Sunday, November 18, 2018

Knack 2 (PS4) Review

Though the game's over a year old now, I returned to Knack 2 after a long hiatus. I must say--I did not expect to like Knack 2 as much as I did. Dare I say, I loved it? Let's see what's so enjoyable about Knack 2 with my review.

Knack - Take 2

Oh, Knack. You whiffed your debut with a less than spectacular launch title for the PlayStation 4. Though you sold well (again, since you were a launch title and all), enough people got burned by you that they didn't bother checking out your much improved sequel. It's a darn shame, too, because Knack 2 improves on the original Knack in every way. And, just to make it clear since being better than the first Knack might not be a huge bar to clear for most PS4 owners out there, I can safely and unequivocally say that Knack 2 on its own is a terrific game worthy of playing.

Knack 2 begins in media res with a city being overrun and invaded by a nasty onslaught of robots. Who or what is behind it is uncertain, but just as things begin to look seriously bad for our hero, we get a flashback to show off the events leading up to the city's invasion. Knack 2 features the story of Lucas and his companion, the size-shifting hero of the first game, Knack. Surrounded by several supporting characters--many from the original game--the two tangle with a whole host of villains, high goblin mythology, robots, and much more. Knack 2's story interested me enough that I looked forward to see how each chapter would play out, but the humor didn't do much for me. I imagine it would be more welcomed by a younger audience than I, but I'd be lying if I said if I didn't chuckle or smile here and there.

Knack, Lucas, and friends will explore ancient ruins, snowy mountains, chaotic
city streets, and dense jungles alike throughout the enjoyable journey that is Knack 2.
Knack himself has the special ability to accumulate relic shards sprinkled throughout the game in order to grow to a larger size. Many levels in Knack 2 will require our protagonist to get to a certain weight or a specific height by nabbing enough of these shards in order to progress. The game features multiple puzzles where Knack must switch between his larger form and his small form voluntarily. Whether it's to fit inside a hole that only small Knack can fit through, walk along an incredibly narrow beam or ledge, or make his way through an otherwise claustrophobic crevasse, Knack needs his smaller self as well as his larger, much more brawny form to survive the perilous adventure.

For some reason, I don't think a 16-foot Knack would fit inside this passage here.
Additionally, some particularly clever platforming moments in Knack 2 require Knack to switch between sizes on the fly, and you'll be doing that a lot throughout the game's 10 hour time span. Such an example early in the game had me using Knack to leap on a moving platform and quickly needing to shrink down to small size to avoid getting Knack smashed to death by a spinning row of spikes as the platform passes below them. Not below enough for big Knack to pass by unscathed, but perfect for small Knack to get by.

Platforming is well integrated into levels, making for some truly fun and occasionally tricky challenges.
In Knack's journey he'll come across different materials to attach to his body at specific points during the game. For instance, coming in contact with ice shards will make our hero Ice Knack, able to freeze enemies with breath, as well as freeze gears and switches solid to hold open doors and platforms. Metal Knack can weigh down switches in addition to linking electric floor panels together to turn on machinery in levels. Finally, Stealth Knack can leisurely stroll through otherwise deadly lasers to reach otherwise impossible to visit areas.

"Ice is nice," says Ice Knack. "Oh, God..." groans Phil.
While these forms of Knack never show up in conjunction with one another, they do split up the standard platforming gameplay and combat (which I'll focus on soon), and make for some of the smartest puzzles within the game. A handful of times I sat confused at what to do with a particular puzzle, but once the solution presented itself to me (by my own intuition or the optional "hint" system included), I smiled at how clever the puzzle and level design I just saw was.

Would you say it's "time" to traverse up this clock tower?
"Oh, God..." groans all of you.
Meanwhile, Knack 2's combat serves its game well, allowing an "easy to pick up" fighting system that revolves around punches, kicks, guards, dodges, and parries in unison with one another against everything from solo encounters to group engagements--usually the latter. As you move forward during the game, you'll come across steadily more challenging enemies with different means to dispatch them, such as holding down the punch button to smash through an enemy's block, or chucking a boomerang to temporarily shut off electrified enemies for safe beat-downs.

For the most part, although what you'll be taking on in Knack 2 amounts to mainly two types of enemies: robots and goblins--there are such a multitude of varieties and fighting styles and tactics for each that combating these foes seldom gets tiring or repetitive. It also helps that just mashing buttons didn't do me much good even on the easiest difficulty. I had to learn when to attack, when to dodge, when to parry, and when all else failed, when to hightail it and retreat for a few moments while my damaged Knack eventually replenished his size.

And a third type of enemy revealed early enough in the game: living relics just like Knack.
You see, as Knack takes damage, the relic shards attached to him break apart. When Knack is at his smallest size, one hit from an enemy will result in death. When it came to the harder difficulty settings, I had to pick my shots, time my guards and evasions well, and sometimes just get a little lucky to survive. Ample amounts of checkpoints throughout Knack 2 made it, however, that I never had to redo sizable sections of the game at all.

Knack is about to teach this attacking foe that turnabout is fair play.
Knack earns experience for defeating foes as well from discovering treasure chests strewn about the Knack 2's levels that can be used on a skill tree of sorts. Each point on the skill tree filled unlocks new moves as well as a new combat bonuses, such as faster cooldown times per moves, higher attack or defense, and wider fields of attack for attacks. There are four sections of the skill tree total, and these unlock as previous trees are completed. It's really worthwhile to explore each level for treasure chests and to defeat enemies, as upgrading Knack with these aforementioned truly helpful moves and stat bonuses make Knack 2 much more manageable to beat. Plus, the treasures are hidden so cleverly and the level design is so well done that it's simply a joy to explore.

A well timed parry will launch this foe's laser right back at it.
When Knack 2 isn't have you take on some platforming, puzzle-solving, and fighting gameplay, the game mixes things up nicely with some alternate ways of play. One section has you aiming a turret at enemies (rest easy, forlorn Dead Space players--it's not as hard as that game), controlling a tank through an outdoor fortress, and even entering the cockpit of a gigantic robot. Furthermore, quick time events lend themselves nicely to game levels when they appear and readily telegraph themselves to not sneak up on unassuming players.

Knack 2 doesn't have to end after the initial campaign is beaten once. Almost every level in the game has well hidden treasures to find, and these special chests unlock beneficial gadgets for use in game. These range from a gadget that teleports Knack to safety if he falls into a pit, to new skins for Knack to wear (which also have bonus abilities).

Moreover, each level has three stars to earn for completing specific objectives. These can range from beating a level within a specific time limit, opening all treasure chests in a given level, defeating a set number of enemies as small Knack, and so forth. Levels can be selected from the world map at any time--even if you've not beaten the game yet.

Co-op is also a feature in Knack 2. Two players can team up together, and I do mean it quite literally. One player can charge up while the other player punches their back to let loose a barrage of spiky shards at enemies in front. Two Knacks are indeed better than one, and co-op is a perfect mode for those less experienced with Knack 2 or gaming in general to partner with a more skilled player. The latter player can take the lead while the second player is free to help. If they get too far behind, they will automatically warp close to the player who's up front.

These teeny, tiny goblins defeating Knack will definitely be a "tall" order.
Knack 2 is--without any semblance of irony--a very good game. It routinely introduces new enemy types, platforming challenges, and story scenarios to make for an engaging game from beginning to end. While the story and characters won't win over everyone--and definitely not folks in my bitter age bracket--Knack 2's tale kept me interested and continuing to play. And even if it didn't--certainly the well done level design, platforming, puzzles, and combat did the trick regardless. After a rough debut, Knack is back and he stars in one excellent action-platforming adventure.

[SPC Says: B+]

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