Shovel Knight: Spectre of Torment
Platform Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation 3, Sony PlayStation 4, Sony Vita, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux, Amazon FireTV
I think we can all agree that the Switch’s launch line-up is weak. That doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who bought the console at launch, I mean, you all knew what you were getting into. What’s left to play after finishing Zelda: Breath of the Wild? Fortunately, Yacht Club Games managed to ship Shovel Knight (including the brand-new Spectre of Torment campaign) just in time for the Switch’s launch. So, the question you Switch owners are probably asking is: Should I buy Shovel Knight: Spectre of Torment? Yes. Yes, you should.
Spectre of Torment is Yacht Club Games’ latest expansion to their 2014 2D platform game, Shovel Knight. If you haven’t heard of Shovel Knight before, I’ll assume you live under a huge rock. Shovel Knight has been released on over ten different platforms, basically every system aside from your mobile phone. Just like the second expansion where you play as the villain, Spectre of Torment follows a similar path by putting you in control of Spectre Knight. Your goal as Spectre Knight is to recruit knights for the evil Enchantress’ Order of No Quarter.
While this game acts as a prequel to the original Shovel Knight game (now named Shovel of Hope), I certainly would not recommend playing it first. This isn’t a knock against Shovel Knight at all, in fact it’s the exact opposite. Shovel Knight and the following campaign, Plague of Shadows, are such great games in their own right that it is worth playing through them just to see how clever Yacht Club Games are. Shovel Knight, despite looking like an 8-bit game, takes the aesthetic and the genre to unexpected heights. I don’t want to repeat what others have said almost three years ago now, but do yourself a favor and play Shovel Knight. Playing Spectre of Torment right after Shovel of Hope shows you exactly how much effort went into this expansion. You aren’t simply playing through the first expansion as a different character, you are essentially playing a whole new game.
Shovel Knight without any additional abilities is extremely basic, and that’s kind of the point. He is equipped with a Shovel Blade (a shovel) and, well, that’s about it. Throughout Shovel of Hope, Shovel Knight gains abilities but ultimately, he remains a simple character. Spectre Knight, on the other hand, seems to be built from the ground up as a much more advanced character. Right from the beginning, Spectre Knight feels difficult to control due to the way his mobility works. Each level in the game has been redesigned to make use of Spectre Knight’s Dash Slash. With this skill, players are able to kill enemies and move around the level. The Dash Slash allows Spectre Knight to rise upwards and dash downwards, opening the door to a variety of levels that were not possible to reach before. Spectre Knight also has the passive ability of being able to run up walls, which compensates for his low jump height.
Spectre of Torment abandons the main hub world that featured in the first two expansions. Instead, players are introduced to The Tower of Fate, Spectre Knight’s home base. Here you can learn new abilities, upgrade your powers and of course, continue your quest. You won’t find items along the way that give you powers this time, instead you’ll need to hunt for Red Skulls. There are only ten Red Skulls on each stage, so you’ll need to grab most of them in order to become stronger.
Yacht Club Games have handled the story better in Spectre of Torment compared to the other two expansions. After you defeat a certain number of bosses, you are transported back in time to play as Donovan, the man Spectre Knight used to be. Playing through these flashbacks gave you more of a connection to Donovan than simply watching cutscenes. I won’t spoil anything, though it’s safe to say you will appreciate Shovel Knight’s story more after playing through this expansion.
This expansion allows you to play each level in any order. Each level has its own set gold reward, giving you a rough idea of how difficult you should expect the area to be. I am amazed by Yacht Club Games’ ability to create interesting levels with only a handful of tools. In addition to this, each level attempts to introduce a new gameplay mechanic once every two rooms. You will rarely ever see the same mechanic used twice in one level, let alone the rest of the game.
New Game Plus makes a return, and it is certainly a welcome one. Unlike classic 8-bit games, you won’t want to tear your hair out while playing Spectre of Torment. You will breeze past almost all of the levels (aside from a few vertical scrolling bits, but thankfully there aren’t too many of those) and finish the game in less than five hours. NG+ merges your Will (health) and Darkness (mana) bars together, forcing you to kill enemies in order to stay alive. If that isn’t hard enough, the developers have also removed all but two of the checkpoints in each level. I like to think of your first run through of Spectre of Torment as a training sequence, preparing you for the real challenge of NG+.
The Nintendo Switch version of Spectre of Torment runs as you’d expect an 8-bit game to on the latest hardware. I’ve played Shovel Knight before briefly on the PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo 3DS, but Shovel Knight has found its true home on the Switch. Being able to take this game anywhere is fantastic. The levels in Spectre of Torment are the perfect length when commuting, and the option to dock the handheld to play on a TV makes the option seem like a no-brainer. I’ve noticed the Switch version looked slightly blurry compared to the PlayStation 4 version of the game when playing on a TV. It appears that Shovel Knight runs at 720p while in both docked and handheld mode, which is strange considering how basic the game looks. I’m not too fussed about this, but I’m sure there will be some people who aren’t happy about the game not running at 1080p.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch (code provided by the publisher).
What Yacht Club Games managed to achieve with Shovel Knight was extremely impressive, and they’ve continued their streak with Spectre of Torment. This latest expansion has overshadowed Shovel of Hope as being the best Shovel Knight game. Spectre of Torment demonstrations that with time, Yacht Club Games can create an expansion that outclasses Plague of Shadows with ease. Featuring a remixed soundtrack, a new look to each level and the coolest character in the Shovel Knight series, Spectre of Torment is better than I could’ve ever imagined. Considering what is available on the Switch right now, there is absolutely no reason for you not to own this game.