I picked up the initial release of Shovel Knight on the Nintendo 3DS (also available on WiiU, PS3, PS4, Vita, Xbox One, Steam, and Amazon Fire TV) and immediately fell in love with it. The gameplay, graphics, and soundtrack all took me back to my time spent with each of its influences. Specter of Torment (currently available on Nintendo Switch) picks up the torch of excellence that the Plague of Shadows free DLC carried. Where Plague of Shadows created a more technique heavy mechanic involving ranged attacks and charge jumps, Specter of Torment adds a bit of speed and twitchy tech to a new classic series.
Specter of Torment takes the core Shovel Knight mechanics and gives players new tools for both horizontal and vertical movement, as well as a revamp to aerial attacks. Specter Knight has the new ability to run up walls in short bursts and vault off of them, somewhat reminiscent of the wall jumping from the Megaman X series. Specter Knight’s aerial attack brings variety into both combat scenarios and platforming segments. While in the air and in close proximity to certain objects and enemies a visual cue will show up over the target sprite. Hitting the attack button at this moment will send Specter Knight towards the target with an attack and burst of speed, sending him hurtling past them in the air. This creates moments in both platforming and boss encounters where Specter Knight will hardly touch the ground. During boss battles this mechanic feels extremely rewarding as well timed attack inputs and mid-air re-positioning around attacks allows the player to stay attached to the boss in an airborne flurry of blows.
Yacht Club Games did a wonderful job of remixing the already seen Shovel Knight levels, giving them a varying amount of tweaks that compliment Specter Knight’s abilities. Keeping in form with Shovel Knight and Plague of Shadows, Specter Knight’s difficulty falls into that comfortable middle ground of being just hard enough to cause some players to struggle periodically, but never feel abjectly discouraged. It is also built so no level in the game is an absolute cakewalk with its host of optional collectibles spread throughout each stage.
The visual aesthetic of the game keeps up with the previous entries in the series, as nothing that is added feels out of place. Every addition, from the smallest to largest sprites, look beautiful in their setting and continue to expand on the game’s already diverse selection of exceptional sprite work.
Specter of Torment presents its own original story, showing players how and why Specter Knight became a part of The Order of No Quarter. The story itself is nice and compact, often presented throughout the current events of the DLC, but also in playable flashbacks. The story is well written and fleshes out a multitude of characters from the base game in addition to providing personality to, and empathy for, Specter Knight.
The game’s soundtrack is every bit as good as the original game’s. The soundtrack calls back all of the original melodies for each level and boss, but in the form of variations of each theme. Each level’s music fits perfectly with the new tweaks to the gameplay experience, completely encapsulating everything that is familiar and new in this expansion.
I would highly recommend giving this expansion a try when it comes out for free in April for everyone who has a copy of Shovel Knight, or right now for anyone willing to make the purchase on the Nintendo Switch (either in the Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, or in the standalone DLC, Specter of Torment). This game takes everything from the original release, distills it, and explores what more can be done with it, showing us how Yacht Club continues to grow in their game crafting prowess.
- Great gameplay and level pacing
- Fantastic soundtrack
- Sprite work is top notch
- Short and sweet story
- Aerial attacks and wall climb can take a bit to get used to
- A select few spots can get fairly frustrating