Release Date: April 5th, 2017 (For PC only. Other release dates vary among different systems)
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
System: PC (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Wii U, Playstation 3, 3DS, PSVita, Linux
It is that time again, where I uphold the LTG tradition of reviewing every released Shovel Knight campaign. As usual, I played the PC version with the keyboard. In retrospect, I think I should have gone with my XB360 controller and played with that. Ah well, maybe next time! King Knight’s campaign hopefully comes out next year. Anyways, on with the review!
Shovel Knight fans (myself included) were rewarded for their loyalty to the Shovel Knight Kickstarter campaign by getting yet another fantastic campaign. As great as this game turned out to be, it is not as perfect as both of the previous campaigns, with a few minor annoyances. However, they are only bad enough for them to be noticeable. Any gamer could easily overlook them and enjoy the game to the end, just like they enjoyed the previous campaigns.
As the release date of this game drew near, the fans speculated on how the the story of Specter of Torment would play out. Would this campaign play alongside the main Shovel Knight campaign (now dubbed as The Shovel of Hope) like Plague of Shadows did, or will the campaign go a different direction? As it turns out, Specter of Torment takes place in prior to The Shovel of Hope campaign. After being placed as Enchantress’s servant in exchange for his free will, Specter Knight was tasked with recruiting 8 knights for the Enchantress’s newly formed The Order of No Quarter. In Specter Knight’s campaign, you visit all of the locations that you have become familiar with the previous Shovel Knight campaigns in order to recruit the knights with whom we’re already familiar, like Tinker Knight or Polar Knight. Expect this story to last as long as the previous campaigns.
In Specter of Torment, Specter Knight has his own method of combat as well as traversing through the levels. Specter Knight fights in a more Melee fashion like Shovel Knight, using his scythe for melee attacks. The things that differentiates Specter Knight from Shovel Knight (aside from wardrobe choice) is Specter’s twist of agility added to the mix, and also his jump height reduced in comparison to Shovel Knights’. Fortunately for Specter Knight though, he is able to scale walls for a short distance and jump off walls. This will allow Specter Knight for infinite wall jumping if the level design allows it. Specter Knight can also hone in to his enemies and attack in mid jump thanks to his Dash Slash attack. This attack further highlights his agility and his melee prowess as he can maneuver through levels. This attack allows him to dash upwards or downwards towards his target depending on his position in the air relative to his target. There are even some levels that have some rails which allow Specter Knight to use his scythe as his skateboard and cruise along the rails for a more fun experience!
In this game, the Relics that we have used before have been replaced by Specter Knight’s version of Relics called Curios. In order to obtain Curios, Specter Knight first must collect Red Skulls scattered throughout the levels, and then exchange them for Curios akin to Cipher Coins in Plague of Shadows. In Specter of Torment, however, the player must earn their Curios after purchasing them by completing one of the mini dungeons of the Tower of Fate using mainly the Curio the player recently purchased. However, the usage of Curios is limited thanks to the newly introduced Darkness bar, which the Darkness can get used up from using Curios. Just imagine the Mana Bar in some RPG games. You can regain the Darkness mana by defeating enemies or obtaining Darkness jars.
His techniques and Curios are really fun to use once you get the hang of them. However, not a lot about his abilities and relics are really straightforward to use at first. This time however, Yacht Club Games decided to make additions in this campaign that help the players master these techniques and abilities in Specter Knight’s hub world (aka the infamous Tower of Fate). As for Curios, you are only allowed to practice these Curios immediately following these purchases. For each Curio purchased, you get teleported to their respective mini dungeon designed specifically for you to get familiar with the Curio usage and what the Curio is capable of doing. For example, if you have obtained a Curio that helps slow down time, you’ll get to see how long the effect lasts so you can plan your maneuvering around the deadly obstacles that move around in a certain pattern (ie cauldrons pouring lava) much easier than you can without them. Or what about a Curio that allows you to rush to an enemy and strike them? You’ll see that you’ll pass through walls while rushing towards the enemy through the carefully designed dungeon belonging to that Curio. As for the Specter Knight’s raw abilities, Tower of Fate also has a fun challenge that helps you familiarize yourself with the abilities to wall climb, dash slash, etc, which requires you to climb the tower as fast as you can to avoid the horizontal beam that climbs up the tower at a certain rate. This challenges the player to help adapt to Specter Knight’s new abilities even faster than you could from going through the levels yourself. Once all of these abilities are mastered, they make the game a little easier to play.
Even though you’ve manage to master the abilities, don’t expect the levels to be exactly a cake walk. Each level made for Specter of Torment has been designed well to help accommodate Specter Knight’s abilities. These levels can be hard at times despite the player’s level of mastery of his abilities, which helps maintain the difficulty that Shovel Knight was well known for. Especially the Iron Whale level can be hard at times if you get too carried away by your mastery. In a way though, these levels were designed to help give a player a great sense of agency with the perfect flow of the level and with good-flowing controls.
The only downside to Specter Knight’s abilities though, is that they take away a lot of the challenge from the boss fights. Even though the boss fights in this campaign were designed to have different fights than the previous campaigns, the boss fights became much easier to conquer than it ever was for both Shovel Knight and Plague Knight campaigns. However, some of the boss fights are more challenging than their respective levels. It is a shame that they didn’t spend more time on other bosses to make the fights even more challenging than they are. I will say though, Propeller Knight is still as tough as nails.
Jake Kauffman manages to strike once more with his own music work for the game so probably to appreciate it you’ll need at least the best loudspeakers to appreciate it. Instead of a small list of tracks like Plague Knight, the campaign had a lot of original tracks that were made specifically to help predate Shovel Knight’s campaign. The tracks for each level have a familiar tune that makes the players feel familiar with the level once more. However, each of these tracks have been given a dark style to set the tone of the main character dominating the respective stages. Of course, the newer tracks have nice touches of their own that are applied throughout the stages. The newly used style for all of the tracks have managed to keep the game feel fresh and makes another soundtrack of it’s own that is pleasant to listen to.
Despite this campaign being relatively easier than the other campaigns released before, this game is still a ton of fun to play, especially with the retro game nostalgia still intact. The challenges in this game are more interesting to play than the previous campaigns, and the overall design and story helped keep the Shovel Knight experience fresh without feeling too similar to any of the previous campaigns. It’s a fun game to play overall, especially with Specter Knight’s abilities that will make the players feel like wall-climbing bad asses they are!