The story of this year's PlayStation Experience was cemented before the show even began. During yesterday morning's PlayStation Showcase, Naughty Dog announced not one but two games: a new side-story in the Uncharted universe called The Lost Legacy, which drew a roar of applause from the people who viewed it live within Anaheim's convention center, but this excitement was quickly topped by the surprise announcement few people saw coming: The Last of Us Part II.
Naughty Dog opened and closed the show with thunderous news, but a couple of smaller reveals also received some buzz. Along with the surprising returns of Windjammers, PaRappa the Rapper, and Wipeout, Sony announced Knack would be returning with a direct sequel. With a low Metacritic rating of 54, the original Knack didn't light up the PlayStation 4, and was destined to be another promising intellectual property that was one and done.
I'm glad the series is getting another shot. I am one of the few critics (Matt Helgeson included) who enjoyed Knack for what it was. Sure, it became a little repetitive and long in the tooth, but the combat was fun, and the concept of growing and shrinking for different gameplay sequences worked well. There was a little bit of magic to Knack, but something was also missing.
I saw what that "something" was during my hands-on session with Knack 2 yesterday. Within just a few minutes of play, Knack 2 establishes itself as a more fully-featured game, feeling a little bit like a linear Jak & Daxter experience with strong cooperative play. In the first stage I played, which showcases a high level of verticality, platforming is the primary focus, sending Knack across moving platforms and open chasms that push the player to approach them in different ways. One jumping exercise may simply ask you to time your jump to land on a moving platform, whereas the next challenge may require a double jump and spinning glide (a la Jak & Daxter) to land safely on a ledge before a door closes and blocks your passage
The platforming is nicely varied and paced in this stage. Knack's ability to transform into an average-sized or smaller being is also used for a variety of platforming and navigation puzzles in this area. Some doors don't open fully, which requires quick thinking on the player's part to hit the R1 button quickly enough to shrink down to squeeze under the small gap. Little Knack is also used for a variety of secrets, such as jumping through small windows or scurrying across tiny ledges to reach new areas.
Combat sequences are also dispersed throughout this stage. Knack has a wider selection of combat techniques at his disposal, including charge attacks, aerial slams, and a shield that is primarily used for defense, but the player can also try to time their block to initiate a counter move that can send an arrow hurling back at their attacker. When a second player jumps into the game for couch co-op, a new combat mechanic emerges, and it's quite clever. Rather than directly attacking enemies, the two players (who take the form of different-colored Knacks with the same set of abilities this time around) will find benefit in attacking each other. Yes, it may sound like an act of griefing, but if one Knack punches the other, the result is a spray of bullets rocketing from his back. If that player holds down the punch button to initiate a series of rapid punches, stationary Knack almost turns into a gatling gun, spraying a steady stream of bullets at anyone behind him. Every attack produces a different co-op benefit. A ground slam makes the other Knack explode, producing a grenade-like effect. A charged-up punch, can send the other Knack flying like a corkscrew forward.
The battles I engaged in were just as challenging as they were in the original Knack, but health is no longer a finite thing; Knack now regenerates health, and, if another player is playing, will respawn after a few seconds. Checkpoints are also placed everywhere throughout levels to limit the amount of progress that needs to be retread. Players can also power up Knack further using upgrade points to up his attack speed, power, and gain new powers on a fairly extensive skill tree.
The original Knack focused mostly on combat, but Knack 2 seems to emphasize exploration a bit more. I didn't get a strong sense of the story that will unfold in this sequel, but the gameplay is vastly improved, and if the remainder of the game showcases the level of variety I saw in two demo levels, Knack 2 could be a nice surprise for PlayStation 4 in 2017.