“When I beat the game, I was left wanting more, and that’s not a bad thing.”
That was a quote taken from a dear colleague of mine in regards to the Shovel Knight review for the PlayStation 4. Yacht Club heard him and the rest of the world who screamed in delight over their exquisite run through of Shovel Knight. It was only a month earlier that they had teased that the promised feature for the ‘playable boss knight’ became a reality. This feature was promised through the Kickstarter campaign stretch goal they had for the base game to begin with. Interestingly enough the stretch goals were completely obliterated by the rabid kickers. It was promised that not one but three boss knights will be playable. The first has come out: Plague of Shadows. Let’s see if the promise of 2 more of these expansions is anything to be excited about:
Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows follows the story of Plague Knight, the enigmatic explosive potion expert who is part of the Order of No Quarter and his assistant Mona as they push their hidden agendas amidst the shadows. While Shovel Knight presses on to save his beloved Shield Knight in the main game, Plague Knight is concocting the ‘ultimate potion’, a potion so powerful it’ll grant anything the user the power to do anything at all.
As soon as you start the game, you are thrown into the explosive hands of Plague Knight; a bomb user who gets around with his crafty variations of bombs. Plague Knight comes with an innate double jump and a charge blast that shoots him up further to perform a triple jump. The mechanic for Plague Knight varies deeply from that of Shovel Knight. Plague Knight can alter the effects of the bombs he throws in 3 ways: Casings, powders and fuses. There are 6 of each type to purchase through the gems and coins collected as you play levels. You can change these effects on the fly and in the midst of battle for any situation necessary. Casings effect how a bomb is thrown, the powder effects the type of explosion and fuses effect how and when bombs explode.
I found my favorite to be the whirl casing, component powder and sentry fuse in order to create a bomb that’s thrown dead straight and either locks onto an enemy or powers up to create a larger blast. Aside from these 3 bomb ingredients, Plague Knight can also purchase Bursts that have an effect on his charge triple jump blast. There are 5 of those to purchase. For most of the game, the Float Burst is the way to go.
Obviously being a Shovel Knight game, Plague Knight has some features that are familiar to Shovel Knight’s mechanic. Where Shovel Knight could obtain trinkets from chests in levels, Plague Knight can also obtain these trinkets. However, these are useless to him and can be swapped for ‘Arcana’ which are Plague’s version of trinkets. These just like Shovel Knight’s trinkets provide an extra bit of functionality to Plague Knight’s adventure. Also, instead of Troupple chalice to heal, Plague Knight only has ‘tonics’ he can consume and find in levels that add an extra bar of health for the life he currently has. Once he dies in a level, all of those accumulated tonic health bars are removed. Finally, you can purchase armor sets much like you could with Shovel Knight by purchasing a chalice and talking to King Troupple. Instead of giving health, King Troupple will dye Plague Knight’s garments and imbue them with special abilities.
In Plague of Shadows, you’ll have to traverse all the levels that Shovel Knight had. This means that all the levels are same for the most part. What’s interesting is that because the level design is mostly untouched, Plague Knight can bypass situations with greater ease in certain areas where when playing Shovel Knight it might have been a challenge. Despite this, it is still not a breeze to beat the stages, there is still a lot of challenge to be had. Many of the bosses you encountered in the main game will make their debut in Plague of Shadows, and because of the nature of the new character, the strategy to beat them is completely different. Speaking of bosses, Plague Knight will not fight console exclusive bosses like Battle Toads and Kratos – They are Shovel Knight exclusive.
In terms of what was changed in levels, there are some locations that are added to each levels that is specifically catered towards Plague Knight. These are dictated by a wall that has a green coin studded into it. As a side note, these green coins are collectibles specific for Plague Knight that are scattered throughout the DLC. Obtaining sufficient amounts of these unlock tiers of bomb ingredients you can purchase from Mona. Returning back to the Plague Knight specific zones, for the most part these areas will contain the chest that contains the level specific trinket you would obtain had you been playing Shovel Knight. The original places that contain these trinkets now contain Chester who will trade you for the trinket for free. I’d like to take a moment to express how neat this is. It means that this is how Chester manages to obtain these trinkets for Shovel to find later on.
Visually, Plague of Shadows is the exact same thing as the main game for obvious reasons. When it comes down to it however, the retro style of visual design is extremely reminiscent of that from a bygone era of gaming. Shovel Knight is a pixel game that nods and pays homage to games that existed back in the Nintendo Entertainment System. Shovel Knight itself was a game that prides itself for bringing back a classic to the modern age. It is this notion that influenced its decision to utilize this style of graphics.
Having done an exceedingly well done job on the original Shovel Knight OST, Jake Kaufman returns to add in over a dozen new scores to the Plague of Shadows OST. You can purchase the OST for both the original game and the OST over on Jake’s bandcamp for whatever price you want. Jake writes on the page for the Plague of Shadows OST that the entire album was to pay tribute to the incredible theme that Manami Matsumae created for Plague Knight’s level “The Explodatorium”. Manami Matsumae was the talented musician who scored several tracks for the Mega Man series. As the tribute has implied, many of the songs in the album have the very somber melody that echos throughout Matsumae’s theme. It shows that this DLC is all about Plague Knight, no doubts about it.
I’m trying so hard to nitpick this game but other than the controls where it was ambiguous whether or not the fault in control that caused a death was mine or the 3DS’s. At some points when I try to climb a ladder or do a charge triple jump blast, there are times where I activate my arcana in the most inappropriate time which either ended up causing a delayed response that ended up in my death. Having so many different applications and inputs for the attack button could very well cause the game to temporary perform a different action than the intended.
Otherwise, Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows was a thoroughly fun experience. Shovel Knight was an exceedingly fun game that ticked the right boxes. Plague of Shadows was more of the same, but with that much variety thanks to a change of mechanic that it felt like a fresh new game with a whole load of challenges. Down to the music and gameplay, Plague of Shadows was a sublime game. If this is what we can expect from Yacht Club and my only complaints was the sometimes finicky controls (that did very well exist in the main game) and never using any other burst but Float Burst, then we can expect a fantastic experience when it comes to the final two boss knights when they eventually come out.
Oh and as an extra fun fact and a nod to the games that inspired them, Yacht Club has put in a special code that you can input to allow you to play Plague of Shadows without beating the main game. By following the instructions below after updating Shovel Knight through whatever means you can then get cracking on playing with Plague Knight without having to beat the game as Shovel Knight which is the requisite to unlock Plague of Shadows.