It’s fair to say that Knack divided opinion upon its release alongside the PlayStation 4 in November 2013. Some concluded it to be an abomination that failed to live up to the promise of being a Crash Bandicoot successor, while others deemed it to be not so bad. Either way you look at it, it's now clear to see that the divisive title was met with enough success to spawn a sequel. And now the question becomes this: does the follow-up make good on the lofty expectations set four years ago – or does it flounder in murky water all over again? The answer lies firmly in the former: Knack 2 could well be the most improved sequel of the entire generation.
Following on from the events of the first game, the utopian city of Newhaven has come under attack from a goblin army that hasn’t been seen since the humans fended them off in the Crystal Wars. The invasion forms the opening chapter, but following that the plot is told through a flashback that takes up a large majority of the game where you learn who brought the infantry back to life and why they’re doing it. We then meet back up with present-day Knack during the finale as he bids to save the city.
While the plot itself remains fairly simple throughout, it’s the backstory and the characters themselves that give the journey its charm. Animated cutscenes tell the tales of the past as the two man party of Knack and Lucas learn more about the Crystal Wars and how they’re influencing the world of today, while Lucas himself brings a fair amount of charisma to the table as he goes through the blundering teenage years – spouting out some awkward lines and suffering with girl problems. The campaign is a genuinely fun adventure that is sure to please, but it comes with one major caveat.
Knack 2 pulls a Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, whereby you’re made to replay the first chapter all over again once you join Knack back in the present just so you can see what happens next. It makes for an incredibly tedious 30 minutes where you repeat everything you’ve already done, and it slams a locked door into the face of any pace the story was building. It wasn’t fun when Big Boss made us do it, and it’s the opposite of entertaining in this case, too.
On its surface, Knack’s second outing plays very much like its precursor. You’ll explore linear levels as you battle it out with enemies you encounter, while engaging in some platforming and hunting down treasure chests for upgrades. But if you were to burrow even an inch down, you would find a wealth of change and improvements.
Probably the biggest of these enhancements would be the sheer amount of options you now have when engaging in combat. The basic punch and kick return but these become more and more obsolete as you gain access to new moves such as the heavy punch, a hook shot which pulls goblins towards you, and a boomerang that locks enemies in place. On top of that there’s an all-new skill tree which improves current abilities and introduces new ones. Four branches of the tree focus on speed, strength, skill, and a late-game unlock. A body slam deals damage far and wide, while a frenzy of punches can be unleashed with an uppercut to boot later on.
These blows also factor into the co-operative mode, where two players can team up to perform combos that are only possible with a second Knack thrown into the mix. It gets to the point where you can pull off serious combo moves that leave waste to any enemy that gets in your way. No matter whether you’re playing by yourself or with a friend, you have a huge arsenal at your fingertips. It’s a monumental upgrade over the original, and it creates an experience full of variety, fun, and experimentation.
One complaint that was leveraged at the 2013 launch title was its difficulty. The sequel addresses this with expanded settings and a normal difficulty option that’s far more accessible. Fights feel a lot fairer with a larger health pool and many more ways of dealing with foes. That’s not to say that every encounter is a cakewalk, however, as you will be annihilated if you give enemies enough of a chance, but on the whole you’re in for a much more civil and courteous experience this time around.
Of course the other component to Knack 2 is its platforming, and the follow-up leans into this far harder than the original ever did. Some levels let the platforming take the lead role as you’re presented with some challenging sections that wouldn’t look out of place in a Crash Bandicoot title. This is then made even more complex by the fact that Knack can now switch between his large and smaller self on the fly, which is incorporated into many a sector. Numerous optional paths keep exploration at a high with even more community driven treasure chests to uncover, and with some light puzzle solving introduced alongside this entry, a brain teaser here and there helps to break up the gameplay with enjoyable distractions.
While it’s not quite on par with the graphical powerhouses of today, Knack’s second expedition still manages to look good with a big facelift given to character models and the environments. This coupled with a smooth 60 frames-per-second on the PS4 Pro makes for a polished experience on the presentational stage.
The 15 chapters will take you roughly 12 hours to complete, but that’s only the beginning as an abundance of post-game content will keep you busy. Every single level comes with its own set of challenges which when fulfilled, reward you with Knack tokens. As well as that there’s time attack and coliseum modes which give you the chance to race against the clock and do battle with enemies for the highest score possible, and a New Game Plus option unlocks which carries over all your abilities and skills onto a new playthrough.
Who would have thought it? Knack 2 is a genuinely great game. The huge breadth of combat options on offer make for a far better experience than anything the initial outing could ever offer, and with a much bigger focus on platforming, the title can start to lay claim to the promises of a Crash Bandicoot successor. Even if you were completely turned off by the original adventure, make sure you give Knack 2 a fair shot because what you find may pleasantly surprise you.