Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro (4K, HDR and unlocked framerate)
Developer: SIE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
The original Knack didn't really 'wow' a whole lot of people when it released. It served both as a relatively simple launch game for a new system, as well as a showcase for how it handles impressive particle physics. What we got was a somewhat uninspired platformer with some solid ideas, that never felt fully fleshed out.
Knack 2 certainly fixed that issue. It's still a relatively simple platformer but now it comes with a slew of gameplay improvements, mechanics, and abilities that elevate its status above a fun tech demo.
What's more, as a parent, this has provided me hours of entertainment that I could share with my five-year old daughter who is just starting to understand video games, thanks to its level of accessibility for new players.
A better-looking adventure
Despite the PS4's boost in power over the PS3, Knack wasn't a particularly next-gen looking game, especially when compared to other launch games like Killzone: Shadow Fall. Knack 2 still retains that simplistic, caricatured art style, and while not looking that impressive compared to the current landscape of titles such as Uncharted: Lost Legacy or even Hellblade, it does look markedly better than the original.
The environments themselves are much more colorful and varied. You'll jump, bash and smash your way through a city, ancient ruins, a snowy mountaintop, a lush forest and so much more. In fact, a lot of the fun is contributed to the fun level design, which peppers various challenges, whether it's combat scenarios where your large Knack has to pummel his way to victory or puzzle challenges where he instead has to shrink down to mini-Knack and navigate his way through an obstacle course.
A Knack for every occasion
As you progress, you'll unlock skill points to use in a skill tree that will give Knack various abilities as well as some potent passive skills. Having these in your arsenal elevates the somewhat bland combat to something much more special and situational. Since different enemies will require different skills to take down, you're not constantly just mashing the same button over and over again.
Then there are the "armor" upgrades. For example, early on in the mines, you'll be able to attract pieces of iron to your body which will make Knack take less damage, and the ability to perform a powerful punch. In the snowy mountains, you'll attract pieces of ice, giving Knack the ability to breathe frost, freezing enemies in their tracks. The great part is that the game throws these at you pretty frequently, meaning you always have something new to play and mess around with.
A bicycle built for two
While Knack 2 is certainly playable and enjoyable on your own, I found it to be most fun with a second player. That's thanks to two reasons. Firstly, every ability that Knack gets is boosted by a second player. For example, a body slam on top of another player will create a shockwave a propel that player into the air, who then can follow up with another body slam. Or if you throw one of the shield-breaking punches through another player, it will make them throw one too while also shooting them forward through enemies. Holding down Square will unleash a barrage of punches, but if another player is standing in front of you, it will spray enemies with projectiles made up of bits from that player.
The second reason why it's so great is that it's built with kids in mind, so if you're a parent of a small child who is just beginning to grasp video games, or just aren't very good at them, they don't need to do anything extra or even remember these combos, because you can do them all on your end yourself. After I super punched and propelled my daughter's blue Knack through the air, defeating one of the bigger robots we were fighting, she felt a sense of accomplishment. Even though I technically sent her flying, it gave her the illusion of doing it herself.
Kid-friendly, parent approved
Aside from the previously mentioned co-op skills that work wonders when playing with someone who isn't all too well versed in playing games, there are plenty of other smaller mechanics that ensure that both players are having fun.
For example, with a simple press of R2, that player will be transported to the other player's location. This eliminates the possibility of someone getting stuck on a particularly challenging section, whether it's a platforming or puzzle challenge, without impeding progress. However, even without squeezing R2, if one player gets too far ahead, the game will automatically teleport the player who's behind right next to the player who is.
If there's only one part that's particularly tricky, especially with younger kids, it's the co-op QTEs. These sequences are usually found at the end of chapters and will task both players to press or mash certain buttons at specific parts. In two instances, where I played with my co-worker's 9-year old daughter and then my 5-year old daughter, both struggled to press the buttons at the right time. What's worse, if you fail these QTEs during any sequence, you have to restart the entire sequence from scratch.
Knack 2 is every bit of what a sequel should be. It's adventure feels grander this time around, partially thanks to the varied environments you'll trek through. But it's the gameplay and mechanics that get a nice boost with a lot of variety thrown in to ensure you're not simply mashing the Square button to victory. It's challenging when it needs to be, but never to the point of frustration. And more importantly to parents like myself, the kid-friendly approach to co-op skills and the ability to bypass platforming sequences with a press of a button make this a dream-come-true for younger gamers.
Lastly, at a $40 price point, it's hard not to recommend Knack 2. It's great seeing Sony trying a new approach with their recent first-party release prices, and I certainly hope it continues. If it removes, or slightly diminishes that barrier of entry for some people, then it's certainly worth it.