If there was one thing you could rely on Sony for back in the day, it was a solid mascot-centric platforming adventure. From Jak & Daxter to Ratchet & Clank, from Ape Escape to Spyro, and from Sly Cooper to Crash Bandicoot, you could count on your Playstation for a platforming fix - and let's not forget more recent efforts like Little Big Planet, Tearaway and The Puppeteer. It's strange then, that aside from a single, solitary Playstation 4 launch title, their latest console has had a bit of a dearth of first party, old school platformers. At least, until now, and Knack 2. A sequel to the aforementioned launch title, Knack 2 is the latest game from the brain of Mark Cerny - a man who cut his teeth making many of the older platformers listed above - and it's a lot better than it was the first time around.
We may have met the titular Knack before - a giant golem-like creature made of magical 'relic' stones, who helped save the world from the goblins in the early Playstation 4 days - but now, he's got an even bigger task on his hands, as an ancient goblin army of robots starts coming back to life, attacking villages and cities across the world. As the only ones who really have a clue about what's going on, it falls to Knack and his human companions to put a stop to them.
Knack 2 is a fairly standard platforming adventure, and you'll spend your time bashing enemies, solving puzzles and of course, jumping from platform to platform as you make your way through each level. The twist is that Knack himself is a bit of a special guy - a product of extensive research by someone known only as 'The Doctor', he has a unique ability to shrink and grow himself as the situation demands, thanks to the magical stone 'relics' that make up his body. Add in super strength, a mean jumping ability and a whole arsenal of combat moves, which you can bolster with new unlocks and upgrades as you play, and you've got one formidable protagonist.
In many ways, Knack 2 is much improved over its predecessor, with a lot more emphasis on puzzle-solving this time around. From the fairly bog standard crate-pushing puzzles when you need a leg up, to some clever uses of Knack's various elemental powers - such as using his ice breath to freeze a switch in place to wedge a door open, or metal Knack's ability to plonk down a heavy metal statue, perfect for weighing down pressure pads, platforms and the like - Knack 2 feels a lot less combat-heavy than the original game, even if there is still plenty of bad guy bashing to go round. Knack's ability to change size on a whim, from a hulking great giant of destruction to a mini plant-pot-headed dude, comes in handy too, especially for squeezing through small gaps on a hunt for hidden secrets and pick ups.
The game's local co-op has also been given an overhaul, too. Now, instead of the second player being an obviously-tacked-on shadow of a Knack with barely any moves at their disposal, Knack 2 gives you a second, differently-coloured Knack to control instead. Player two can now use all the same moves, take part in puzzles, and generally help out in ways you never could in the original, where you were really no more than an extra (weak) pair of hands for battles. The best bit? Co-op players now have their own set of team moves they can use in battle, including the ability to (heavy) punch your friend in the general direction of a bad guy, sending them spinning off into enemies at high speed, as a rather ferocious projectile.
In general, though, combat in Knack 2 is a fairly standard punching and kicking affair, with Knack having a limited, if powerful range of moves. Depending on what the occasion calls for, you can strike out with punches and kicks, some weak and fast, others slow and strong, along with dodges that help you get out of harm's way, and a multitude of other unlockable abilities. As an added bonus, your health now regenerates too, giving you chance to nip in, land a few punches, then retreat to safety to give your health time to come back.
One of the biggest improvements over the original comes from the enemies, with the foes you face now being on much more of an even keel, with less random difficulty spikes. While the first Knack game was arguably the most family friendly of the PS4 launch line-up, it wasn't half chuffing hard in places, with the odd ridiculously tough section requiring plenty of retries to get through. Luckily, Knack 2 is a much smoother affair, although you can still find yourself dying when Knack gets overwhelmed by a large group of enemies, or when faced with a particularly tough boss. Thankfully, checkpoints are much more plentiful and logically placed in the sequel too, so you'll never find yourself set too far back should you die. If you're playing alongside a friend, you can simply instantly respawn at their side too, providing they stay alive.
As is traditional in these kinds of platforming adventures, Knack II has a slew of collectibles to find and… well, collect. Scattered around each level are a handful of hard-to-find treasure chests, each containing a different 'gadget part'; collect all the bits for a particular gadget, and you'll be able to equip it, garnering you some cool bonuses in the process. One will let you know when you're near an undiscovered chest, another boosts Knack's power with each punch he lands on an enemy, and one will respawn Knack right where he falls rather than sending you back to the last checkpoint - so they're well worth hunting down during your adventure.
A much more complete game than its predecessor, Knack II takes everything that was good about the original and improves it. More extensive puzzles, and much better co-op play makes for a game that'll give you a lot more fun, and while the story (and by extension, the characters) isn't much to write home about, punching your friend across the screen as a makeshift projectile is a blast. Knack II may not quite match up to the magic that was the likes of Jak & Daxter or Ratchet & Clank, but this is an adventure it's well worth taking in, particularly when you're playing in two player with a friend.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4