the fact that everything has been designed around Knack and his significant shortcomings, since nobody thought to improve the player character himself. Thanks to the level design, and the fact that one-hit kills had been removed – otherwise this game would have been impossible – Knack 2 is at least tolerable when compared to the original. But it’s not particularly enjoyable. By the time Knack does get a couple extra skills to help him in combat, it’s too little and far too late. And he gets these extra skills from a character that has been following him around all game.
What exactly is it with the humans in Knack‘s world? These lazy hangers-on who follow him everywhere, do ABSOLUTELY nothing, and yet enjoy the plot revolving around them. Standing there, knowing how to defeat things, but letting the player bash their head against a brick wall first and have a really bad time, before the cutscene triggers and we’re finally graced with the knowledge of how this thing that’s been kicking our ass actually get IT’S ass kicked.
The utterly insipid story does not help these characters’ cases. In fact it’s not so much a story as it is a random assortment of clichés thrown into a washing machine with the setting switched to luxury spin. There are scenes of dialogue where every single line is a cliché, EVERY SINGLE LINE is something you’ve heard a dozen times before. It got so bad, I was able to say lines at the exact same time they were being said on the screen. It’s that predictable; it’s that bloody rote. I’m no longer convinced this was a game for children, so much as it was a game written by children.
Though perhaps on reflection, children have better narrative standards than the ones found in Knack 2.
It’s a pretty game; I’ll give it that. It’s got bright colors, and the scenery can look absolutely gorgeous and richly detailed. I can’t say I care for the character designs themselves though. Something about the imitation Pixar style creeps me the hell out. It’s impressive to see Knack’s little triangles and circles bounce about a map, but the visual effects are the only thing that feels fresh and modern in Knack 2, and indeed it’s predecessor. As with Knack, Knack 2 feels ancient, something you’d see one, maybe two generations ago. It looks up to date, but fundamentally, mechanically, it’s an old fashioned game with antiquated, contrived platforming sections, and woefully inadequate, thoroughly messy combat. Knack 2 is good at demonstrating the significant flaws with action platformers, but unfortunately does nothing to showcase what people actually like about them.
People were surprised when Knack 2 was announced, considering the first Knack wasn’t all that good and didn’t seem to perform particularly magnificently. Having now played Knack 2, I’m even more curious. What exactly was the point of making this? What exactly did this do for anybody? Some people at Sony must have a real soft spot for this character, and Lord knows why. He doesn’t even have any personality. He just says generic hero things like, “You’re going down,” while a malingering collection of character archetypes follow him around the place. While it started promising in it’s very first chapter. Knack 2 quickly becomes tiring. I was ready for this thing to be over by Chapter Seven, and there are fifteen chapters.
I admire that Sony would like a nice action-platformer for it’s console (there sure as hell ain’t enough of them), but do yourself a favor Sony: just go resurrect MediEvil. The world will thank you for it a lot more readily than it will if you continue persisting with this utter dead end.