As a retro-gaming enthusiast it should be no surprise Shovel Knight, alongside the Messenger, was one of my favorite games of the last decade. It’s downloadable content , which came free with the treasure trove version was one of THE best bundles I have EVER played. We got not one but FOUR brand new games. (This includes the free showdown game). Both Plague Knight and Spectre Knight’s games repurposed the game into their own unique game. King Knight is the final DLC that released recently and not only does it feel even more different than before, it adds a very strong sub game in as well. So this one is not just a new game.. it’s 1.5 new game. Is that as good as it sounds or is the game being to ambitious.
Shovel Knight Plague Knight and Spectre Knight . while having vastly different mechanics ,all had more or less the same concept. We were playing a Mega Man like game where we selected bosses to fight and had to play through their respective stages. Eight stages and a multileveled boss castle. That format is gone. Instead we have several sub stages themed after the classic bosses, or even shovel knight allies. Spread over 4 worlds. At the end of each world we get a castle with a boss at the end. Plenty of stages have several Goal posts, allowing you to access “secret” areas, granting you access to relics or treasure. So the game changed conceptually from Mega Man to Mario and while that seems like a drastic departure it fits King Knight like a dueling glove. ..technically you do not wear those but carry those.. but bare with me. Do we have to deal with the Knights of No Quarter at all then in this game? Well . yes and no, most of the knights you can still encounter, but most of them are optional and/or locked on secret routes.
You befriend them and backstab them, or just fall out over petty reasons.
NANI! How does this game work then Pinkie? Well you see King Knight is way to much of a narcissist to care about the grander adventures of the other knights. He’s an arrogant kid that just wants to be the king. When a big tournament of a card game of called Joustus is being held, and it’s three judges are three important king, King Knight wants to be recognised as the true king and decides to learn the card game and beat them at their own game. Aided by his mother, a chicken and a bard he will travel across the lands searching far and wide, for Joustus Cards , and to understand the power that is inside. We don’t play through stages to really get stronger, to vanquish evil or for love. We want money so we can buy cheats and cards in a card game and to make our way and face the other three kings to show you are a better king.I love the plot and the motivation in this game. Plague Knight was kinda petty, but this one a boy..talk about a little guy. King Knight usually is the easiest boss in the other games and they do him justice. The most superficial of them all.
The King Knight DLC can be split into two parts. The platforming stages and the taverns where you can actually play the card game of Joustus.I think the card game part is optional, but I am not sure, because I had way to much fun playing it I always cleared a tavern as soon as I reached it. Yet let’s start with the part that is absolutely required. The platforming. Stages are divided in a Super Mario 3 like map and as mentioned earlier they are themed around the classic areas, but not always the boss stages. For example we do get a few stages shaped after Troupple Pond… and of course since we fight three kings.. the Troupple King and his dance is a boss in this game. Finally I can beat up the apple whale! That’s a bonus point already. Instead of huge stages with five or six checkpoints, each area usually has about 3 stages with just one or two checkpoints. Up and around the first checkpoint you usually find the more challenging branche of route leading to the red , instead of the golden exit. Unless you fight a boss of course. The Red Routes give you access to relics which you can pay for medals. You can earn medals by winning Joustus games or by finding the three ones that are “hidden” in each stage. Compare these medals with the green stars/star coins/challenge stars from the recent mario games. You usually have to think innovatively or take a big risk to get them.
So from the offset throughout there already seems a heavier emphasis on platforming challenge, it’s not so much a survival platformer like megaman. We really are in mario turf here, and while his Mother can cook for King Knight to upgrade his health your worst enemy in this one is definitely the pits. Well that and those birders, which are a straight reminder of the medusa heads in castlevania..and guess what! King Knight has a knockback! That can’t be a coincidence. I died twice or so in the starter stage and then a few times in a lot of the stages. Not because I suck .. but because of positive reasons. First of all, the gloves are off, the game realises you probably done this a lot by now so it doesn’t shy away from throwing you a challenge or two. This only increases if you actively hunt for the medals… do yourself a favor and hunt for the medals.. it makes the game so much better. Other than that the stages are soo vastly different from another. Each stage is build around one or two certain types of mechanics that you could find in the classical knight stages.. so just take the theme up and beyond. The highlight for me was a plague knight stage where the stage consisted out of several coloured corked test tubes.. Shoulder charing (King Knight Signature move) into a random part that you can hit builds up pressure causing the corks to shoot away, creating and relocating platforms. Such a clever and delightful stage. We see the return of some fan favorites, like the fire bug and the angler fish. There was hardly a stage I did not like, so this is already a platformer where I like nearly every stage.
The fact that I am using the word nearly does imply there are a few stages that I do dislike.The earlier mentioned fire bug is one, and the fight against the troupple king is another. The biggest issue is that King Knight is a combo character. from his shoulder jump he goes into a spin jump, that can drill through blocks, treasure spots or enemies. Each successful spin jump will lead into another and gives you a new chance to shoulder charge. This means that if you are a true boss you can guide our good old pal king across the platform stages in one big combo, even more options open to you by the use of your relics, which this time arent nearly as overpowered as for example the phase locket was in the original shovel knights, the really powerful relics you can only use once or twice before running out of vigor.
However stages like the Apple Whale Fish King, the bouncy fire and the spikey ice stage require you NOT to combo. These are the type of stages I do not like. While I do get the idea these stages felt slippery to me, like you are not fighting against the stage but against the controls. While this is retro I never found these challenges AS fair.
The absolute worst was the boss fight against the Trouble King. You are stuck on a tiny boat/platform and landing in the water equals death. While I had some relics to aid me in this case, I am one of those purist type players that really wants to finish her game without overly relying on added mechanics. The apple fish however I found utterly impossible, without my rat-bomb relic. I got a lot of vigor so it may have been intended to be cleared that way but it feels odd that ONE stage is the only one that requires these relics. I got an achievement for using them though this method though so clearly I did something right. Having this little sense of control through made me feel very anxious and the guy I wanted to fight most in the entire game turned out to be the part that I liked least. *Sad Panda Noises*
So while the platforming has three low points, out of like thirty or something, which relates to a score of 9/10 or something, there still is a second part of this game. The Joustus card game. Sweet pink lollipop covered in cotton candy fluff….. I LOVE Joustus. The card game is so incredibly fun. I had as much fun with this game as with the good yu-gi-oh gba and ds games. This game is more fun than Triple Triad in Final Fantasy VIII and FFXIV. Those who ever played Triple Triad know how good of a game that is. Joustus plays a lot like it as well. In a limited grid (which varies per duel) there are a few tiles that have gems on it. players can place playing cards on any square that does not have a jewel. Each card has arrows on them showing what force they can exert on other cards. This way you should push your own cards to conquer the gems, push the enemies cards into holes (which then become inaccessible) and move across the board in a tactical manner. When the board is fully occupied and or no moves are left the one with the most gems win. The winner gets to claim a card of their opponent as long as they have used it in the duel. Should the winner get all three gems (as long as there are three) they can even take 3 cards from their opponent. Its such an easy to understand game as soon as you just see the first tutorial but there is a whole other level of depth that I haven’t even seen in dedicated card games.
As you start all cards are very simple but later you unlock ones with special abilities, more powerful movement options or even double movement. We get special fields like hole that swallow up cards and require a sacrifice, walls that require you to shove a bomb character into and then there are of course the crystal squares you can not place characters on. Special abilities allows you to flip cards your card pushes over, destroy cards, change movement arrows and more. While Triple Triad has its share of special rules, like plus or minus those rules always felt very forced to me, like some yu-gi-oh or magic cards , where you have no idea what they actually do. The card game in King of Cards however conveys all their special techniques trough simple symbols and a “play to find out” method, encouraging you to experiment. A few duel puzzles will help you understand these methods more in depth. Frizzlesticks this game is good! Each tavern has a boss which has special abilities that King Knight can counter by buying cheats.. of course he can always cheat in the other duels as well but save your money because King of Cards has some sweet but overpriced unlockables. For example the king can pimp his hud, card layout or menu with golden details. It costs you waaay to much coin and it’s barely noticeable but it’s totally King Knight. This final expansion is the best on yet! As a wise man once said….hail to the king baby!