Reviewed on: Playstation 4. Copy supplied by publisher.
I should probably be up front and establish that I have never played Knack’s first outing, as it came out on the PS4 as a launch title before I had bought the system, and nobody was being particularly kind to the game either.
Thankfully Knack II had my back, displaying a charming little intro as you start the game giving the cliffs notes version of the first game’s plot and introducing me to Knack, the weirdly deep-voiced homunculus made from thousands of tiny objects, his human friend Lucas and their Pixar-esque world. It isn’t a whole lot, but it should be enough of a guide for anyone to be able to pick up and play Knack II.
It’s handy because the game starts right in the middle of things, with you having to save a city from robot invasion by throwing cars at the invading goons whilst the crowd cheers at how deftly you are destroying all their stuff for some reason. Maybe they all have “Knack insurance”.
This tutorial level introduces you to Knack’s gimmick, in that he is a humanoid cloud of tiny relics who can change size at will as he sheds and acquires the special relics that make up his body. While the ability to go from a hulking 13-foot tall beast to a tiny man who can fit in air vents at the press of a button probably sounds impressive, the whole thing is very contextual and inorganic, with the game usually throwing up on-screen prompts for when you need to change size in order to solve one of the game’s fairly simple puzzles.
That said, you are able to turn off most of the prompts for puzzles if you want to figure things out for yourself.
Combat isn’t super nuanced either; you have punch and kick attacks, can dodge and reflect enemy attacks and can unlock special moves throughout the game. Having said that, one thing that struck me was how surprisingly challenging the combat could get at times. Regardless of his size, Knack is oddly fragile and can be defeated in a couple of hits if you aren’t careful. Fortunately your health automatically regenerates after a couple of seconds, but the ‘normal’ level of difficulty may not be appropriate for younger or less experienced players.
A co-op mode exists, allowing the second player to play as a blue Knack, and from what little I experienced of it, it doesn’t add all that much. Combat is a bit more manageable, with a handful of fun special moves existing for co-op players, however trying to do the platforming segments and balance two players on tiny platforms without one knocking the other off a ledge is an exercise in frustration.
The dodge controls being mapped to the right analogue stick is a particular bugbear during the combat sequences. Being unable to control the camera leaves the player at the mercy of a lazy and malevolent camera that will sometimes point you to where you need to go or at the enemies you are fighting, but will occasionally hide enemies off-camera, allowing ranged enemies to get in cheap shots from where you couldn’t see them. The jarring pause that Knack takes after each dodge also leaves him open to attacks, making combat overall feel kind of clunky and awkward.
Would it have been so hard for them to map the dodge command to a different button to give the player control of the camera? It might have given them a better view of the environment.
Speaking of which, I mentioned this game looking like a Pixar movie earlier, and whilst Knack II’s art direction doesn’t quite show the same level of imagination, by virtue of most of the enemies being either visually uninteresting goblins or faceless robots, it is still a very nice game to look at. There are some beautiful environments and cutscenes that really convey the “playable animated kids movie” vibe that the game was going for.
Tiny Knack in particular is completely adorable, and it almost makes it disappointing how most of the game is comprised of bare-knuckle brawling as giant spiky Knack, who looks (and somewhat controls) like an orange version of the werehog from Sonic Unleashed.
Of course, with a game mechanic based around keeping track of thousands of tiny objects, you can certainly expect frame rate issues to rear their ugly head. I was playing on the base PS4 model, and while the game aims for 60 FPS and usually stays there, it definitely goes down during hectic moments in combat sections, with some bits slowing down to near slideshow speed as my console’s processor tried with all its might to keep track of all the particle physics and loose objects scattered across the screen.
Fortunately, the amount of options to deal with the visual issues is actually pretty impressive, particularly for anyone playing Knack II on a PS4 Pro. Players using the base PS4 model can lock the framerate at 30FPS, to ensure a smoother experience and make the inconsistency of the game’s general framerate less distracting, and players on the Pro can emphasise either graphics or framerate, ensuring a version of Knack II for players who prefer better visuals or smooth gameplay.
While I would overall recommend Knack II if you’re looking for a moderately enjoyable platformer and aren’t too bothered about the somewhat clunky combat, if you’re looking for a compelling new children’s mascot then I’d be more hesitant. Knack himself is weirdly not particularly involved in the story of the game, despite his name and face appearing on the cover. He barely speaks in cutscenes, and exists purely as Lucas’ bodyguard/pet to beat stuff up for him.
Throughout Knack’s adventures in this game, he teams up with Lucas, Lucas’ adventurer uncle and a monk girl, among others, and all of them have a better claim of being the actual protagonist of Knack II than Knack himself does. If Knack actually displayed any actual character traits, that might almost make Knack II the Mad Max: Fury Road of video games. But in practice, Knack himself feels weirdly unacknowledged in his own game, and could probably be swapped out by giving Lucas a really big gun to defend himself.
In short, Knack II is a moderately enjoyable platformer that certainly has flaws, but still shines in places despite them. If you can look past clunky combat sequences and a story that has strangely little to do with its playable character, there is enjoyment to find here.