Knack II: The Future?
Developer: SIE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Reviewed on: Playstation 4 (Review code provided)
If ever there was a game that feels like the punchline for a console launch, it’s Sony’s coolly received early PS4 title. It’s a game so notoriously bland and basic that the announcement of a sequel at last December’s Playstation Experience was not met with cries of excitement but with an equal amount of derision and shaking of heads. So it was, with great curiosity, that I delved into Sony’s latest slice of family friendly platforming action. But what I found there surprised me…
Full and up front disclosure; I never played Knack beyond a couple of minutes on a PS4 demo unit. I always fancied it, though. Despite the middling reviews, it seemed like the kind of unabashedly old school platform game I’ve long felt was lacking from today’s cavalcade of grimdark shooters, but I simply never got round to picking it up. I think, on a subconscious level, I was always expecting it to come to PlayStation Plus sooner or later. So I jumped at the opportunity to give Knack II a go.
From the offset, Knack II semi-assumes you’ve never played the first game. After a brief “Previously on Knack…” intro, it starts the story towards the end of the game with an assault on a city by giant robots and introduces you to Knack’s abilities. It’s a fairly basic opener as you’re tunnelled from one set piece to another, bashing robots and learning how to jump, double jump and mash buttons in quicktime events. It also introduces you to something you’ll be doing a lot; controlling Knack’s size. Knack is a living being comprised of “relics”; small chunks of ancient machinery that can combine to increase or decrease Knack’s size. The more relics you have the bigger Knack is, and the more health he has and the harder he hits. There are times, however, when you’ll need to shed those relics and shrink Knack down to his tiny size to fit through small spaces, sucking your relics back to you when you’re out in the open. It’s a satisfying mechanic made even more so by a neat clattering noise and subtle vibration from the controller.
Gameplay wise, Knack II plays out very similarly to God of War with fixed camera angles, dodging on the right stick, basic face button actions and a simple tech tree to allow you to give Knack new abilities and strengthen his attacks as the game progresses. There are hidden chests to give you bonus XP to spend on upgrades or a random item part which, once you’ve collected enough, will allow you to craft helpful items to gain even more bonus XP, have a second chance should you fall off a ledge or even detect other hidden chests. Visually, though, it’s as far as possible from the grim, bloodsoaked fantasy aesthetic of Kratos’ adventures; full of bright colours, cartoony characters and Saturday morning adventure stylings. It’s all very old school in its feel, given a layer of polish from modern visuals and tight controls. Draw distance in levels is impressive and particle effects, especially when Knack gains and sheds relics, means that there’s always plenty to look at on-screen. It’s not going to win any awards, but it’s nicely inoffensive and an aesthetic that’s not often seen in modern games. Running at a decent 30FPS on standard PS4, bumped up to 60FPS on PS4 Pro, the visuals are also given an extra HDR polish on TV’s that support it, making the bright colours of the game world really pop.
Where Knack II falls down, however, is its lack of depth. There is a definite feeling that, for the most part, you’re being pushed through a story while being given the illusion of choice. While this isn’t always a bad thing, Knack’s lack of variety certainly hurts it. An early gag that Knack doesn’t really know anything beyond “three punches and a kick” is obviously a dig at the more basic combat mechanics of the original, but the tech tree on offer here is still very much gated behind a rather rigid experience system, and the moves on offer, while they shake up the combat a bit, aren’t often game changers. Certain unique relic abilities exist, such as the ability to become part metal or crystal to allow you to sneak through laser beams, but these are restricted to being used in specific levels rather than being swappable to customise your play style throughout the game. There’s also little variety in the enemies you meet, a problem made even more glaring by a dearth of level-defining boss battles and ultimately flat quicktime set pieces. The story is fun but ultimately unadventurous and, sadly, Knack is a hard character to relate to, being more of an analogue for the human characters in the game.
But Knack II is releasing at a mid-price point, around £25, and it’s hard to really complain at that. Similar to XBox One’s pocket money priced throwback ReCore, I found it to be an incredibly charming experience, utterly inoffensive and something I enjoyed playing with my kids, enhanced only by the drop in/out co-op mode. For younger gamers its perfect; the difficulty curve isn’t too steep, there’s plenty of hand holding and tips for those times when you just can’t see how to solve a puzzle (conversely something that seasoned gamers may find annoying given how easy the puzzles are) and it’s bright graphics will certainly appeal. It’s certainly an interesting and unexpected release from Sony, but if it’s an early sign of investment in mid-priced AA games then it’s a move I wholeheartedly welcome.
Like the titular character, Knack II feels like a relic; a completely old-school game given a shiny PS4 coat of paint with some bright and colourful visuals and tight controls. It’s only crime is its repetitive and shallow nature and basic story, but if you’re a younger gamer or are looking for something of a throwback adventure, you can’t go wrong with Knack II at its budget price.