When Shovel Knight released in 2014, it was an immediate critical and commercial success, setting off a wave of praise (and cameos) for years to come. The horned-helmeted hero has grown into such a modern indie icon that he’s become the first indie character to become an Assist Trophy in Super Smash Bros., and the game has updated to receive two of three additional campaigns promised in its initial Kickstarter. But Yacht Club Games isn’t done yet, as they’re offering not one, but two, final parts to conclude their half-decade of work.
Let’s begin with the one we’ve known about for a while — Shovel Knight: King of Cards, starring the royally pompous King Knight. True to the previous campaigns for the game, it plays completely differently than its predecessors — though as somebody who only played a bit of Plague of Shadows and has yet to touch Specter of Torment, I found the control scheme to play mostly similar to the original Shovel of Hope adventure, with some key differences.
King Knight is a character with momentum: his primary attack is charging forward to battle foes, which is powerful but makes him vulnerable. Conversely, upon colliding with something he’ll launch into a pirouette spin, at which point he can damage foes by bouncing on them (similar to Shovel Knight’s pogo). Figuring out how to maneuver with these two primary moves is King Knight’s bread and butter.
The demo stage was an altered version of King Knight’s own from the original game — Pridemoor Keep — including its swing chandeliers and springs. Hopping about while spinning was great fun and incredibly smooth, though it proved a unique obstacle when only breakable blocks lay over hazards, making sure I couldn’t go too hog wild with it. The sub-item in my inventory, a hammer with long reach, proved useful against enemies that I didn’t want to get in too close to. (There was another sub-item as well, but I didn’t realize that until I was done playing.)
The boss battle against King Pridemoor proved to be a great demonstration of the core mechanics. The hulking monarch could only be damaged by jumping on top of his head, but the basic jump wasn’t enough to clear his height — so by charging into him, the little boost enabled me to drill into his glittering crown. It was very much a tutorial fight, but a satisfying one.
King of Cards felt like another solid variation on an existing game. What felt more novel was the recently announced and revealed Shovel Knight Showdown — a Super Smash Bros. styled game starring Shovel Knight, Shield Knight, and the entire Order of No Quarter. Apparently, appearing in Rivals of Aether and Smash itself wasn’t enough for Yacht Club!
Unlike those games, the core gameplay of SKS revolves around gem collecting: whoever ends up with the most of the gleaming pink diamonds at the end of a round is declared the winner. As such, it’s not strictly about trying to knock out as many opponents as possible — those who are perceptive and resourceful will find themselves better than those who are purely aggressive.
In my three matches, I tried Shield Knight, Shovel Knight, and Polar Knight. Shield Knight played the most finicky — she threw her shield Captain America style, which had a boomerang effect but was generally slow and not particularly useful. Shovel Knight was faithful to his original controls, leading to a lot of pogo-ing around in an effort to burst the gems’ bubbles. And Polar Knight played very similarly to Shovel Knight, but had a much larger frame and build, leading to more hits offensively and defensively. He was definitely the one I had the most fun with.
The wide roster of Showdown lends itself to some hectic matches — between Plague Knight tossing potions from afar or the wide maneuverability of Propellor Knight, it all became a bit much to keep track of at once, which I find well and proper for a game of the genre, personally. The last match was a team based bout that proved a bit more focused and fun than the others, and it was the only one that didn’t go to time. While I doubt it’ll dethrone the kings of the genre anytime soon, the fact that it’s a free Treasure Trove update doesn’t hurt in the slightest.
Overall, both of these final additions to Shovel Knight look to provide a well-earned sendoff to the game/series that has endured over several years. While it will be a curiosity to see what Yacht Club gets up to afterwards, I think we’ll be able to rest easy and remain excited knowing that they’ll end their current chapter with a surefire bang.
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