Hands-on: Knack 2 isn't looking like a big improvement on the first game

When Knack launched in 2013 for PlayStation 4, it wasn't entirely well received. There were folks who enjoyed it, but there were just as many who didn't. And there was a fairly sizable crowd that found it middling. The general consensus is that Knack was an underwhelming game.

Revealed in December 2016, Knack 2 was one of the playable titles at the Sony E3 booth this year. I got a chance to play through the combat portion of the demo, and while I didn't play the original Knack, I'd have to say I was pretty underwhelmed with what I saw in this sequel.

Underwhelmed and confused.

The reason I ended up confused is because the question just has to be asked: why is Knack even getting a sequel? Is there really a huge demand for more of the Knack franchise? 

Beat Up Bad Guys, Open Doors, Repeat

The combat in the Knack 2 demo wasn't especially deep. Knack has a few different moves at his disposal, but a large part of what you do to defeat enemies is punch and kick them until they're down for good, which usually opens a locked door so you can proceed to the next area…where you'll punch and kick some more bad guys until another door opens and so on. It's not too intense, but at the same time enemies are at least smart about attacking, blocking, and throwing projectiles. Though the action isn't exactly riveting, it's not entirely dumbed down either.

You'll mostly be doing a lot of punching and kicking in Knack 2, but thankfully there are some variations of even the simplest attacks. Tapping the appropriate button three times yields a punch or kick combo, while holding the punch button allows Knack to dish out a quick flurry of fist strikes. It's an effective method for getting some good shots in, even if it doesn't give the gameplay the deeper variety it needs.

The good thing is you'll be able to unlock new moves for Knack as you go along. While playing, I gained a stronger punch attack that came in handy during the later parts of the demo. A lot of enemies like to use shields to make it harder for you to defeat them. Utilizing the super-powered punch attack will allow you to break their shields, essentially turning these particular baddies into your average grunt types. Even then I had to work for it, as it would normally take three of these punch attacks just to shatter a shield.

As simple as the combat in Knack 2 may be—and it's really, really simple—the game at least does a fine job of allowing folks to play it in different ways. For example, you may want to break an enemy's shield using a beefed up punch, or you could get behind the enemy and take a couple of shots at his exposed back. You could even just jump above a bunch of enemies' heads and do a body splash on top of all of them.

Even though the demo I played focused mainly on combat, there were some platforming parts as well. Unfortunately, these weren't all that entertaining and consisted of the most basic gameplay in the entire demo. Sure there were some Mario-esque fireballs to dodge, but overall getting through these sequences was just too mindless to be enjoyable on any level.

Bring a Friend

Knack 2 will feature drop-in/drop-out co-op. With a simple press of a button, a second player can join in. This is great for buddies or parents and children who want to play through the game's story together. It also allows for some unique double-team moves. Holding the punch button while standing behind my co-op partner's character turned him into a turret, unleashing several Knack bits in our enemies' direction. In addition, when I performed the super punch behind him, I sent him flying into baddies.

A few stronger mini-boss characters appeared a couple of times, and they were pretty formidable. I imagine these wouldn't be as fun to take down alone, so the co-op component is certainly welcome if it'll alleviate any grievances related to overly tough boss encounters.

Maybe it's different if you're actually playing with a friend, rather than a stranger, but I didn't find the cooperative gameplay in Knack 2 all that exciting. It was still generic, overly simple, and not that much fun. Of course, if you and a buddy really liked the first Knack, or if you're looking for something simple to play with your child, the cooperative action here is shaping up to be, at the very least, serviceable.

If At First You Don't Succeed

I'm trying to figure out exactly what audience Knack 2 is intended for. I initially thought the original game looked neat, but I was put off when I checked out reviews and saw the game in action. Though the potential for a cool little action-platformer was definitely there, ultimately the game appeared to lack a hook. Playing Knack 2 for myself, I saw a lot of similarities between this game and its predecessor, which doesn't leave me excited to play the full game when it hits PlayStation 4.

Knack 2 looks like it has the makings of a fun and jolly mascot platformer. What I played of the E3 demo, however, mostly consisted of generic combat and uninspired platforming. Unless there are some big curveballs in the gameplay mechanics in the full experience, I think the game is likely to see a similar reception as it did the first time around. Fans of Knack will probably dig what this follow-up has to offer, so maybe Knack 2 is made specifically with the existing fan base in mind. If that's the case, then you already know if you'll enjoy this title when it lands on September 5.