Let it be known: Knack is no joke.
Since debuting alongside the PlayStation 4 in November 2013, the mascot platformer has proven to be, more than anything, a durable meme. Just the mention of the game or the sight of its spiky red-haired hero spawns page after page of inside jokes on Twitter or video game message boards. I can't even begin to explain the punchline. Maybe "Knack" was that bad? Or maybe it was that unappreciatedly good? Personally, I thought it was a bland romp with bad design progression and worse checkpoint placement. I didn't think it was worth four years of lulz.
Regardless, after "Knack 2," the big red one should no longer be the butt of your inscrutable posts. Motivated by them or not, Sony Computer Entertainment has made a superior sequel to its PlayStation 4 launch title, if only by correcting as many weaknesses as it could. Still, the game's barely there difficulty and bland story and setting suggest Knack could use some more parts yet.
PlayStation 4 exclusive launch game "Knack" is solid on two fronts.
A golem comprised of a magical core and Lego-like relics that cohere into humanoid form around it, Knack looks like a Picasso drawing of Iron Man. And in "Knack 2," his ability to shrink from two stories to two feet with the press of a button inspires puzzles and platforming more sophisticated than that of the first game. Sony throws the guy into an industrial ringer of conveyor belts, stop-start flames and collapsible platforms that's consistently fun to navigate. It's a breezy, unchallenging fun though: Knack can often just double-jump and glide past the trouble spots that'd send him plummeting. Most of the environmental puzzles, meanwhile, can be solved without stopping and analyzing what Knack has to work with — and savoring the "a ha!" sensation that often results.
Combat is even more improved in "Knack 2." After Knack meets an order of monks, he learns several new attacks and, more importantly, is steadily introduced to new enemies who can only be beaten by them. Sony continues cycling new goblin, robot and human enemies into the mix until the end of the game, all in an effort to keep your thumb off the same face button for too long. Though the more crowded rooms and one particular late-game enemy can force some pugilistic strategy from you, many combat stretches of the game nonetheless feel like mindless button mashes broken up only by the rare death and, thankfully, proximal restart. Those seeking more daunting opposition for Knack may find it, however, in the game's harder difficulty levels and challenge modes.
The challenge modes also contain none of the story of "Knack 2," which may count in their favor. A well-meaning adventure that sees Knack and his human companions team with monks to stop another goblin threat, the story is aggressively hokey. The sequel's telegraphed antagonist is every eccentric bad guy ever written. And I still don't understand why Knack isn't a silent protagonist: He's adorable at his smallest size, but when he's any bigger than that his one-liners and one-of-the-boys banter can make you cringe so hard you feel like falling to pieces.
Between its relative ease and basic narrative, "Knack 2" may be best for younger players. Its budget price and addition of co-op play certainly position it for families. But if Knack survives another few years of silly memes and returns in another sequel, perhaps Sony can swap out the rest of his weak parts and deliver a game that can be praised by everyone, and without all the irony.