They say that good things always come to a close eventually, but man, it sure took Shovel Knight a while, huh? After one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns, Yacht Club Games had a big task ahead of them: to fulfill the lofty promises made for each of the stretch goals that they set up and were obliterated. They included a host of extra game modes to be included alongside the main Shovel Knight campaign, and over the years, they hit that mark extremely well, eventually converting the base version of the game into the Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove for those who took part in the Kickstarter or who bought it in the many different systems that the original release was put out on.
Those secondary modes expanded the Shovel Knight gameplay to fit in other protagonists, who also happened to be the bosses from the main game, Plague Knight and Specter Knight, each taking into account the different mobility options available to them, adjusting gameplay to fit them in, as well as making their experiences different from Shovel Knight’s run. They succeeded in extending the life of the already excellent gameplay that was featured in the main game, which is heavily inspired by two NES classics: Mega Man and Duck Tales. To close things off, Yacht Club Games recently released the last pieces of the promised downloadable content in the form of Shovel Knight: King of Cards and Shovel Knight: Showdown, one of which follows the same idea of previous bonus modes, while the other mixes things up quite a bit, introducing multiplayer even!
Shovel Knight: King of Cards drops the red carpet, with King Knight taking center stage as protagonist and well, a seat at the throne. The story this time is that King Knight is aiming to be the best Joustus player in the land, a card game that seems to be all the rage. But before he can claim that tile, he has to find and defeat three Joustus Judges in his adventure, all the while putting together a deck of his own by winning challenges at every stop. The gameplay in this mode strays a bit from what was set in the previous releases, but not that much. The main difference is that King Knight’s go at being the main attraction features shorter platforming levels, with more of an emphasis on the card game part.
The action sections work well on their own, even if the main objective of this game is not exactly beating a boss at the end of every level. In fact, most stages don’t even feature a fight before you finish them, only putting one checkpoint glass dome along the way. You can still face bosses though by running into them in the Super Mario Bros 3-esque world map, but those fights end up playing more of a comical role than anything. Still, for as inconsequential as these levels feel, the gameplay in King of Cards is just as fantastic as in any of the other games.
King Knight’s attack is quite unique in the way you charge forward and have to come into contact with something — be it an enemy or an obstacle — before he can leap up, twirl around gracefully, and deal damage or reach a platform. It makes it so you’re forced to hit something on your way throughout a stage since King Knight is not much of a jumper and can only reach about half of his own height in the air before plummeting down. I guess all that armor gets in the way! It’s really fun and surprisingly easy to grasp his movement and attack style, and in a matter of minutes I was zipping my way across large gaps without breaking a sweat. Obviously, level design gets hairier further along in the game, introducing some neat challenges, such as a surface that doesn’t allow King Knight to jump, forcing you to think on your feet. Although these levels are short, they offer plenty of challenge and can even have more than one exit if you look hard enough.
Luckily for our pal King Knight, he can pick up new moves if he can cough up enough dough by visiting special titles in the map, and even extra sub weapons, such as exploding mice (poor things!), which are called heirlooms because why not, it’s kingly. And because he’s a king, he needs an airship of course, which he calls his home and ends up housing most of the NPCs that he meets during his journey, making it a little less of a hassle to keep track of who you meet and allowing you to shop around conveniently placing them in a single location.
The main attraction in King of Cards is Joustus, a card game that feels like a mix of the gambling minigames from Final Fantasy VIII and IX, featuring a small board where you place your cards and attempt to take over all of the gems on the board before you both run of space. Whoever is holding most wins. Each card features arrows placed on different sides, and those are used to push aside whichever card happens to be next to them and is facing the arrow. If both cards end up having opposing arrows, nothing happens, and you end up just taking up space, a viable strategy if you happen not to have any cards you can use during your play, mind.
Even though this sounds extremely simple — because it is, really — Yacht Club added some little wrinkles to the card gameplay, with cards featuring more than one arrow pointing one way, special gimmicks, and even some characters who happen to exert power over the board in order to turn the game in their favor. Some of the boards even have special conditions, like cards initially blocking free spaces until you clear them out with your own. I found Joustus to be really enjoyable, and as cheap as some of the later encounters can be, even losing cards didn’t really feel like a big blow, especially because they’re so easy to get back thanks to being able to buy them again in King Knight’s airship.
I still have yet to make a serious dent in the previous Shovel Knight game modes, but from the little that I played them, I feel that King of Cards fits in extremely well, even if it can be a bit off beat when in comparison because of its shift in focus gameplay-wise. I enjoyed being able to take a break from platforming in order to play some cards, and vice-versa, and overall I feel that King Knight’s adventure is the cherry on top of an already incredible suite of games that is finally complete under the name of Shovel Knight Treasure Trove.
If King of Cards still wasn’t enough, Shovel Knight: Showdown introduces multiplayer to Shovel Knight. Up to four players can duke it out Super Smash Bros style in single screen levels in order to see who’s the best knight around. You can pick from a bunch of the Shovel Knight characters, including the rest of the bosses who didn’t get their own spin-off games, and even Shield Knight, Shovel’s buddy from the main game, each with their signature movesets.
It’s as chaotic as you might imagine, considering the size of the screen and the small characters you play as. I’m not much of a Smash player myself since I feel the action in that series is a little hard to keep track off due to all the crazy effects and attacks all going on at once, so even the fights in Showdown were a tad hard for me to follow at times. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun playing, I just don’t think this type of game is for me, and that’s totally okay!
However, I did enjoy playing this solo against the computer-controlled characters in story mode. Showdown is really good about throwing different objectives your way and not just have you kill off your opponents in order to win. Sure, a big part about the game is knocking them out, but it works as a means to win, since whenever someone runs out of HP, they lose any items that they’re holding, such as the gems that are sometimes a level’s winning requirement.
I found the level progression to be a little uneven difficulty-wise, but that’s mainly due to the fact that I have a hard time keeping up with what’s going on, especially when playing with smaller characters, thanks to how far the camera is pulled in comparison to the platforming games in the collection. But regardless of my opinion about Smash-type fighting/party games, I do recognize the quality behind Shovel Knight: Showdown. If you have three friends to join you, it can be especially fun to just mess around and not worry about winning, and regardless about your feelings on being skillful while playing games, any player level can enjoy this thanks to how simple it is to pick up and have a go. Being familiar with the Shovel Knight controls and physics is certainly welcome, but not a vital requirement to enjoying the overall gameplay in Showdown. Yacht Club has obviously put in a lot of care into making this game fun, and to that extent, they certainly succeeded.
It’s hard to come up with a studio that has come through as well as Yacht Club has in fulfilling a promise, finally putting a bow on a project that’s been going on for way too long. I can’t imagine the joy that the people working there are feeling now that they’re finally free to look past Shovel Knight, to a horizon of new possibilities. Shovel Knight: King of Cards and Shovel Knight: Showdown are each great additions to the Treasure Trove in their own right. I couldn’t be happier with the turnout to this collection, and I can’t wait to make a full run at the entire package and give each mode the attention they deserve on my own pace.
Shovel Knight: King of Cards and Shovel Knight: Showdown are part of the Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove. They can also be acquired separately on all current consoles and the PC. The PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS versions of Shovel Knight will not be getting these new modes added in, sadly.