By Jake Rushing
It’s not surprising that Shovel Knight still remains in hearts of many gamers over a year after its release. The game itself is compelling enough to leave an impact on NES gamers or retro gaming enthusiasts that lasts to this day. Recently, it was announced that a Shovel Knight Amiibo will hit shelves in the near future, and now it has its first ever DLC, Plague of Shadows. This DLC adds another campaign which puts you in the shoes of Plague Knight, one of the knights of The Order of No Quarter. The knight embarks on a quest to brew the ultimate potion. But in order to complete his potion, he needs some key ingredients that his fellow knights just happen to have.
If you have played Shovel Knight previously, you’ll see that not a lot of things have changed in terms game play in this DLC. You still have to go through King Knight’s Pridemoor Keep, Treasure Knight’s Iron Whale, and other stages that you’ve been through before. However, for the parts of the overall campaign that did change, it did enough to make the game feel refreshing, even if you have just finished the original campaign.
One of the changes this DLC campaign made was a few tweaks in the controls for Plague Knight. Aside from what you’re used to (with the exception of the pogostick move), they’ve added double jump and burst to the control scheme, where burst can be activated by holding Attack and released when Plague Knight flashes, which propels Plague Knight upward to act like a triple jump. These two controls alone change the dynamics of game play throughout the levels where the player can maneuver Plague Knight in a way they couldn’t with Shovel Knight.
The biggest change of Plague Knight’s campaign is how he attacks. It’s a departure from attacking with your shovel where you’d throw bombs at enemies. You start off with tossing bombs (with a bounce) that explode with black powder with a moderate fuse. However, you can obtain different upgrades to customize your bombs. You can make bombs that zero in on enemies like homing missiles, orbit around you like a shield, can be lobbed over like a basketball, explode on impact…the possibilities are endless. You can also get more options to change your burst movement, which adds even more customization to Plague Knight, as well as adding another layer of depth to the game play. You also have a magic meter that acts differently than the mana potions you’re used to from Shovel Knight. You have a bar, part of which depletes every time you use a special attack, although they all behave differently depending on the special attack being used. However, the magic bar usually refills on its own.
The control tweaks are balanced, and the attack mechanics are well thought out, but the combination of the two managed to bump the difficulty up a notch or two. (Or maybe three.) Playing the original campaign felt like an adequate challenge, but Plague of Shadows is harder by comparison. While I might have died about 5 times with Shovel Knight at the very first level, I lost track on how many times I died after 15 just playing as Plague Knight. Controls and the movement itself was a challenge to get used to. Once I managed to get adjusted to the mechanics and controls, the DLC campaign itself was still harder than Shovel Knight’s campaign, to the point where it took me longer to complete the Plague Knight’s campaign that it took me to beat Shovel Knight’s campaign.
You also have more to collect aside from Note Sheets. You can also collect Cipher Coins (green round coins) that are scattered throughout the levels. These coins can help you unlock more upgrades for your bombs and bursts. There are a lot more of them (about 420), and while they are a little harder to collect, they are nearly just as fun to collect as the note sheets, if not more. Lastly, Plague Knight has less health than Shovel Knight, but you can collect potions to help him maximize his health even further. Of course, you’d lose that max health only gained from potions every time you die, but you still have your health upgrades aside from your magic upgrades.
Last but not least, what would the campaign be like without a story? The story itself was an upgrade from Shovel Knight’s campaign. Not to say it was bad, as its simplistic plot was a homage to NES games. However, Plague Knight’s campaign managed to have a more interesting arc to it. As much as I want to say more about it, I really don’t want to say too much to give any spoilers. I’ll just say that it does unfold in parallel to Shovel Knight’s story in certain ways and leave it at that.
The only major downside to the campaign is the challenges exclusive to Plague Knight. On its own, the challenges are pretty difficult, to the point where you’ll push yourself to die over and over until you can finally complete a given challenge. But that’s about it. The challenges for Plague Knight were closely based off Shovel Knight, with very few exceptions. Most of the challenges were just rematches with other knights like Shovel Knights. Not a bad idea, but it would have been better if there were more challenges that would complement Plague Knight. Perhaps ones that would accommodate his bomb attacks or something along those lines.
Plague of Shadows is, without a doubt, the DLC that I’d recommend to all gamers. I’m never the kind of gamer that would go for DLC in games, but Plague of Shadows sets the bar for how creating DLC should be approached. It did more than serve the purpose of making the game feel fresh for all of the reasons that I’ve detailed; it extended the playtime of the game to where you’d spend as much time completing the DLC as the original campaign, making it feel more like a sequel. If that wasn’t enough, Yacht Club Games decided to make the DLC campaign FREE as a way to repay the community for making their game one of the best Kickstarter successes to date. If you haven’t played this yet, please get this DLC by updating your Shovel Knight game and beat its campaign if you haven’t yet (or by entering the code if you’re impatient enough). If you somehow haven’t even played Shovel Knight yet, just get the game! Plague of Shadows will make you glad that you spent the money for the game. and it will make you look forward to what Yacht Club Games will come up with for the two other boss campaigns they promised.