Reviews: Shovel Knight

Plague of Shadows (3DS version)

If only all DLC was as awesome as Plague of Shadows.

Po S is a free update for Shovel Knight that allows you to play as Plague Knight, one of the members of the Order of No Quarter who is most infamous for his difficult boss battle (stupid bombs getting flung in every direction). So now, you can play as that annoying bird man through the entire story instead of Shovel Knight!

The levels and boss battles are the same as they were in the original game, so don't expect much in terms of new content except for a couple of notable, spoilerish exceptions. What Po S does to make up for it, though, is Plague Knight's combat and gameplay. Plague Knight is absolutely nothing like Shovel Knight in how he moves and attacks. He relies upon using a variety of bombs and explosives that you can customize after buying them from Mona in your secret hideout, making for a variety of interesting attack combinations. Then not only that, but Plague Knight can't jump as high as Shovel Knight. To make up for this, he has a double jump as well as a third jump in the form of boosting by holding down the Y button and releasing into whatever direction you want to go. Due to these changes, Plague Knight has to run through levels in a much different way than Shovel Knight.

With that said, Po S is without a doubt more challenging than the original. Due to the tricky maneuvering techniques you have to master as Plague Knight, it's very easy to go sending yourself flying into a pit. No matter how great you think you might be at Shovel Knight, I can guarantee that you will die many times in the beginning levels. But thankfully, the bosses seem to be easier due to being unable to combat against aerial attacks and latter levels are easier due to the items that become available. But no matter what, you do need to master Plague Knight's style, or else you will keep dying over and over again.

Overall, I'd say that Po S, despite its increased difficulty, was better than the original game. The humor and plot was charming, and it felt extremely satisfying to reach the end. So if you own SK, get Po S. It's free, so you have absolutely nothing to lose.

Now let's hope that the King Knight and Specter Knight campaigns are just as fun, if not better.

Retro done (mostly) right

The game is blatantly Mega Man-themed, except with a medieval setting. Rather than Bubble Man, Air Man, Metal Man and the like, we get Treasure Knight, Tinker Knight, Polar Knight and so on. They have their own themed levels. The music is very similar to Mega Man as well, and Manami Matsumae, the original composer of the first Mega Man, contributed what are two of the best songs in the entire game to the soundtrack.

Elements from other games flesh it out. The towns are similar to Zelda II, along with the downthrust attack which also takes inspiration from Duck Tales's pogo jump; the map screen, complete with enemies and challenges and mini-stages that show up, is similar to Super Mario Bros. 3; the special items (along with the button combination to use them) is from Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden, as are some sound effects. It's like a tribute to classic NES action games, that also creates something new from them.

And Shovel Knight does indeed have its own unique feel to it. The towns have anthropomorphic toads, horses and deer coexisting alongside humans. The game has a sense of humor, one I find charming rather than annoying. Polar Knight attacks with a giant snowshovel, there's a toad who tells lots and lots of puns, and there are the troupples - half-trout half-apple creatures. The dialog tends to reference actual locations and characters in the game, giving it the impression that unlike many other comedies, this one takes place in a conistent, fleshed-out and realized world.

For a game that's NES-themed, there are inconsistencies with the actual NES though. Number of buttons is identical, and the gameplay style and level designs are very similar to that era - two things most "retro" game developers get totally wrong.

But the game's developers say this is an "idealized" version of the NES era. Songs are longer than NES songs tended to be, and the background is filled with parallax scrolling that was simply impossible on actual NES hardware, not to mention a greater amount of graphical variety than the NES's limited tile-based graphics memory could hold. It also displays slightly more color than the console could handle. You have infinite lives and instead get penalized by losing money.

Even though it's idealized, it's great and nostalgic.