Before I begin, I’d like to address one thing that has been at the forefront of my mind during the entirety of my time with Knack II: Knack is a horrible character. All due respect to his creator, Mark Cerny, who has had a hand in some classic franchises such as Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet and Clank and Jak and Daxter, but a sentient pile of rocks with all the personality of a non-sentient pile of rocks does not a good protagonist make. Knack’s fundamental design is obviously a necessary evil needed to accommodate the core gameplay hook of the games in which he stars, but that only begs the question of whether the end product is even worth having to stare at his stupid garbage-muppet face for any length of time. The short answer? Probably not.
The plot in the original Knack may have been serviceable, if unexciting, but the storytelling in Knack II is downright fucking awful. As it goes, the walking Skip™ bin and friends find themselves in yet another potentially world-ending pickle as an army of ancient robotic warriors are awakened by Gundahar, an evil goblin that the gang neglected to defeat in the first game. It’s an acceptable setup that should work on a fundamental level as inoffensive, Saturday morning cartoon guff, but the following ten-odd hours are a hot mess of nonsensical story threads, flimsy logic, unlikeable characters and cringeworthy dialogue. I can’t count the number of times I rolled my eyes as the various characters’ motivations changed with every new scene, or the game took them on yet another dangerous mission in search of information that one of them actually knew from the beginning. The entire plot is full of these complete lapses of logic, mostly due to the seeming incompetence of its protagonists. You might argue that a watertight script isn’t necessarily of high importance in a game aimed at a younger audience, but there’s probably a solid counterargument in not wanting your children to identify with characters as downright shitty as these. Not only are the grotesquely disproportionate humans of Knack II an assault on the eyes, they’re all terrible people. Knack himself is blander than off-brand Corn Flakes, when he’s not murdering actual humans (no joke). Sidekick Lucas is an idiot who spends an entire month on a deserted island littered with aeroplane parts before remembering he knows how to build an aeroplane, and his uncle Ryder is a self-important sex pest who frequently breaks into the home of a woman who has built an entire security empire out of a desire to keep him at bay (under the guidance of the rest of the team, no less). The entire ordeal is an insult to the intelligence of anyone even casually invested in the narrative.
Stone giant rampages through goblin city, killing thousands Knack saves the day!
Thankfully, anyone who does invest in Knack II will find a mostly competent action-platformer buried underneath the inane story threads. The team at SIE Japan Studio have gone to great lengths to address almost every critique levelled at the gameplay in the original game. The simplistic and needlessly punishing combat has been completely revamped – Knack now has access to a plethora of new offensive and defensive abilities – making fights more dynamic and (thankfully) forgiving than before. Starting with some basic combos and a block and parry, Knack gradually adds to his repertoire over the course of the game with more tactical options like long-range grabs or stun-inducing projectiles to help him deal with the ever-changing threats that he faces. Taking down enemies and finding hidden caches affords Knack experience that he can then spend on new skills in the Power Up menu. Frustratingly, instead of a basic skill tree the game forces the player down a strict path of upgrades rather than giving the player flexibility with how they shape their Knack. Peppered throughout the game are a number of boss battles and vehicular combat sections, most of which are genuinely fun and make for a refreshing break from the regular combat sequences, which does start to wear thin by the final chapters. Taking on the hordes in couch co-op with a friend is a blast, too, and I can see parents getting a kick out of helping younger ones with the tougher encounters.
Knack, the only guy who can be this cold and still not concerned about shrinkage
Knack II also makes for a welcome improvement over the original game when not engaged in battle. Where the first game followed the principles of the Skylanders school of action-over-platforming, Knack spends a decent chunk of time running, jumping, dodging obstacles and solving puzzles. As before, Knack’s main hook is that he can grow exponentially bigger by accumulating more ‘relics’ (read: rocks) to add to his form. This time around, he can shed or regain this added bulk at the touch of a button, meaning he can shrink or grow as the situation necessitates. This plays into the bulk of the platforming and puzzling in Knack II, and remains an entertaining gimmick throughout. Not to mention that carving through once-imposing baddies as a 30-foot Knack is an absolute blast. Level designs are mostly competent, although some run for far too long, and there’s a fundamental lack in variety (two mine levels?). The whole thing looks decent as well, at least on a technical level, with impressive physics and some great use of HDR for those with the right setups. In the end, the fun environmental puzzles, coupled with the engaging combat, occasional quick time events and some epic set pieces, make Knack II feel kind of like a PG-rated God of War (including the utterly unlikeable main protagonist), which is about the highest praise I can afford it. Whether that’s reason enough to stick with the game until the end will depend on your tolerance for everything else, but should you see it to completion, Knack II also contains a smorgasbord of post-game content including optional challenges and a New Game+ mode, not to mention the allure of going back to clean up all the hidden treasures that were missed along the way. Mercifully, the cutscenes are all skippable so it’s easy enough to just get to the good stuff.
From a gameplay perspective, Knack II is competent, and occasionally a lot of fun, and coupled with a decent story it might have been easier to recommend. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. It’s rare that I feel actual anger towards a game for its storytelling, but it’s equally rare that a game gets it so spectacularly wrong. If you have young children that want a co-op platformer, and they’ve played absolutely everything else, and they refuse to just play everything else again, then maybe consider picking this up. It’s cheap, at least. For everyone else, though, I mean isn’t Destiny 2 out right now?
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro