Shovel Knight is one of the best, if not the best, retro games made in the 21st century. Developer Yacht Club Games really hit the nail on the head with the original game in all aspects: pixelated graphics, chiptune soundtrack, humor, difficult platforming, etc. Shovel Knight has it all.
It also has the fantastic Plague of Shadows expansion which is free to owners of the original game. Truth be told, I forgot about this expansion until I heard about the second one, Specter of Torment, slated for spring 2017. It’s a good thing I was paying attention because Plague of Shadows is an absolute joy.
- TL;DR: A second spin through a fantastic game focusing on bombs and mobility instead of shovels and strength. Plus, it’s free if you own the base game.
- Platform: 3DS (played), PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One
- Developer: Yacht Club Games
- Time Played: 6:50
- What I Played: Campaign through the final boss, 79% of coins gathered
The original Shovel Knight campaign, which I’ve linked to my review of above, focuses on the titular Shovel Knight in his quest to defeat the eight knights of the Order of No Quarter and slay the Enchantress. Plague of Shadows takes place at the same time and puts you in the shoes of Plague Knight, one of eight Order members. Plague Knight is your typical mad scientist and wants to create a potion of unlimited power. He needs the essence of each other knights to do so, which means the hunt is on.
Plague Knight has a very unique playstyle. Shovel Knight is your typical stoic fighter with a few magical objects at his disposal. Plague Knight focuses on mobility and uses bombs to do his damage. He can double jump by default and can triple jump by charging and releasing the attack button for a bomb burst. The magical artifacts from Shovel Knight aren’t useful to Plague Knight but can be traded to a merchant for new types of potions. The life leech potion is essential for obvious reasons as is the potion to create a temporary platform.
Jumping around and throwing bombs at a mostly downward diagonal angle is a pretty big change from the typical style of shooting straight ahead found in many platformers. When you combine the ability to triple jump with an on-demand landing spot, Plague Knight’s mobility is second to none. The difficulty of the game is spot on, too. Each death left me asking myself what the hell I was thinking instead of being mad at the game. Seemingly simple changes like moving the attack angle that you are used to and giving you a third jump leave you with a perfect balance of feeling powerful yet acting carefully.
It wouldn’t be a proper Shovel Knight game without giant piles of treasure. All manner of gem, coin, and gold are used to purchase upgrades for Plague Knight. You can’t simply walk into the same town that Shovel Knight does, though. No, being a bad guy forces you to take refuge in your secret underground lab. There you can upgrade your bomb with different casings, powders, and fuses for dozens of possible bombs. Orbiting bombs that emit sparks? Short fused bouncing bombs? A single, giant bomb that seeks out enemies and leaves fire in its wake? These combinations all have their uses and you’ll be swapping between them throughout the game rather than sticking to a single “best” configuration. You can also upgrade Plague Knight’s bomb burst to shower ice below him, allow him to float slowly downward, or fly through the air imitating Samus’s screw attack.
Levels in Plague of Shadows are again displayed in an old school overworld and have a distinct NES/RPG Maker look with repeated blocky textures, half-finished walls, spikes, lava, and more. There are plenty of secret areas to find which gives you an incentive to throw bombs at every wall you find, especially the suspicious looking ones. Each level ends with a boss fight straight out of the first game, although they play out differently now that you are controlling a very different character. It’s pretty cool to go through Plague Knight’s level since the boss normally found there would be Plague Knight himself.
Playing each level as a completely different character with a new story wasn’t all Yacht Club Games packed into this free expansion, though. There are 420 cipher coins spread out across the dozen or so stages for you to collect. There’s an optional challenge mode to test your bomb throwing skills. There are also in-game achievements for things like speed runs and no item runs. Plague of Shadows isn’t so much an expansion as a second complete game. Hell, you don’t even have to beat Shovel Knight to unlock it. All of this for the low, low price of $0.
All of this bomb throwing chaos happens alongside a truly fantastic soundtrack. I am in love with the music in this game and have been listening to the soundtrack as I write this review. Each song really captures the feeling of the stage it’s playing on along with the memory of playing games cross legged on your bedroom floor.
Plague of Shadows follows in the original Shovel Knight’s footsteps as another masterpiece in platforming. It’s a truly wonderful expansion featuring a new character with new abilities, a new story with callbacks to the original, a challenge mode, and more. All of this can be had for free so long as you own the base game. I had to stop myself from beating Plague of Shadows too quickly so I could savor it a bit. The only bad thing I have to say about Plague of Shadows is that it took me so long to get around to it. I won’t make that same mistake with the next expansion. Neither should you.