PlayStation 4 launch game Knack was most memorable for its impressive use of particles; it used lots of tiny floating cubes, spheres, and pyramids to make up its main character. But beyond that, it was a throwback to PlayStation 2-era of linear 3D action games. As it turns out, not a lot has changed in the sequel, but as far as cooperative-centric action games go, Knack 2 ends up being a more enjoyable romp than the original.
Several years have passed since the events of the previous game, where the titular Knack and his friends stopped a rampaging goblin army from overtaking civilization. Knack 2 starts right in the midst of a fresh attack on the city of Newhaven, and over the course of 15 multi-stage chapters, the story takes some odd twists and turns for a game that is clearly aimed at a younger audience. There are bigger enemies than goblins afoot and the solid if cartoonish at times story includes some surprisingly not subtle parallels to real-world dictators and extremists.
Admittedly, things start off pretty slow, and for the first several chapters Knack 2 is a linear experience with basic combat and straightforward puzzles. As the game moves along, however, Knack’s moveset opens up thanks to an expansive upgrade tree and regular new move updates acquired during cinematic sequences.
Once you've gotten past the initial stages, Knack 2 throws a good variety of different-sized foes at its hero, from human-sized soldiers to giant robotic menaces. As Knack grows in power, he can string together powerful combos, and you begin to feel the heft and power behind his attacks. The upgrade system is such that he’ll essentially earn new moves right up until the end, so there’s always something new to try, which adds appreciable variety to the game's numerous battles.
Where things get really interesting is when Knack's ability to shrink and grow is called upon with greater frequency. Knack can grown from an adorable pint-sized doll to a 30-foot-tall hulk--the more artifact parts he finds during a level, the bigger he becomes, although the truly giant-sized Knack is sadly reserved for only a few spots.
One sequence in particular has giant Knack rampaging through a goblin city, for instance, and the sense of power and scale is exceptional. Knack can run over enemies that were previously challenging foes like they were speed bumps and it’s a thoroughly entertaining power trip. The way Knack changes his stance and demeanor as he grows--from adorable to athletically lean to outright massive--also adds a lot of personality to his character.
Even more intriguing is how the game uses little Knack. Every level contains at least a few secret areas only accessible while he's in his tiny form, but many of the puzzles and platforming sections require switching from big Knack to little Knack regularly. Since you can easily drop (and attract) his built-up parts with the press of a button, this size shifting mechanic gets a lot of mileage.
So, while giant Knack feels nearly invulnerable, tiny Knack’s ability to deftly flip from one small platform to the next gives the game an almost side-scrolling platformer appeal. He’s deadly fragile when small, so avoiding enemies is frequently necessary, often by finding side routes (such as small ledges and air ducts) that would be impossible for larger-sized creatures to pass. It’s a refreshing interchange of gaming styles within the levels that gives Knack 2 a surprising extra layer of depth. There are even vehicle segments, where you take control of a goblin tank, and, in one of the most entertaining sequences in the game, rampage through a city in a giant robot capable of crushing enemy tanks under foot.
All this action is aided greatly by terrific graphics and notably wonderful character animation. Knack looks amazing, the giant robots seem to have stepped straight out of an epic anime, and many of the locations are gorgeous, ranging from rocking deserts and snow-covered mountains to beautiful gardens and ancient temples and urban sprawls. Unfortunately, Knack 2 uses a set camera, and it can be terrible at times. It sometimes presents issues with enemies attacking from positions you can't see or reach, and during some platforming sequences, the camera can be more dangerous than any physical obstacle. Knack 2 is also really meant for cooperative play. It’s fully playable for one, but some of the puzzles and fights are much more frustrating without a partner.
At around seven to ten hours, Knack 2 is longer than you might expect. The issue with this is that there's obvious artificial padding afoot. One glaring example is how the game starts off in the story’s present day, then flashes back. When you actually get back to the starting point again, it actually makes you replay that exact same level. Other times, platforming and combat sections dragged on a bit too long, but at least in those case you’re still earning more treasure and skill points for upgrading.
Knack 2 is definitely a holdover from the past, but it manages to surprise with varied combat and the pleasing back and forth between big and little Knack. Where the original game felt, frankly, like a launch title meant to show off the power of a new system, Knack 2 is a more realized version of Knack as a character, and the wonderfully weird world he inhabits.