Saturday, December 21, 2019

Shovel Knight: King of Cards Review

Yes, there’s a new Shovel Knight game! Shovel Knight: King of Cards is the 4th expansion and final campaign for the Shovel Knight Treasure Trove. It's also available as a standalone game for $10 on pretty much every current and last gen system. Even on Wii U and Vita. If you bought the first Shovel Knight game before Specter of Torment came out, even on old platforms, you get King of Cards at no additional cost. King of Cards features an original story, all new levels, new music, and an original card game.

Like Specter of Torment, King of Cards takes place before the first Shovel Knight game, Shovel of Hope. In King of Cards, you play as King Knight before he joined the Order of No Quarter. And if you’re wondering, he’s not actually king of anything. Everyone still calls him King Knight, though. Even his mom. King Knight plans on becoming a king by beating everyone at Joustus (the card game) and becoming the King of Cards. And by beating up the current kings of the land, too.

Don't let the name of the game confuse you. There is a card game in King of Cards, but this is still mainly a platformer, just like the previous 3 games. If Shovel Knight is the NES Duck Tales Scrooge McDuck of this series, then King Knight is the Wario of the Shovel Knight universe. King of Card’s gameplay is clearly inspired by the Wario Land games. King Knight’s signature move is a shoulder bash, which he uses to attack and break walls and blocks, just like Wario. King Knight’s mechanics have a bit more depth to them than Wario’s though. After shoulder bashing something, King Knight goes into a spin jump, and this spin jump is the only way he can jump on enemies without taking damage. After stomping an enemy, King Knight goes into another spin jump from which he can air dash out of. He can’t air dash out of the first spin jump he goes into after the first shoulder bash, and he can’t stomp on enemies after doing an air dash without first bashing into something and going into another spin jump, so you have to keep all of this in mind when platforming. It requires a bit more thinking than the average platformer, but it’s a lot of fun.

King of Card’s gameplay isn’t about stylish action platforming, like Specter of Torment's. King of Cards is more about careful planning and memorization of the levels. You really have to put some thought into how you want to tackle the more difficult platforming sections in the game. And this game is pretty difficult. King of cards has the shortest levels out of all the Shovel Knight games, but I think Yacht Club used that as an excuse to make them the hardest levels in the series as well. Most King of Cards levels are only 2 sections long, which is pretty short when compared to Shovel of Hope's 5+ section long levels, but they are much more deviously designed than the ones in the previous games. They might not look like they’re too different at a glance, but King Knights abilities require you to play in a completely different way. That’s what makes this game feel fresh, even in the series’ 4th entry.

The card game within the game is called Joustus. Don't worry if you're not into card games, Joustus is completely optional. Joustus is a card game the characters in this world play, like how Final Fantasy VIII characters play Triple Triad. Joustus is nothing like a traditional card game, though. It's not about numbers or stats, like Hearthstone, Pokemon, or even Spades. It's more like a board game. You play on a square board with a few gems randomly placed on it. The goal of the game is to cover the most gems with your cards by the time all squares are covered. But you can't place your card directly on the gem squares, you have to push them onto the gems with your other cards. You can push cards around with other cards, but only if your card has an arrow pointing in the direction you want to push and the card being pushed and the cards behind it don't have an arrow pointing in the direction you're pushing from. Frankly, I didn't really like Joustus. I often found myself in situations where the only moves I could make were to either move the opponent's cards onto the gems or give up, and that's just not fun. I’m glad they didn’t make the final boss a card battle or something.

King of Cards looks just as good as the previous games. Shovel Knight games always do a great job in mimicking the look of an NES game. Obviously, they look way too good to be real NES games, but they get the level of detail in the sprites and color palette spot on. It might look like King of Cards is just reusing sprites from the previous games, but there’s actually a bunch of new sprites in here, too. The same goes for the music. There’s a good mix of very NES-like old and new stuff from Jake Kaufman, the composer who worked on previous Shovel Knight games and the Shantae series.

I really liked this game. I didn’t enjoy the card game, but this is a great platformer. It’s challenging, King Knight is a fun character to play as, it has great NES style 8-bit graphics, and a really good soundtrack. I think this is also the longest of the Shovel Knight games, so you’re definitely getting your money’s worth with this one. I don’t know if I’d recommend it to anyone who is not a seasoned platformer fan; though, King of Cards feels like a game made strictly for hardcore platformer fans.