The first part of this review is aimed at those who have never played the original standalone version of Shovel Knight before. For those who have and just want to know what’s new in the Switch version, scroll down to the ‘Treasure Trove features’ section further down the article.
Yacht Club Games
Switch, Wii U, 3DS, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Vita, Steam (Switch version reviewed)
Fake 8-bit graphics are this generation’s cel-shading.
Much like the early 2000s were flooded with games with flat textures and people going “ooooh, it looks just like a cartoon (except not quite)”, today we’re flooded with games with basic sprite-based graphics and people going “ooooh, it looks just like an NES game (except not quite)”.
Most of these are all retro style and no substance, the product of an indie developer whose lack of creativity when choosing an art style is inevitably accompanied by a lack of creativity in terms of gameplay mechanics.
Every now and then, though, you’ll get a game which does actually offer more than a brief “come see how old I look, ha ha!” message.
Games like Super Meat Boy, Retro City Rampage and VVVVVV combine retro visuals with genuinely compelling gameplay to earn their price tag and appeal to gamers of all vintages. You can most definitely add Shovel Knight to this list.
If you’re new to it, Shovel Knight is what you’d get if NES titles DuckTales, Mega Man and Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link all donated sperm and somehow were able to merge it to make one big super-sperm, which was then fused with a egg which represents… I dunno. Culture or something.
It plays like those three games, is what I’m trying to say.
You play as the titular Shovel Knight, who’s on a quest to rescue his friend Shield Knight. She’s been captured by the evil Enchantress, who’s dispatched a bunch of other knights (known as the Order of No Quarter) to go and smack the piss out of Sir Shovel.
It’s up to you, then, to defeat all eight
robot masters knights and make your way to the Enchantress so you can try to rescue Shield Knight.
It’s a pretty generic story, then, but 2D platformers from the ‘80s weren’t exactly Tolstoy yarns (and if the ‘rescue the woman’ story annoys you, you can now change the gender of Shovel Knight, Shield Knight or both).
The important thing is that the plot, basic though it may be, gives you the perfect excuse to head out, shovel in hand, and get thwacking.
Doing this is so satisfying. Each of Shovel Knight’s moves is designed to make you feel like a complete badass: the guy wields a shovel better than most pricks brandish a sword.
Your standard swing has good range and either sends small enemies flying or does good damage to bigger ones. Your downward thrust jump, meanwhile, harks back to DuckTales’ pogo stick attack and with a bit of skill you can use it to bop multiple enemies or bounce off them to reach higher platforms.
So far so normal, but what makes the game such a joy to play is the way each level is designed to push each of your abilities without ever doing it in a frustrating way.
Each screen offers a different platforming puzzle (albeit a basic one, don’t get too worried). What can you bounce off to reach that chest? If you use that flying enemy as a step to get across that pit, how will you get back? That wall up there looks breakable: is it worth trying to reach it and risk taking damage?
By constantly keeping your mind active and ensuring you’re continually thinking of different ways to use the limited skills available to you, this ensures the game never slips into the repetitive jump-fest so many other retro-style platformers become.
There are also ‘relics’, which are new powers you gain throughout the game in order to keep things fresh. These range from (literally) throwaway ones like an axe you can chuck in an arc, to genuinely useful ones like the Phase Locket which makes you briefly invincible.
By slowly acquiring these powers one at a time, you never feel overwhelmed and get a chance to experiment with each of them before taking on the next. It’s a perfectly balanced system, designed to ensure you’re still trying out new techniques by the time the credits roll and you’re ready to start the New Game+ option.
It won’t take you too long to get to this point, mind. Although Shovel Knight is a tricky game at times it’s never frustratingly so, and its generosity at giving you infinite lives means that even if your platforming skills are a bit rusty you can eventually make your way through it by brute force and persistence.
According to my save file, I finished the game in roughly five and a half hours, but – as you’re about to find out – the main Shovel Knight adventure is only part of what this Switch version has to offer.
Treasure Trove features
Since its original release in 2014, Shovel Knight has gained a hefty helping of DLC content.
Treasure Trove essentially brings it all together (excluding the other non-Nintendo console exclusive features, like the cameos by Kratos and the Battletoads in the PlayStation and Xbox versions respectively), and adds the new Specter Of Torment DLC as a timed Switch exclusive.
In order to not overwhelm you, then, here’s a taste of what else is added on top of the main game in a useful list style.
• Shovel Knight: Plague Of Shadows – after the original game was released Yacht Club Games created a new DLC campaign in which you play as Plague Knight, one of the eight bosses.
When this DLC was originally released, players had to complete the main Shovel Knight campaign before they could play as Plague Knight. In Treasure Trove, you can choose the Plague Knight campaign right from the start.
Personally, I’m not a massive fan of this mode. Plague Knight isn’t armed with a shovel: he drops bombs instead and has an odd boost jump move you have to charge by holding a button. This leads to a lot of badly aimed attacks and moments where you have to wait for him to charge up.
Fair play to Yacht Club for making a character that feels completely different and therefore transforms the game rather than just offering a different skin, but I didn’t really get into this mode as much as I did the main game. Unlike…
• Shovel Knight: Specter Of Torment – this is another brand new DLC campaign which is temporarily exclusive to the Switch until other formats get it in April.
This one lets you play as Specter Knight, another of the bosses, and it’s much more entertaining.
Specter Knight is the complete opposite of Plague Knight: rather than a slow, methodical character he’s a fucking ninja who can run up walls and has a cool diagonal homing slash move which makes for some interesting puzzles.
It’s also significantly different to the other campaigns. While the Plague Knight mode essentially used most of the levels from the standard game, this one offers a bunch of completely different stages, making it feel more like a proper Shovel Knight sequel than a bonus mode.
If you’ve already played Shovel Knight to death, this’ll breathe new life into it.
• Custom Knight – by scanning the Shovel Knight amiibo (sold separately, kids) you can play through the game using a special version of the character who can be levelled up.
Each time you level up you’ll gain a new upgrade, which could be a new outfit or a relic (some of which aren’t available in the normal, non-amiibofied version of the game).
These new goodies are chosen at random, but by the time you reach level 50 you get them all so don’t fret too much about it.
• Co-op mode – this was available in the Wii U version as another amiibo feature, but this time it’s available as standard.
Selecting it lets two players take on the game together with a pair of Shovel Knights. Although it’s a good idea it’s slightly fiddly in execution: similar to the multiplayer in New Super Mario Bros Wii it’s a little too easy to get in your partner’s way and accidentally bop them.
• The Fairy of Shovelry – this one’s completely pointless but I love it. There’s a new character in the village called Madame Meeber. If you talk to her she’ll ask you to scan the Shovel Knight amiibo. Do this and you’ll spawn the Fairy of Shovelry.
This is basically a tiny flying Shovel Knight who accompanies you on your travels. It doesn’t really do anything – it flies over to treasure and tries to pick it up (but fails) and it squares up to enemies – but it’s an adorable little extra.
There you have it, then. That’s what you get over and above the main game, and that’s not including stuff like the compellingly difficult Challenge mode, the achievement-like ‘Feats’ and all that malarkey.
If you already own Shovel Knight it might be worth holding fire instead of buying it on Switch. Every version of the game is due to be upgraded to the Treasure Trove version, including the brilliant new Specter Of Torment campaign, for free in April.
Alternatively, if you can’t wait but don’t want to buy the whole game again, you can buy just the Specter Of Torment section as a standalone game on the Switch eShop.
If, however, Shovel Knight has managed to pass you by up until this point, there’s no better time to finally get involved. With three campaigns totalling nearly 20 hours of 2D platforming gold and a Challenge mode on top of that which should keep you busy for much longer, anyone with even a passing interest in retro platform games will be in heaven here.
Shovel Knight Treasure Trove is available now on the Switch eShop, priced £22.49 / $24.99. Alternatively, the new Specter Of Torment DLC campaign (which is part of Treasure Trove) is available as a standalone game for £8.99 / $9.99.
If you already have Shovel Knight on another format, a free update will be made available in April 2017 which will turn it into the Treasure Trove edition.
In order that I could write this review, I received a free copy of the game from a PR. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this, even though I appreciate it’s really hard to believe that this time.
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