There are few words out there more damaging word to describe a sequel in any medium than “unnecessary.” To have a fresh, new IP arrive, have its time in the spotlight and later have a large portion of its players come to the conclusion that no sequel is needed not due to a sense of closure, but a lack of potential, is a decidedly unfortunate result for any aspiring franchise. And yet, that was how many felt with PS4 launch title Knack, a 3D platformer that, despite having Sony platformer icon Mark Cerny attached as director, fell flat for the new console, as a lackluster story and simplistic combat buried the title to the realm of mediocrity despite a surprising amount of challenge that laid within. With its legacy seemingly set as a one-and-done, many were shocked when a sequel was revealed at last year’s PSX, with Cerny once again returning as director, a smaller price tag and a focus on expanding the co-op and combat mechanics. Nine months later, Knack II is upon us, as the shape-shifting relic’s latest adventure supplies a longer campaign and new battle abilities, but little else to justifies the sequel’s existence.
Easily the greatest opportunity Knack II had to enhance the overall experience of the 3D platformer was capitalizing on the first title’s generic story, providing a tale that, while not rivaling the best this packed year in gaming had to offer, could provide some entertainment in-between levels and add a sense of purpose to the action on-screen. Unfortunately, the sequel seems content with its simplistic storytelling, as the cast of characters, both old and new, feel one-note and predictable, and Knack’s battle against goblins and robots feels fully unsurprising and passive. The story frequently feels like its playing catch-up with the gameplay, with poorly-inserted plot directions that exist for little reason other than to fill and pad out the length of a level. The writing is full of cliches, leaving a surprisingly capable cast of voice actors with little to go with, resulting in a plot that consistently struggles to rationalize its eleven hour length and will fail to entertain all but the youngest of minds.
Without a story to fall back on, Knack II’s gameplay ends up being at the front and center, for better and worse. Each of the fifteen chapters follow a similar cycle of growing and shrinking Knack as the level progresses, featuring a consistently satisfying loop of overpowering enemies and obstacles that proved frustrating to a smaller Knack. The fighting system has received the largest amount of improvements, as consistently varied enemy types and a full arsenal of combat abilities, including co-op combos, help keep the battles feeling fresh for longer chunks of time. The Normal difficulty leaves a little to be desired as far as challenge, but even a relatively small group of enemies can be enough to keep players on their toes if they fail to play the situation smartly enough. The occasional puzzle, which sees the return of Knack’s various elemental forms, helps adjust the pacing without ever being too frustrating, while the core platforming remains at its strongest when taking full advantage of Knack’s size-changing capability. As a whole, Knack II is at its strongest when it uses its sense of scale in unique and enjoyable manners, particularly during the boss battles and recurring QTE-filled cutscenes.
Knack II’s presentation ends up being merely satisfactory, with nothing exceptional to push it in one direction or another. The soundtrack is mostly forgettable, and despite the 4K enhancements, Knack’s environments and characters are basic but effective, with the best details often being found when Knack is at his smallest, even if they don’t appear frequently enough to benefit the game. The option is available to cap the FPS at 30, and while the frame drops when this option is off never directly impact the gameplay in any significant way, they are still present enough to be a distraction. Other than this issue, there were no glitches or other technical issues encountered during our playthrough. Knack II does offer a few options for replayability, including New Game + with multiple difficulties, Time Trials and Arena Challenges, but none of these seem immediately enticing after the extended length of the campaign.
During the later stages of Knack II, the titular hero says, “We all make mistakes. What matters is what you do next.” Knack II addresses some of the previous title’s mistakes, pushing forward the combat depth and enhancing the satisfying loop of gradually overpowering the world around the player through size management. Unfortunately too many of the past mistakes remain, including an unapologetically bland story and presentation, to have Knack’s return be justified to anyone but young players or dedicated 3D platformer fans.