I always felt that the first Knack title was something of an underrated game. As a PS4 launch title, it had some big shoes to fill and the fact that it was in a genre that hadn’t been massively represented on the PS3 was something of a risk for Sony. When you also consider that a cartoon-styled game like this is never going to really show the kind of crisp, photo-realistic gameplay that is expected from early adopters of a new console generation, it’s no surprise that the game didn’t receive a huge amount of acclaim. Nonetheless, I thought that it was a nice little game and when I heard they were making a sequel I was pleasantly surprised.
As we approach the end of 2017, the bar is a lot higher in the world of platformers. With Ratchet and Clank having returned triumphantly, Crash Bandicoot back, a Sonic game that’s actually good, and Yooka-Laylee now out, it’s a good time to be a fan of platforming games. The flip-side of this is that Knack II has much stiffer competition, how does it stand up in a resurrected market?
First thing that’s worth noting is that the game looks really nice. It’s a little bit shinier than the previous outing, there’s plenty of snazzy effects and sparkles, and Knack certainly looks like he’s made of a few more pieces. There’s a noticeably better frame rate too, with no juddering or skipping that I could notice. If you’re the proud owner of a PS4 Pro, then you get even more goodies too. It’s still not the most photo-realistic game you’ll ever see, but it’s a platformer so really, all I was looking for was bright colours and lots of cute little touches, which the game delivers on. Like the previous game, camera angles are fixed, and the right analogue stick just makes Knack zip a short distance in the direction you push it, meaning that you’ll do that constantly whilst trying to get a better look at a jump. It’s a shame, I’d have hoped this had been fixed, given the five years since the last game.
The voice acting is largely comprised of the same cast. This is a good choice from a point of view of continuity, but it’s still a bit cheesy. Think saturday morning cartoons and you’ll know what I mean. The curious thing for me with the cast in the first game was putting Ikechukwu Prince Amadi in the role of Knack. The character might be 12 foot tall, but he still looks like he’s been made out of the contents of a child’s toy box, so casting someone with that booming strong delivery didn’t fit for me in the first game and it still doesn’t now. Knack is cute, and his voice doesn’t sound cute. It’s not that Ike isn’t a good actor, he’s just better suited to characters that aren’t so cartoony in my opinion.
The audio in the game is just as nice as before, despite a full-on change of personnel in the audio department. Gone is The Last Ship’s Jim Dooley, and in his place is a trio headed up by Anthony B. Willis of How to Train Your Dragon and Despicable Me 2 fame. Everything sounds as it should, with the clatter of relics hitting the floor when you shift to Knack’s smaller form being hugely satisfying. I often feel that the best sound designers are like the best roadies: you only notice them when they’re not there. That is definitely the case here, with everything from the buzzing of machinery to the satisfying thud of a goblin hitting the floor feeling in its rightful place, with nothing to break the suspension of disbelief, at least until Knack talks again.
The local co-op mode makes a return and that’s a welcome thing for me. I played the first game with my fiancé and we got a lot of fun out of it. Like before, player two can dip in and out to a standard single-player game, so there’s no need to be together all the time. That said, I kind of feel like carrying without your partner in a co-op game is like watching ahead of them on your latest Netflix binge series and therefore a divorceable offence. Given that we’re not actually married yet, that would make for an awkward day spent half at the registry office and half with a team of solicitors. Once again, there’s no online multiplayer or co-op, and there’s also no companion app this time; Sony have clearly realised that a match-three puzzler to go alongside the game just isn’t necessary.
There’s a few new moves throughout as Knack starts to learn more advanced martial arts techniques. The mix is also enriched with a number of new environments, but mainly, this is more of the same. Jump around a bit, beat up some nasties, then play through a set piece with some quick time events thrown in. This isn’t in any way a complex game, and it isn’t going to compete with the greats of the genre, but not every game has to be a Mario 64. Sometimes, we’ll settle for a Croc: Legend of the Gobbos, or a Cool Spot instead.
That middle ground of “competent but not exceptional” is where Knack II sits for me: it’s a pretty good game, but it’s not a genre-definer. Not having the pressure of being a launch title probably helps, but being against the recent re-release of Crash Bandicoot (a game also worked on by lead writer Mark Cerny) probably doesn’t help. In the end, the two pretty much cancel each other out and my overall feeling is one of satisfaction if not awe.
If you liked the original game, then there’s a high chance that you will like this one, because there’s not a huge amount that’s massively different. In a way, that’s a shame, because the team have had four years to make something new. That said, there wasn’t actually a whole lot wrong with the first game, even if it wasn’t a sales phenomenon. Fair play to the team for keeping the faith in their formula. If you’re looking for the next big thing, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a solid platformer that’s fun for the whole family, if a little rough around the edges sometimes, then look no further than Knack II.
Knack 2 (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Not a lot has changed here, so if you didn’t like the first game, you’ll probably not feel any more warmth to this one. If you did like the original Knack though, then this is more of the same and chances are you’ll enjoy it. Without the pressure of being a launch title, we can see the game for what it really is: a fun platform title that does plenty of things well, if very little that’s particularly ground-breaking.