Sunday, April 16, 2017

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment Review

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment is the second expansion for the 2014 indie hit, Shovel Knight, now renamed to Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope. It is a 2D sidescrolling action platformer which pays homage to old NES games, like Mega Man, Castlevania, and Ninja Gaiden with it’s gameplay, graphics, and music. You can get it as part of the Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove bundle for $25, which includes the original game and all past and future expansions, or as a standalone game for $10.

Specter of Torment is a prequel to the original Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope. The story follows Specter Knight as he recruits Knights for the evil Enchantress, to form The Order of No Quarter, the villainous faction you fight in Shovel of Hope. The story sheds light on the origin of Specter Knight and other characters, fleshes out the Shovel Knight universe, and sets the stage for Shovel of Hope. I thought the story was pretty good and I enjoyed seeing how it tied into Shovel of Hope.

Specter Knight is a badass. He’s a Ninja/Grim Reaper/Knight and looks a little bit like Doctor Doom. That pretty much covers all aspects of badassery. I mean, maybe you could give him an electric guitar to make him more badass, but that wouldn’t fit the lore. Specter Knight is very mobile, easy to use, and by far the most stylish and combat focused of the playable characters in the series so far. While Shovel Knight’s moves were more influenced by games like Duck Tales, Mega Man, and Castlevania, Specter Knight’s arsenal is heavily influenced by Ninja Gaiden, which was a Castlevania clone to begin with, but I digress.

The new mechanic that really sets Specter Knight apart from the other playable characters and makes the gameplay feel unique is his homing scythe attack. It’s basically a diving swallow attack from the 3D Ninja Gaiden games. You can use this move to get across chasms, jump to higher platforms, and attack enemies. The way you use this move is by jumping in the air and getting close enough to an enemy or floating lantern, and then pressing the attack button. When you get close to your target, a flame slash will appear across that target, and then you’ll be able to use the homing attack on it. It takes a little bit of practice, but it is easy to learn. Specter Knight also has a regular standing scythe attack, which is straight out of Ninja Gaiden 3, he can run up walls for about a second, grind rails on his scythe as if it was a skateboard, and he can wall jump with the press of the jump button during a wall run.

Relics from Shovel of Hope are back in the form of Curios. These are special items you spend you magic or “darkness” to use, which you can buy in exchange for the special currency hidden around the levels.They are completely optional, but fun to use. A lot of these special items might remind of you of Mega Man powers and special items from Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden. There’s a shadow clone Curio, a time stopping Curio, a boomerang, a flame wheel shield, and even a summonable skeletal sniper. Sound familiar?

Armors are also back in the form of Cloaks. You can buy these in town for gems and they give you different buffs. For example, one of them lets you grind on spikes as if they were rails. Some of the color palettes of these cloaks look like they are references to characters such as Future Foundation Doctor Doom and the Green Goblin. The cloaks are also completely optional.

I think the level design in Specter of Torment gives Shovel of Hope’s levels a run for their money. The new levels flow very well and make great obstacle courses for Specter Knight. It feels like Yacht Club learned a few things from the previous games. Unlike Plague of Shadows, Specter of Torment features 9 new levels made specifically for Specter Knight. These levels use the same graphics and themes as the other 2 games, but the layouts are different. There are small parts of the levels which are reused or remixed parts from the levels in the first 2 games, but for the most part, they’re all new.

The game has chiptune music and 8-bit graphics that are made to remind you of old NES games, much like the gameplay does. The graphics have an 8-bit look to them, but they could never be done on a real NES. I did hear that the music was made within the limitations that the Famicom Disk version of Castlevania III allowed for, though. The soundtrack consists of a lot of Shovel Knight remixes. They’re really well done and a lot of them are so different, they might as well be new songs.

I love this series and I loved this expansion. I grew up with the NES, so I feel right at home playing this. If you liked Shovel of Hope or you just like 2D action platformers, you’ll probably like this. If you grew up playing NES, I highly recommend you give this game a try.