I almost wrote off Shovel Knight when it was in production. I had only seen a little about it, and judging by the concept of a knight with a shovel, I cynically assumed it would be another game involving mining in some way, trying to capitalize on the continuing craze of Minecraft. And then, one fateful night I had nothing better to do, and I purchased it on a whim and my life was changed forever. He was a game that was bold, inventive, retro in style yet modern in game design, and nothing like what I had cynically envisioned.
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is presently, the definitive version of the Shovel Knight experience, coming packaged with the original game, now titled Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope; the free Plauge Knight DLC: Plague of Shadows, and the newest paid DLC: Specter of Torment, with the King Knight campaign and multiplayer battle mode included for release at a later date.
In Shovel of Hope, players take control of the titular Shovel Knight, a noble knight with a peculiar weapon who lost his lady love Shield Knight while they were questing in the Tower of Fate. Years later, a mysterious foe known as The Enchantress returns to the land with her seven knights of the Order of No Quarter to reek havoc onto the land. It’s up to Shovel Knight to pick up his trusty spade and defend the land from evil.
Gameplay is tight and fast-paced, borrowing elements from beloved games of the NES era, most notably Ducktales as Shovel Knight can bounce of off enemies and certain objects by holding his shovel like a pogo-stick. It mixes a bit of Zelda II, with a similar health/magic and items system, it’s control and overall game-feel resembles Mega Man 2, and it contains an overworld menu a little similar to Mario 3.
In the Plague of Shadows DLC, players will take control of the mischievous Plague Knight, in a side story that runs parallel to the main story. Plague Knight looks to concoct the ultimate potion, but in order to do so, he must collect the essences of all the members of the Order of No Quarter. It’s interesting and has a lot of humor and charm as you go through underground sewers, watching Shovel Knight run through the town above, or how all of the items Shovel Knight gets are considered useless relics to Plague Knight and left in chests in exchange for alchemical ability.
While it is a retread of the same levels, it incredibly interesting and made much more difficult given Plague Knight’s radically different playstyle. While he has no physical attack, and can’t pogo-bounce off of enemies, Plague Knight can throw bombs, of which you can change the wick, powder and casing for up to 1000 different combinations. Certain bomb effects can be used to attack or for mobility; and while Plague Knight doesn’t jump as high as Shovel Knight, he does have a small double jump, as well as a explosive Burst Jump that can be used to reach higher areas, or long gaps. This makes for a play-style that’s a bit more fast-paced but requires precise timing, making for an incredibly challenging experience.
Specter Of Torment sets players as the mysterious Specter Knight, taker of souls, who is tasked by The Enchantress to form the Order of No Quarter by recruiting the local knights of the land. But all is not as it seems with Specter Knight who has a mysterious history that led him to be the knight he is.
Not only is Specter Knight’s gameplay completely different from Shovel Knight and Plague Knight, levels and even boss fights have been completely redesigned from the ground up to better suit his gameplay. Not only swift on his feet, Specter Knight can run a short distance up walls, wall-jump and can dash through midair opponents. To better suit this gameplay, levels are much more vertically designed with well timed drops and wall climbs paired with long gaps with conveniently placed enemies to dash through. Timing really is everything as Specter Knight can dash both up and down through opponents and a quick finger could mean death, perfectly balancing the game’s fast paced action with precision platforming.
There really is no aspect of Shovel Knight not to like. It’s retro 8-bit aesthetic is colorful and atmospheric, perfectly compliments the game’s it’s lovingly homaging. It maintains it’s own unique style rather than cynically cashing in on nostalgia, bearing the retro-gameplay but tailoring it to modern sensibilities like ditching the archaic lives system. It’s soundtrack is amazingly composed by the extremely talented Jake Kaufman of the Shante series. Heck, you initially got the Plauge Knight DLC by entering a cheat code in the main menu. That speaks of a company that loves and respects not just their audience, but the game industry itself.
Shovel Knight is fantastic through and through. It’s a game I’ve made a point to own on my Wii U, my 3DS and now my Switch, just so I can have it anywhere, anytime. You owe it to yourself to play this game.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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