Game mascots have become the touchstones of each generation of Playstation consoles. The first Playstation had Crash Bandicoot, PS2 had …well a heap of them, Jak, Sly, Rachet and more, while the PS3 had the lovable Sackboy.
Playstation 4 has been out for almost 4 years but lacks a mascot character, perhaps Sony have seen fit for Knack to return in a sequel, to fill that illusive ‘Generation Mascot’ gap for the PS4.
PS4 launch title Knack had pretty mixed reviews, and was generally considered a bit of a let-down, especially considering the genius of Mark Cerny was directly involved in its creation. That said, many gamers, including KCs very own Richard, did in fact love the relic riddled adventure and probably thanks in part to these vocal few, we now have Knack 2.
Overall it’s a great game, however some qualification is needed as there is an audience I have in mind, ie: the younger gamer, that is likely to get the most out of this romp, especially if they intend to play Co-Op.
Knack 2 has built on the first titles roots of platforming, puzzles and combat. Knacks original ability to change from a monster 20ft beast to a 2ft pip squeak, now plays a huge part in progressing in the levels and is totally player controlled. Knack can be crawling through an air vent only to emerge, grow, and go stomping round a city smashing everything in sight. Unfortunately the levels themselves are still very linear and don’t reward exploration except to find the odd hidden chest holding upgrades. But when compared to the first game, the platforming is definitely more extensive in much bigger environments that give quite a sense of scale.
The puzzles are the classic environmental impediment or obstacle, that needs to be overcome with a few seconds of thought. Mainly they consist of ‘move the box’, ‘flip the switch’ etc… tropes of the genre, but some involving invisible platforms are quite fun. Thankfully Knacks size changes are a crucial part of the mechanics and add an enjoyable element to well trodden ground.
Combat starts out as a button mash-fest, but by the end game Knack has an extensive repertoire of shield breaks, body slams and grapple moves. It can be a bit repetitive, but there is joy to be found when destructible pieces of the environment and ‘Knack-bits’ go flying around the screen.
Great Co-Op play with a younger gamer is where Knack 2s strength really lies. I played most of Knack 2 with my 12yr old son and even though he himself is an accomplished gamer, I could still see the simple mechanics Japan Studios have built into the game and how they would be brilliant if playing with a very young child. There are no camera controls for them to get confused with and the whole game can be played with one stick and 3 buttons.
Platforming can be an issue for little kids, especially if that one pesky jump is stopping the games progress, but Knack 2 has a simple no-penalty warp mechanic. As long as one player has made it past the obstacle the not so skilled player can warp past the hard section. It’s simple, fast, and cleverly implemented to one button press and frankly all kid/family-friendly platformers should copy this idea. No need to lean over, relieve the child of their controller and show them how… crap they are at the game.
Combat is just as forgiving, with ‘button-mashing’ being a very viable way to play on easier difficulties. Harder settings are far less forgiving and require a real skill to manage health and important resources in the environments, so there is still challenge to be had for an experienced gamer. Co-Op team-attacks occur with little effort and the bashing animations and bits flying around the screen is fun to watch. The story has Goblins, massive robots and ancient ruins as well as a good bad-guy to dislike, perfect for kids, but it hits no high notes in any formal narrative structure.
For a prospective ‘Mascot’ title, unfortunately the weakest part of the whole game is actually Knack and his human companions. Knack has zero personality and as a character doesn’t develop in any way over the 10hr romp. The relationship between him and his supposed human best friend Lucas, is non existent. Lucas seems like a whiny know-all who tells Knack what to do all the time. Even my son asked, “Why does Knack listen to that kid, he’s a bit of a spaz”. Out of the mouth of babes…..
Its clear Sony wanted Knack 2 to cement this franchises place as a PS4 Mascot, but it fails to deliver on personality or the revolutionary gameplay mechanics needed to capture the hearts of gamers. Viewed purely as a sequel it is superior to its predecessor in every way, but it also feels like a missed opportunity for a major rethink.
That said, it is a fun diversion for an adult gamer, BUT is an absolute must-buy if you intend play with your children or a less experienced button masher.