Time to raise thy shovel once more for another round of retro, dirt-digging platforming with Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove–now featuring our old friend Specter Knight, too.
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: March 3rd, 2017
Three years after Shovel Knight’s initial release and still counting, Yacht Club Games continues to stand tall as a Kickstarter model done well. Admittedly, a three-year timeline for backer rewards to finally be doled out sounds lengthy on paper, but given how consistently and frequently the developers have dropped such rewards and how much obvious work and love they’ve put into them, you can’t fault them for it. It’s even more understandable now that Shovel Knight is available across just about any system you could possibly want to dig into it on, and with all subsequent updates free even for non-backers.
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is the most comprehensive collection of everything Shovel Knight released thus far. It includes the original Shovel Knight, Plague of Shadows, the new prequel campaign entitled Specter of Torment, and all the added bonuses such as two-player co-op (now no longer tied to amiibo), new amiibo features, body swap, and Challenge Modes for each campaign.
That would all mean very little if the game wasn’t excellent, but both Shovel Knight and its first DLC, Plague of Shadows, met with critical and popular acclaim, and for a good reason. Shovel of Hope, the first installment, has just about everything anyone could want in a challenging, retro-inspired platformer. Yacht Club Games effectively embraced the “learn by doing” style of gameplay in its offering of successive, themed levels that steadily, but fairly ramp up in complexity.
Various optional tools in the form of Relics may make some areas and battles easier, but you’ll need to explore every corner of every level to hunt them down or gain enough treasure to buy them later. Hidden music scores and a smattering of bonus challenges will test your skills outside of the main objectives, and it’s all held together with gorgeous pixel art graphics, a rockin’ old school soundtrack, and a simple but heartfelt story backed by strong writing that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
In Treasure Trove, you’ll also be greeted by an optional Body Swap mode for Shovel of Hope that allows you to swap the gender of any or all of the main cast. It’s entirely trivial as far as gameplay goes, but it’s a neat and interesting little feature, especially if you’ve beaten the game before.
That’s Shovel of Hope. Plague of Shadows runs parallel to that story where you play as Plague Knight, one of the first game’s bosses, equipped with a unique roster of abilities at the start and to be unlocked throughout the admittedly more light-hearted campaign. Plague of Shadows earns its praise as DLC by rehashing Shovel of Hope’s levels in just the right way–by forcing you to redo them with a completely different toolkit and slight tweaks to accommodate for Plague Knight’s short jumps and greater blasting power. There are few surprises in Plague of Shadows, but for those looking for an even greater challenge and more of Yacht Club Games’ humorous writing after finishing Shovel of Hope, Plague of Shadows delivers.
Specter Knight’s toolkit admittedly allowed for some interesting twists on how the platforming levels shaped up…but most of the boss fights involved far less strategy.
Which brings us to the new content, Specter of Torment, serving as a prequel to the original campaign and with completely redesigned levels (albeit with familiar themes and even remixes of the old music). Specter Knight, as a servant of the Enchantress, must recruit each of the knights you see in the first game to her Order of No Quarter, all the while coming to terms with his own dark past via flashbacks. By nature, the tale is far darker than either of its predecessors, so while it is still peppered with a chuckle or two, you’ll likely find yourself tearing up by the end, especially if you’re one of the many who already knows the ending of Shovel of Hope.
But while the story goes darker, I found the gameplay to be somewhat easier than either of the other two installments. That’s not to say the level design is weaker, but Specter Knight’s fluid, melee style build felt far more comfortable and less risky than either Shovel or Plague’s. Specter Knight sports a similar short jump to Plague Knight but can run up the sides of most walls and use enemies or airborne obstacles to propel himself on through. He, like the other two, will acquire throughout the game a series of special abilities called Curios that can allow him to proceed more easily or access different areas.
These Curios also make light of his health pool, which starts fairly low but combined with upgrades throughout, plenty of healing items in levels, and Specter’s ability to heal via Curio turns out as good as infinite. That’s alongside a cloak upgrade that depletes life and magic (Will and Darkness, respectively) instead of killing you when you fall into pits and the presence of checkpoints every few screens in most levels.
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Specter Knight’s toolkit admittedly allowed for some interesting twists on how the platforming levels shaped up, which included some throwbacks to the first campaign mixed in with the all-new levels, but most of the boss fights involved far less strategy than I would have assumed after playing Shovel and Plague’s campaigns. I’m not claiming Specter Knight isn’t challenging at times, and it’s certainly still fun, but those who enjoyed the high difficulty of the previous two games may need to either push through the Challenge Stages or make a point to hunt down all the game’s collectibles to be pushed quite as far.
Altogether, the collection of three Shovel Knight games makes for a wonderful addition to the Nintendo Switch library. I always preferred the 3DS version of the original game just because the titles felt so well-suited for handheld, and now on the Nintendo Switch, you can experience the convenience of the handheld and the intensity of the console version in one title. Then there are the added bonuses of co-op mode playable on the go, no amiibo necessary, and the fact that all three campaigns are accessible from the get-go, rather than forcing you to beat the first game to unlock them. By packing all three campaigns together in such an accessible bundle, Treasure Trove is easily the best way to play Shovel Knight yet.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.