When Knack launched alongside the PlayStation 4 back in 2013, it didn’t exactly take the world by storm. Although it was a pretty game that showed off some of the power of the system—with Knack being able to shrink and grow as he absorbed or lost relics over the course of a level—many found the gameplay severely lacking. So, when I had a chance recently to go hands-on with Knack 2—and have the game’s director, PlayStation 4 architect and legendary game developer Mark Cerny serve as my co-op buddy—I was curious to see firsthand what changes the series had undergone from its initial entry (and hear about them from the man himself).

Knack was a very different concept. I was focused on making a game that was accessible to people who had never played a video game before, and thought that would be an interesting part of the PlayStation 4 as a launch title,” explained Cerny as we loaded up the first level. “That ended up being a pretty heavy focus, which meant no platforming and a fairly small moveset. Knack 2 is very different title from that; the focus here is more squarely on gameplay.”

And Cerny wasn’t kidding about that. He ended up showing me seven sections of the game in our demo that highlighted not only a wide variety of different gameplay challenges, but also an expanded moveset for Knack punctuated by four skill trees. It should be noted that some moves are story based, and only by advancing so far in certain levels will Knack unlock them—like a super-strong punch that can shatter enemy shields. Collecting energy in each level can unlock many others, however, and then you can invest that energy into new moves or improve upon those you’ll obtain via progress.

Easily one of my favorite things I experienced in the demo was how expanded Knack’s moveset had become as a whole. Knack can now create a shield that, if timed properly, will deflect bolts and blasts back at enemies. He also has a bola-like projectile weapon that can ensnare foes, making them easy targets for a combo or removing them temporarily from a fight as you focus on other targets. Kicks, body slams, and yes, even more punches round out Knack’s repertoire. One of my favorites was a Fist of the North Star-style flurry of fists that sees Knack move super quick, rapidly punching an enemy several times.

Co-op also sees some combat improvements. Cerny mentioned in our conversation that something he and his team noticed amongst younger players is they’d often take a whack at each other as often as they would Goblins. So, a new move incorporated into co-op is if you hit your buddy, a single relic will fly off like a bullet at an enemy. This way, even if you’re simply messing around, movement isn’t wasted, and can still serve a purpose in gameplay and combat.

As great as it is to see the depth of combat now present in Knack 2, the biggest additions probably come with the breadth of gameplay now available to you. Entire sections of levels are dedicated just to true platforming, exploring, and puzzle solving. In fact, by changing sizes at will, I would have to shrink to Knack’s smallest from to fit into onto smaller ledges and platforms to reach certain areas, and then quickly switch back to a larger from for combat. Knack’s smallest from is all necessary to navigate tiny crevices in cliff sides or Goblin fortresses and discover energy for leveling up, or pieces of technology that can bestow Knack with even more in-game abilities.

There’s a bit of a lottery to the item pieces you’ll discover, however, so there’s even a social aspect added to discovering treasure. If friends of yours have received items you’d rather have from the same treasure chest in their playthrough of Knack 2, you can trade what you received to get the same item they snagged. And, if you don’t have a lot of friends playing Knack 2, don’t worry: there will be some computer explorers that can offer up some options, too.

Other levels, meanwhile, add a stealth element. For example, you’ll have to push crates around with Knack to avoid searchlights while hiding in the shadows to prevent alarms from being set off as you infiltrate a certain someone’s home. You’ll also have to use the size-changing ability—which now features the added bonus of always letting you know just how tall Knack is at a given moment thanks to a height counter in the game’s HUD (if visuals weren’t enough for you)—to shrink and hide under awnings or canopies to avoid robots on patrol.

Knack 2 even brings driving segments to the series. One section of our demo saw Knack get in a tank and drive around destroying enemies and encampments; when playing co-op, one player drives the tank while the other operates the turret. Some other levels also have turret emplacements scattered about, and Knack can climb into one to really whittle down Goblin forces with some green energy blasts.

As the demo was winding down, I admit I was sad to see my time with Knack 2 coming to an end. I hadn’t had this much fun with an action-platformer in a while; the variety of gameplay was stellar, everything handled very tightly, the game looked great, and the writing had me chuckling in my chair. Cerny was quick to point out that bringing on Marianne Krawczyk, writer of the God of War series, to write Knack 2 was a critical move. Although the game is still very much gameplay-driven, having her veteran hand come in for key narrative moments—like where an ally of Knack makes fun of him (and the first game) for only having three punches—was a big boost, and allowed Cerny to focus on directing the gameplay that has made such hugely evident strides.

Although it’s scheduled to release during what’s looking like a very busy second half of 2017, if you’re searching for a fun, high-quality action-adventure that the whole family can enjoy, don’t sleep on Knack 2. With its new depth of gameplay and tight controls, it’s like Knack has finally found all the pieces to turn itself from a pipsqueak PlayStation 4 exclusive into a game to be reckoned with—one that can hold its own with the big boys of the system.

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