Developed By: Japan Studio
The very existence of this game is big “?”, not only because it came out 4 years after the first Knack, bamboozling the gaming community at large, given how widely hated and reviled the first game and its titular protagonist were. Again, it’s worth remembering that the fist Knack was both a critical and a financial failure, and didn’t do worse in revenue because it was a launch title, so there wasn’t much else to play at the time on the newborne console.
In a way, i can understand why someone at Sony did ultimately greenlit this, as an underdog story for this pitiable franchise (and main characters) would have been nice, and proof you can turn thing around with a sequel; it has been done before, after all, so why can’t Knack be redeemed of his sins?
There are many reasons for that, but let’s start from the beginning, meaning the story.
(review based on a playthrough on Normal, for review purposes)
ONE LINERS MAELSTROM
So, what’s the plot for Knack 2? Goblins, again….. sorry, these are High Goblins, somehow different from the goblins from the first Knack, as in they were more advanced and used robots to fight humankind for resources during what are now know as the “Crystal Wars”, fought and won by the humans thanks to the legendary warrior called Marius, that was able to overthrow the conflict in their favour despite the enemies overwhelming technological superiority.
Now the remains of this robot squadron are re-activating all over the globe, and it’s up to Knack (and the lazy ass humans that still make Knack do all the work despite being able to handle most things themselves) to discover the truth behind this menace, and ultimately save the world from it.
The “Crystal Wars” backstory honestly is kinda laughable, but it’s still better than what the script had to offer in the first one. Can’t say the dialogues have improved, and it’s a bit sad when the game itself takes a stab on how Knack managed to save the world with three punches and kick… and then doesn’t actuallu rectify the huge issue behind this joke. Knack’s dialogue in particular is such an inspired mesh of action movie cliched one-liners and such that seems adlibbed with random quotes from IMDB. And even when you’re not hearing another recycled one-liner like “Thinking was never your strong suit”, Knack just hurls generic action hero fluff from his mouth (yeah, he talks this time around), problem is that “hero” is not a personality per se.
That is the lowest point, but when it’s not that, Knack II’s dialogue is just as banal as it gets, fluff, generic fluff, so generic to not even warrant anger or mention. A villain from Knack I returns, but he’s not the main baddie, which is less obvious than “mustaches mcvillain” from before, even if it all amounts to your very basic children movie level of “colonialism is bad” (and some racism, not some because everyone hates goblins, right?). And at least the human characters are more involved and contribute something to the plot, which i couldn’t say for the first Knack. Mind you, they mostly just sit back and watch you do all the dirty work for them.
BIGGER AND MARGINALLY BETTER
Let’s go over the positives: Knack II does make some welcome improvements.
First thing, now you can actually take more than 1 or 2 hits, so you won’t get oneshotted by a random enemy projectile that shouldn’t kill you but did anyway, you can collect crystals for a shield barrier that will block some damage, and you can actually parry and time it to throw projectiles back at the enemies, which is really important since Knack doesn’t have much in the way of range, outside of throwing some rocks found in the levels. For most of the game, at least.
While these are all nice improvements, the main one is that the game now feels actually designed with Knack in mind…. and this is also the problem, because Knack still doesn’t feel very powerful or reliable to control. Like i said in the review for the original game, the enemies look far more competent and suitable to combat than your player character ever will, and this sequel just makes it even more obvious that they shouldn’t have built this franchise on Knack, might as well try to build a castle on a swamp.
Sure, now you can actually manage the combat since you’re given more tools to work with right away, you don’t feel that fragile, but still kinda inept, with a not-so quick parry, not so quick or nimble dodges (which have even a slight pause between each), punches and kicks that don’t have much range, and you don’t really feel that much of a powerful or heavy hitter. Not totally weak, but not so strong either, so it’s hard to say what the hell they were striving for, because it doesn’t even fit well the “balanced” type of fighter as a main protagonist of an action game.
Now there’s a skill tree and things get marginally better as you unlock more moves and abilities (wish the game comunicated better how you unlock the other parts of the skill medallion, though), which makes the combat system a bit more interesting to fiddle with for experienced players, and now you can have some mild fun with it. But even hours in, after having mastered the timing to parry and deflect projectiles back….. you’ll still have to try because Knack doesn’t immediatly raises the shield when you press the button, there’s a slight delay to… well, basically everything he does, like the dodge.
IT SANK INTO THE SWAMP. SO I BUILT A SECOND ONE.
Yes, you can improve the dodge via the skill tree, but the way it’s done will impede you to do that until you’re close to mid-game, and sadly the bottom line is that, yes Knack is still kinda dysfunctional. Less disfunctional, but it’s clear even the designers knew that, because when a tough battle arises, they just make a big ass crystal so you can become invincible and more powerful for enough time to clear the arena in a jiffy, and – let’s be brutally honest – they’re right in NOT trusting Knack to be able to fend off for himself… entirely. He’s ever so slightly incompetent you’re gonna wanna make sure to hide all the knives in the kitchen, so yeah, so much for the powerful indestructibile hero he is in cutscenes and the many QTE sequences.
Mind you, when you grow big you can actually feel more powerful and overwhelm most enemies, but if you’re really giant, you’ll still find yourself more fragile than you should, so yeah, it’s no wonder the game gives you these “cheese the battle” crystals, because you can still die a bit too easier, since most enemies are still way faster and nimble than you, EVEN after upgrading and learning various moves. And still, some essential or useful moves are…. just taught to you by humans when the story dictates so. Yes, is still absurd to see the humans more than capable of handling the situation, but letting you do most – if not all – of the work anyway, the inane imbecils.
And they’re just lazy and dumb, because it they had any common sense they would have scrapped Knack and used it’s core for a better soldier, maybe mass produced particle robots, that do actually exists in Knack 2. But then again, nobody ever tought of nicking goblin technology for themselves, this is the kind of script you have to deal with.
So i’m kinda inclined to see the monk’s test you take halfway through the campaign … as as big sadistic trial or joke of sorts, to see if the player really wanted to see the end of Knack II. At least know it’s workable, it can be done, even though it’s not a pleasure to go through the story campaign, for overall similar reasons as before.
Also, there’s something really stupid and tragic in how they not just improved the double jump, but gave Knack a hover manouver that is way too useful, as it lets you skips many of the challenging platforming sections, just almost entirely bypass any challenge, despite the developers clearly trying to improve the platforming sections. Not as absurd as the quadruple jump in Alice Madness Returns, but its just so self-defeating.
RELICS OF THE MIND
Also, it show how ancient are the foundations of Knack as a series, even when it couldn’t pass a PS2 era concept, it’s dated in another way, like the use of QTE sequences, which fell out of fashion by the time the first Knack came around, but here they are, regardless if they are a console generation (or two) late to the party. 😐
Even at it’s best, Knack II just feels old and dated regardless, and while they fixed some of the most glaring issues, the game is just… a bit boring, as in it never expands upon the use of Knack ability to turn tiny and giant at will, not in any significant way.
The level design is improved, the hidden rooms where to find gadget pieces are now actually hidden, not well for most experienced players, but not always so obvious and in plain sight as before. There is a bit more emphasis on basic jumping puzzle and using blocks to reach higher platforms, holding levers and such, and using the new teleport pedestals, not that the humans ever need them, they somehow still manage to get ahead of you all the time… somehow.
I understand Japan Studio wanted to make a new action platformer in the vein of the PS1/early PS2 mascots craze, but you need a likeable main character, a better name for said character cause it will carry its name…. and you need just a better game for the time you release it, you can do a modern platformer that doesn’t feel like it’s chasing after Mr. Nutz or Aero The Acrobat. Because sure as hell this isn’t the new Crash Bandicoot, despite Sony desperately wanted it to be.
Which is extra sad in hindsight, since Crash Bandicoot 4 released just a month ago.
Elemental power ups are back, and they basically work the same way, acting as shields (with their own shield bar that get consumed after you get it) and powering up your hits, but this time each element has a specific use for “puzzles” (using ice to freeze enemies, switches and levers, leaving iron filings to connect electrified power stations, etc.), and now you can turn back into tiny Knack and create a statue made of the extra element to use as a weight for the puzzles. Again, this time you can tell they tried and it’s an improvement on the first one, it is.
Shame they really couldn’t help themselves, so once again the campaign goes on and on, i was ready for it to end halfway through, and i honestly thought Chapter 13 would be the last one— but NOPE, need to drag even this one more, in the same tiresome manner as the first Knack did. I fear it’s because they made the skill tree too big for the need of the game, so instead of making you earn exp faster, they drawn out the story again, because someone will be fooled into thinking that just because the campaign is 10/11 hours long, it’s worth the purchase. Need to “justify” that 40 bucks MSRP, i guess.
Once beaten, you unlock new game plus, Time Attack and Coliseum challenge/modes, along with some extra challenges for each stages, and there a lot of medals to collect and still the various types of crystal/gem Knack to unlock. Despite most of the gadget parts being pretty much hidden in plain sight again (it’s really easy to tell that there’s a hole in the wall that you can reach to enter these mini-rooms and get the treasures), getting all gems for the Knack variants requires some attention and more scrutiny.
Again, there’s co-op, this time not in “shoehorned at the last minute” fashion, it seems, i didn’t try and don’t really care to find out.
On the technical side, i don’t have much to say, it’s very colorful, which is always welcome, and… it’s decent, i guess, decent graphics, nothing jawbreaking or amazing, music is alright (italian dubbing as well), it runs well enough. I still don’t like the art direction, with the “quasi-uncanny” Pixar-esque humans, mechanical design for robots isn’t anything to write home about, it’s ancient in the same way the first one was, “old school” to a fault, this is deliberately PS2 art direction… but not an inspired one. Overall, inoffensive in this regard.
Now you have the HUD indicating how talls/big Knack is (in meters), which doesn’t mean much because you are gonna be as big the game will allow you to be, but it does make you feel big and powerful when you’re actually 5 meters, giant, and can satisfactionally despose of normal enemies with ease.
Thank the lord for small improvements.
Knack 2 is a thing.
Why i don’t know, but at least Japan Studio this time around fixed some of the most obvious flaws with the first game, improved platforming and combat, it tried to do better in pretty much any department. Even the story, which is still not good and with the quasi-Pixar animation for the cutscenes… it doesn’t help.
I wanna give it a 5/10, but i just know it isn’t worthy of that, since it has some of the fundamental problems as the first one did, they’re less noticeable and it’s a better experience, but the issues are so rooted they might as well tried with another mascotte character, one that people actually like this time around, as once again Knack is the crux of all problems with Knack as a whole, and the idea of building entire games around an unlikeable and almost dysfunctional player character… it speak for itself, doesn’t it?
I kinda like this one, in a way, there’s some fun to be had, to be squeezed from the turnip, but yeah, please, Sony, don’t bother ever making Knack 3. It will revitalize some memes, but it won’t bring much outside of that, critics and public asking why still bother, and very poor sales.
We’ll see, stranger things have happened, like Bubsy coming back.