Shovel Knight is almost three years old already and has appeared on a multitude of gaming systems since then. That’s why it wasn’t a huge surprise to hear that it would be making its way to the Nintendo Switch, but what was exciting was that it would be available at launch in two configurations. I admit the whole naming convention with this series can be a bit confusing, so let’s clear it up right now. There are currently two versions of the Shovel Knight franchise available on the Switch eShop: Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove and Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment. Treasure Trove includes everything the series has to offer up to this point – so three full games (the original Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope, Plague of Shadows, and Specter of Torment). It will also get you access to the upcoming King Knight campaign later this year. Specter of Torment is for those that have already played through the first two games and just want to play the newest one. This would be a good option for those only interested in the latest adventure. For this review, we were given the entire collection to play through, and what an amazing experience it is!
Since both Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope and Plague of Shadows have been on the market for some time now, this review will focus more on Specter of Torment. However, I don’t want to unceremoniously just gloss over the first two games in the series because they are vital components to the Treasure Trove package and are both extraordinary efforts.
If you’re unfamiliar with the series, the first game has you playing as Shovel Knight, an armor-clad warrior that uses a shovel as his main weapon. The game features a world map, not unlike Super Mario Bros. 3 and you will be able to select which level to challenge next. One of his signature moves is the ability to jump in the air and downward thrust his shovel so he can attack enemies and bounce off of them, often reaching areas of levels otherwise unreachable. The game is very focused on finding treasure, so he can dig up piles of dirt to find gems and jewels and the various levels are littered with secret destructible walls hiding vast amounts of loot. The object of the game is to vanquish the evil Enchantress and save his lost beloved. Standing between him and his goal are The Order of No Quarter, a bunch of bosses that must be vanquished in order to save the day!
Plague of Shadows has you taking the reigns of the villainous maniacal alchemist, Plague Knight. He’s on a quest to create the Ultimate Potion, and to do so he must procure specific ingredients from his former allies (the bosses you killed in the first game). Although the game features the same levels as before, Plague Knight has a completely new move set with a brand new story. He will be able to use explosives and items can be collected to craft new equipment and power-ups. It’s a fun time playing through familiar levels with completely new strategies and even new bosses. This is a very cool addition to the family of games, but out of the three it’s the one I liked the least. Had I played them a year or so apart I’d probably have enjoyed the experience more, but playing them back-to-back the experience began to stagnate just a little bit.
That brings us to the brand new installment: Specter of Torment! Here you play as Specter Knight in a prequel to the original Shovel Knight. He desperately want to regain his lost humanity and the Enchantress has promised to deliver his wish once he rallies up the bosses to form The Order of No Quarter (the evil baddies you fight in the original Shovel Knight). Armed with a scythe, Specter Knight has a very unique set of moves. Of course he can simply slash his enemies into oblivion with his powerful weapon, but his Dash Slash also gives him the power to stay airborne by chaining attacks on enemies or by using special items, like lanterns, which can be slashed to continue his aerial acrobats. Not unlike Ninja Gaiden, he also can climb the sides of many walls and will need to jump between them to gain access to higher platforms.
Early on in your adventure you’ll be able to explore the Tower of Fate, a sort-of castle town similar to games like Zelda II and Castlevania II. Here you’ll come across some helpful inhabitants that will offer up gameplay advice and clues. You’ll also be able to exchange Gold to unlock merchants that will sell you new upgrades to your equipment. Scattered throughout the main levels are Red Skulls that you can collect. These are used as currency to obtain brand new powerful Curios. These secondary weapons can be very helpful in your adventure, but they do use up a portion of your Darkness Meter. Luckily you can collect more darkness by defeating enemies. You’ll be able to raise your maximum health by finding a Wisp Chest, of which one is hidden in each stage. Just like the original Shovel Knight, this game is packed with secret areas to discover in every stage, so be on the lookout for damaged walls or any other spots that look a little “off”.
Effectively controlling Specter Knight can have a little bit of a learning curve. He really doesn’t crouch, and when jumping onto a wall, he will only climb so far before he begins to slide back down. Learning his precise range of movements is key to wall jumping. Also, his Slash Dash can be very tricky to perfect. Once you have a level or two under you belt the moves become second nature, but they do take some getting used to.
The visual presentation in all three games manages to capture the essence of the best 2D 8-bit games of the NES era. The color scheme is completely on-point and perfect. Parallax scrolling and lack of any type of slowdown or sprite flickering are reminders that this game never appeared on the NES. The attention to detail in this package is really appreciated. I love how each character’s text color matches their actual color in the game. The writing is both dramatic and funny in the way it’s delivered. You can tell that the developers have a strong understanding of what made NES games so beloved and have delivered a game that not only looks the part, but manages to exceed expectations in almost every regard.
The music in all three games is pure 8-bit bliss. The tracks may be all original efforts, but they have that same addictive quality to them and they are bound to get stuck in your head for days. The instrumentation reminds me so much of the great Capcom, Konami, Tecmo, and Sunsoft composers of yesteryear. This collection has some of the best music from the past few years, and it’s not even orchestrated. Bravo!
If you have a penchant for classic 8-bit games like DuckTales, Zelda II, Castlevania, and Mega Man, then Shovel Knight is a perfect game to grace your brand new Nintendo Switch. The developers at Yacht Club Games have painstakingly created such an awesome world to explore, complete with fun gameplay mechanics, retro pixel graphics, and off the hook chiptunes that are sure to tickle your nostalgia bone. The stories are all written with love, the levels are enjoyable, with just enough challenge, but not too much to frustrate. The game looks absolutely stunning on the Switch’s portable screen as well as on a TV. Thanks to the hybrid nature of the Nintendo Switch, this could possibly be the best way to own the Shovel Knight series. If you haven’t experienced the games yet, they come highly recommended. Even if you already own Shovel Knight on another platform, you might want to consider double dipping for the freedom to play anywhere and anytime you like. You won’t regret it!
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove Review
- Graphics - 9/109/10
- Sound - 10/1010/10
- Gameplay - 9.5/109.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 9.5/109.5/10
Final Thoughts: EXCELLENT
This is an amazing compilation of 8-bit goodness. Each game is fun in its own right, but you’re getting three full experiences that each have unique gameplay, fascinating characters, and exciting levels to explore. It’s an excellent game for the Switch!