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Knack 2’s best surprise: It’s a lot of fun

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Sony’s unexpected sequel addresses the biggest problems from the original

Knack 2 Sony Interactive Entertainment

Sony’s Knack, a PlayStation 4 launch game that’s long felt like the butt of many a joke, is getting a sequel. The existence of Knack 2 was one of many surprises at this weekend’s PlayStation Experience, but the most welcome surprise may be that the sequel seems like it will be a much stronger game than the original.

The original Knack was a quintessential platform launch game: technically impressive at the time, but widely considered to be a fairly mediocre action-platformer. Knack 2, based on hands-on time with two of the game’s chapters, appears to address its predecessor’s shortcomings, offering greater depth in its mix of puzzles, platforming and beat ‘em up action.

In Polygon’s review of the game, Knack was criticized for being “a dull slog” with tedious, limited combat. The team at Sony Japan Studio seems keenly aware of Knack’s repetitive action, as one character says to Knack during a Knack 2 cutscene, “It’s hard to believe you saved the world. All you know are three punches and a kick.” That’s certainly not the case in Knack 2, where Knack can punch, kick, lasso, body slam and so much more. He can unleash a flurry of punches or whip his collected body parts — called relics — outward to bash, stun or pull in enemies.

Knack’s combat skills can evolve over the course of the game. Players will earn new moves as the story progresses, like a powerful shield-smashing, boulder-breaking punch, and they’ll have the ability to upgrade Knack’s arsenal of attacks to make them more powerful.

Sony Japan Studio is adding even more depth to Knack 2’s combat mechanics with two-player, jump in/jump out cooperative play. Players, both as Knack, can punch each other with a rapid fire attack to send dozens of their partner’s body parts flying across the screen. Or they can unleash a charged up power punch to launch the other Knack like a cannonball.

Defensively, Knack also has his dodge move — once again mapped to the right analog stick — and can reflect projectiles with a last-second use of his shield.

On the platforming side, Knack also has more moves at his disposal in the sequel. In addition to his double jump, he can hover by spinning through the air. This not only makes the platforming a bit easier, it offers opportunities to reach new, previously inaccessible areas. Knack can also shed (and reclaim) the accumulated relics that make him grow in size at any time. Some secret paths and treasure rooms can only be accessed by pint-sized Knack — think narrow ledges or tiny doors obscured by traps — and Sony Japan Studio appears to have worked some cleverly hidden secrets into the game.

Knack 2

The original Knack was often criticized for its difficulty, with the game’s normal setting being overly challenging and its easy difficulty mind-numbingly simplistic. Knack 2 will offer four difficulty settings that feel more appropriately named. I played one combat-focused level on normal and found it pretty breezy, though not without taking the occasional beating from a group of foes. Bumping that level up to hard made things, well, harder, but not frustratingly so. (Thankfully, I had Knack co-creator and PlayStation 4 lead system architect Mark Cerny as my occasional co-op partner, and we somehow made it through.)

As I worked my way through Knack 2’s platforming portions, Cerny pointed out that there were diverging paths: a standard route and an optional easy route, which seemed ideal for players who might be playing with younger co-op partners and may want a more casual journey through the sequel. Thanks to more frequent checkpointing and some smart design decisions in co-op play, Knack 2 feels much more forgiving than its predecessor.

Finally, the original Knack also received some flak for its storytelling — Knack’s dialogue in particular. For Knack 2, Sony Japan Studio has brought Marianne Krawczyk, the BAFTA award-winning writer of the God of War series, onboard to write the script.

So, pretty much across the board, things are looking up for Knack, whose next adventure is scheduled to hit PS4 in the second half of 2017.