Mon. Nov 28th, 2022
Watch out, it's that one guy who's made up of lots of little pieces.
enlarge / Watch out, it’s that one guy who’s made up of lots of little pieces.

I can’t decide if Knack should talk more or just shut up. Sony’s future giant mascot has just… enough personality that I find odd when he doesn’t respond to dialogue outside of the cutscenes. He blurts out the occasional lame one-liner – like “Oh yeah” or “Ice is nice” when he picks up a frost power-up – but otherwise shows virtually no interest in his own world-saving adventure. And when the hero at the heart of a world doesn’t seem to care, it makes it very difficult for me to do the same.

Lack of personality is not only a problem with handsome 2‘s title character. The game is laced with science-fantasy simplicity, from the muted color scheme to the generic antagonistic goblins. If you were to ask me to imagine the most banal versions of ancient ruins, a fantasy castle, or a robot factory, they would look exactly like the ones I’ve ridden all over this light action platformer.

As if to emphasize the game’s extremely generic construction, Knack is aided by “the monks” on his grueling journey. Not ‘The Insert Proper Noun Here Monks’ or ‘The Monks of Fantasy Town Name’. They are simply ‘the monks’. Their existence, formation and current members are hugely important parts of handsome 2‘s plot about the search for a robot army commander superweapon, and the group doesn’t even have a clear name.

historical problems

It’s not that I expected much from it. I played the first hour of the original dexterityin preparation for this review to see if the PS4 launch title really deserves the punch line it has become.

What I saw was equally empty of context and somehow both simple and bizarrely difficult. Simply because you could jump and punch, and that’s about it. Difficult because, in my experience, you can also die quite a bit after taking just a few hits between staggered health picks. It felt like an interactive diorama for 3D particle effects.

mechanical, handsome 2 is an improvement in almost every way. You still kick and jump a lot, sure, but there are fewer frustrating deaths. Knack quickly recovered his health this time, although he can still die in quick succession from a handful of blows.

That means combat is largely focused on managing crowds of enemies, stepping in and out to regenerate before they can overwhelm you. That basic level of strategy is a great step toward more challenging, engaging battles – one that only improves as handsome 2 introduces even more unique enemies to counter Knack’s own growing list of powers.

In the beginning you hit, block and send goblin arrows back to the sender with carefully timed parries. At the peak, you may have to do all of that, while also stunning an enemy robot from a distance to extinguish its electrified forcefield, jump to an armor-breaking charge blast on a third enemy, then finish off a weaker one while the other two stagger. Even players with lightning-fast fingers are likely to die quite a bit if Knack is severely outnumbered. Fortunately, the sequel did borrow one of its predecessor’s positive selling points: blazing fast loading times. Those, coupled with generous checkpoints, keep the challenges from getting too frustrating.

From easy to difficult, from small to large

It’s just too bad that all this satisfying complexity is teased painfully slowly over such a blasé adventure.

Once you’ve seen one handsome 2‘s stack of 15 chapters, you’ve seen just about all of them. In each, Knack and his completely redundant human sidekick, Lucas, fly to a stupid exotic location. Knack starts out small, with only as much magical building block biomass as they can fit into a seaplane. You fight against some small enemies and jump through different variations of the same jumping puzzle. Knack gets bigger and you fight bigger enemies. The chapter probably closes with some acceptably fast events.

I shouldn’t be covering up the exploration element at a lot, because it is also much improved from the original game. See, Knack can now switch between its minimum and current maximum size at will, meaning most puzzles, and just about every secret area in a given level, are closed by spinning small and squeezing through tight spaces. Most of the platforming in this action platformer is done as a small Knack, while most of the combat is done on a larger scale.

And once our hero starts pushing 20 feet and beyond, that scale gets really impressive. The world around him may feel flat, but the floating particles that Knack . to shape to do looks very nice. Knack can make those parts swing across the floor after they’ve been thrown off or even use their weight in counterbalance puzzles. handsome 2‘s non-combat sequences are most interesting when they take this into account, which happens with an unfortunate frequency.

The right circumstances

I’ve been thinking for a long time about who handsome 2‘s mix of overly simple platforming and often intense combat is meant to appeal. The story is too long-winded and safely colorless to be the kind of game I would have played repeatedly when I was young. The busy battles meanwhile require a lot of dexterity for especially young children – not bayonettalevels of stick flicking and button mashing, but enough.

handsome 2The drop-in, drop-out co-op fits nicely into that dynamic. Not only is crowd control easier because they have more hot bodies for enemies to split their attention on, but there’s also a kind of “reverse friendly fire,” where hitting your ally with various attacks fires projectile attacks. Meanwhile, players can turn at each other at any time by pressing R2. Even if someone is doing if they get stuck in a platforming challenge, their partner can take the reins and get over it for both of them.

If you’re like my own poor parents, blessed with two kids about the same age, the game even has a solution to the age-old question of who gets to become player one. When you select the two-player mode, Knack simply splits itself between two bodies – meaning: both players become the main character. It’s a clever little detail that helps co-op as the best way to play the game.

One of many

All together, handsome 2 is a tough sale. It’s not entirely unpleasant. It dodges the worst extremes of simplicity and frustration that plagued its predecessor. The last third in particular strikes a just right balance between frenetic combat and platform-changing platforms. At that point, about seven hours into the game, it’s as if the developers were confident that even their youngest players could be trusted to handle each concept.

Even at that time, however, dexterity hardly impresses. The sequel never strays from its iterated formula to give memorable texture to the world, its characters, or why I should care about either one. The game occasionally claims that Knack is seen as some sort of superhero after the events of the first game, but such statements ring hollow in the void.

As a result, there’s nothing the combat and platforming can match. It’s just an endless series of jumps and fights, with nothing major to break them, for about a dozen hours. The repetitive formula eventually begins to bring together every ancient ruin or one-dimensional villain.

It’s not that this kind of reasonable experience is hard to recommend. It’s more that it’s hard to recommend against the colorful, cartoonish, and personality-driven games that seep out of the walls every week these days. When you’re exhausted, like Overwatch, Lego Worlds, Sonic Mania, and countless other examples, at least you could do a lot worse than handsome 2.

The good

  • Surprisingly complex, satisfying battles
  • Solid Co-op Battles on the Couch
  • Those particle effects sure look nice

The bad

  • Completely unremarkable story and characters
  • Color palette is muted and dull
  • Rinse-and-repeat platform and battle formula

the ugly one

  • Knack dances to soft hip-hop over the credits…

verdict: There are now plenty of better games to spend your time and money on. If you absolutely need a harmless couch co-op brawler right now, give it a try.

By akfire1

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