Kings, cards, and Showdowns, oh my.
When Shovel Knight was still in the midst of its Kickstarter campaign, almost every YouTuber I followed was calling for its funding. It was something a lot of people sorely missed: an old fashioned sidescrolling platformer. But I don’t think anyone quite expected Shovel Knight to blow up quite as much as it did. Shovel Knight, as a character, has become a mascot for indie gaming success. He’s appeared in some capacity in scores of other indie projects, either as tribute or compensation for donations from Yacht Club. Yacht Club set out to make a good game with good bones and good writing, and ended up reminding all of us how to make something incredible with limited resources. After riding the wave of Shovel Knight for the last five years, things are finally coming to a close with the final double expansion, King of Cards and Showdown, and what an amazing sendoff they are.
As with Specter Knight’s campaign, King Knight’s takes place before Shovel Knight’s story. In order to get himself recognized as a proper king, King Knight decides to tackle the Joustus tournament. Joustus is a card game that the people of the land have taken to, and if one can defeat all three judges, they are crowned “King of Cards.” Since King Knight is a bit of a silly character, his story is much less serious than Specter Knight’s.
King Knight’s differentiating gimmick is his shoulder tackle. When he charges into an enemy, he’ll bounce up and start spinning, at which point he can continue bouncing as long as there’s stuff to bounce off of. It’s similar to the way Shovel Knight bounces, but with the added caveat that you need to attack something horizontally to get the ball rolling, which makes for some new and interesting platforming puzzles. The game leans more heavily on the map screen this time around; you don’t have to beat every level on a map section, you just need to defeat the judge at the end. You should strive to beat every level, though, because you’ll want the extra pocket change for Joustus.
If you ever played Triple Triad in Final Fantasy 8, the experience of Joustus may feel familiar. In the shortest terms I can manage, there are gems on the board that you need to get your cards onto. You can’t place cards right on top of them, though, so you need to use your cards’ arrows to push other cards onto them. It’s a arrow-centric tug-of-war between you and your opponent. I’ll admit, I don’t really have the head for this kind of stuff, but thankfully, you don’t actually need to play Joustus to clear King Knight’s story. There is money and unlockables waiting for you if you do, of course, but if you’re on a losing streak, you can just go back to the regular platforming levels. It’s definitely a relief that Yacht Club took the card game-illiterate among us into consideration when developing this expansion.
King of Cards, despite my Joustus inneptitude, is still the same great Shovel Knight gameplay I’ve come to love and admire. Snappy platforming, cool abilities, and some witty banter make for an enjoyable experience. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t also give some details on the fighting add-on, Showdown.
Showdown is a four-player party fighting game, kind of like Super Smash Bros. or Power Stone. In the standard battle mode, players fight to collect a certain number of gems before their opponents. All of the boss knights are playable, and other characters can be unlocked by completing each characters story mode for a pretty large roster. Despite the simplicity of Shovel Knight‘s mechanics, there’s a surprising amount of tech in Showdown. You can’t just run up to a foe and swat at them, you need to block, counter, and play keep away to stay alive. It’s a lot of fun, either solo or with friends.
So, with all that laid out, the saga of Shovel Knight has finally come to an end. Frankly, if you haven’t purchased this game on at least one platform (I’ve purchased it on two), then what the heck are you even doing? It’s four fantastic campaigns, plus a party brawler, chock full of beautiful pixel art and awesome music. Get on it, already.