It’s always a risk to try something new and in the world of gaming it is a huge risk to put forth a brand-new IP that no one has ever heard about. Knack developed by SCE Japan Studio was a PS4 launch title back in 2013 that had the difficult task of both promoting the new console and being a new IP. The game looked and played like a PS3 or even PS2 platformer. Knack himself was the only thing that required the PS4’s hardware as his body was composed of hundreds of tiny relics that move about his body as he moves. As such the game was not well received with low reviews and was very much forgotten after lunch. Even I wasn’t too keen on getting the game when I first heard about it.
Fast forward five years and Knack becomes free to download for PS4 Plus Members. The PS4 in those five years, has since become a well-established console that continues to dominate the gaming market which means Knack no longer has to promote the console and can now stand on its own. In that regard, it’s not as bad as the reviewers make it out to be. It is classic platformer with linear progression and a few modern twists.
My first time playing this game was an eye opener and after playing it twice now, I have to say it has become one of my new favorites. It does however have faults to complain about especially when it comes to the combat. Knack loses half his health after just one hit even when he is gigantic. He also doesn’t have a shield or blocking ability to absorb hits and the dodge ability, stops him mid-way leaving him open for a 2nd attack. The story is very linear with predicable plot twists and the characters are arguable too generic. Still by far the combat is its biggest fault.
For me however, the combat is not a deal breaker because if you stick with it, you’ll find a certain enjoyment when you get through an entire level without taking a single hit. There’s even a gadget you acquire that rewards you for avoiding hits increasing Knack’s strength so enemies go down quicker. I also adore the colorful levels and comical enemies. It’s welcomed breathe from the endless sea of grey war torn wastelands that every game these days seem to be doing. The platforming brings back memories of old classics like Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Dexter, Legend of Zeida, and oh course Mario. In fact, the more you play it the more you come to appreciate the innocent charm of the game. The stylish fines on the backs of the tanks, the comical yet surprisingly deadly weapons of enemies, and the hilarious bravery of the little goblins that will still attack you despite being 20ft tall. As you discover more hidden chests and unlock more gadgets the combat gets easier yet still challenging.
Knack can grow in size from more relics he absorbs becoming a city smashing savior towards the end yet is not invincible and must continue to watch his health and avoid hits. The game also offers other modes to play after the story is beaten. New game +, time trials, and the coliseum or battle arena. The arena is where you can improve your fighting ability as you fight wave after of enemies with a limited number of relics to replenish your health. A second player can join you in these waves locally to aid you. Along with the gadgets you can unlock, chest can also contain crystal relics that increase or decrease Knack’s attributes for example vampire Knack increases his power as the cost of his health constantly draining away. These adds even more challenge or more fun to the game play especially when Knack is gigantic.
His becoming gigantic is another treat I enjoy greatly as I myself am a lover of all things big a gigantic. I love it even more when I’m allowed to control the gigantic. It’s then a shame that the camera zooms out a bit too far away from the action when he becomes city smashing big. Regardless the game is a great buy or rental if you want you want to play something different over a weekend or during the week. There’s between 8 to 10 hours of game play and the time spent to collect everything and unlock the ultimate Knack, is worth the hours more to really dominate each level.
Knack II was supposed to be an improvement on the first. It came out in the fall of 2017 and when it comes to the combat, there have been huge improvements. Knack can now take a hit without losing half his health. He can now block attacks and redirect projectiles launched at him. He can perform kicking attacks and hover for a short amount time. He can also change size at will becoming little Knack to get into tight spaces. By far however the biggest improvement is his ability to regenerate health which at first seems like a great addition especially during the first few chapters however, as the levels get more and more “battle happy” I’m would to argue that this ability ruins the overall experience. (more on that later).
Another game killing addition was the taking away the super moves i.e Shock wave, cyclone, and missile launchers where he could launch a cluster of relics at the enemy. In the first game Knack could use these super moves at will provided he had enough sun stone energy. Now in the sequel however, these moves have been replaced with a randomly generated super crystal that only lasted for a very limited amount of time. You can unlock different moves to make better use of the crystal’s power however it only summons when the game feels you need it. His combat ability has also been given an RPG style break down where his strength, speed, power, etc. are all tiered out and require a new energy item to unlock. It all just feels overly complicated and force so that the game last longer.
The story introduces us to a new type of enemy an ancient robot army built by the mysterious High Goblins sociality to wipe out humanity. These robots like to use the swarming tactic that if Knack could use his super moves from the first, battling them would be more manageable but instead, one must rely on these super crystals if the game can be bothered to summon them. A lot of times these super crystals only appears at the beginning of the swarm and last for about 5 secs leaving you to continue battling as more enemies surround you. The last few chapters especially really highlight the issues now created by this “improvement” to the combat. To adds to this frustration the regeneration health undermines the need for a strategy thus battles become button meshing and very repetitive. These two “improvements” spoil the charm of the first game where it was crucial to plan out your attack from each battle while watching your health.
The story of Knack 2 is way too complicated and goes on for far too long. I miss the linear progression as it was much easier to follow and left less unanswered questions. I miss the dynamic between Lucas and The Doctor and would have love to have seen more of The Doctor and Charlotte his long-lost love. Ava can apparently unlock knack’s special abilities by using monk magic. Zander has somehow created Knack copies yet no one can be bothered to explain how or why. The ancient robots are supposedly unstoppable force yet in the first game, Victor had his own an unstoppable robot army that has all but disappeared. There too many plot holes in this story that playing it more than once seems like torture.
The sequel should have been a chance for the game to come into its own and there are some positives that would suggest that it could have been. The level design and platforming are suburb with beautiful scenery, unique puzzles, and at times require quick thinking and good hand coordination. There are a few good music tracks in the a few levels and the overall graphics look sharper and more defined than the first. Knack himself looks more simplified while still maintaining a unique look. One addition that I really like is the height meter locate at the top left of the screen, so now we know exactly how big Knack is and how big he can become although it’s worth mentioning that in this second installment, the biggest he can become is around 35ft tall which is not small but also is nowhere the 200ft he could become towards the end of the first game.
It’s almost as if the developers forgot their made the first game and started all over. There is a level where you visit a museum and pass through serial exhibits featuring things from the first game vehicles, enemies, gadgets, etc. What I remember most however while passing through this level was how most I rather be playing the first over the second. It was just a lot more fun and a lot more memorial.
On that note, the Knack 2 does not give away any special gifts or rewards for playing the first. If it were me I would a great gift would have been either the combo meter or a crystal form of Knack. It’s small nugget that older games offered back in the day to make players feel more special about continuing a series. Knack feels like an older game with colorful levels, challenging but addictive game play, comical characters, and has a protagonist who is more powerful than he knows.
There is however one more improvement in the sequel that may actually solve all the above-mentioned problems with the exception of the story because Knack 2, comes with a co-op story mode allowing two players to play through the levels as a team. I can’t speak on whether or not this feature actual improves the overall game play, but having beaten the game on my own, I can say that having a second person to aid you, would make the battles more manageable. The super moves will still be locked behind a randomly generated crystal, and health will still regenerate automatically making this still a button masher. Nevertheless, there is an option to do a co-op which may be the key to making this an okay game to play over the weekend with a friend.
still having a co-op doesn’t fixes the holes in the story nor does it excuse the inherent issues with overly simplification the combat. A sequel is supposed to be an improvement on the first while adding more to the series. If a sequel however forgets where it came from than it just become a collection of random thoughts and ideas that have no direction and leaves the audience more confused than satisfy. I do however hope for a 3rd because despite the plot holes of the 2nd I still want to know more about Knack and about the world he lives in. The ancient beings who built their society around the relics that make up has body is a good starting point and would help bring thing back to focus. I would also like to see the High Goblins return as the lore behind them is interest and worth a second viewing. There is still potential here as long as the developers are willing to explore it.