Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment (Playstation 4 Review)
Yacht Club’s love letter to retro titles like Megaman and Duck Tales is the game that keeps on giving. The latest addition to Shovel Knight comes as part of the new Treasure Trove collection. This is a free update for anyone who already has bought the first Shovel Knight, and is available at a slightly higher price than the original version for anyone who has yet to play it; a pretty fair exchange considering you’ll get all three of the Shovel Knight campaigns.
Anyone who is familiar with the Shovel Knight games will know that this involves playing as The Order Of No Quarter’s resident edge-lord, Specter Knight. This is in fact a prequel to the original Shovel Knight, with Specter Knight carrying out the task of forming The Order on command of the Enchantress. As the hooded scythe-wielder gradually defeats and recruits the knights, we also get playable flashback sequences detailing Specter Knight’s past, and his reasons for doing all this.
Compared to Shovel Knight and Plague Knight, Specter Knight is definitely the most unorthodox of the three to play as. He has no immediate way to increase his jump height with his default toolkit, but compensates for this in two ways. First is his ability to jump off walls and do a brief run up walls for that extra little climb. Second is the Dash Slash, which Specter Knight can perform mid-air on objects and enemies when a gash appears on them; slashing diagonally upwards if he’s below them and diagonally downwards if he’s above them. In general, you’ll have to be more meticulous with when you decide to Dash Slash; careless mashing which you might have gotten away with in the other campaigns will more likely you have falling straight into a pit.
Specter Knight also has a Darkness gauge, which replaces the Magic number meter. As you might expect, this is used for all the usable items, or Curios as they’re called, that are unlocked by collecting Red Skulls in the stages. Some of the Curios have very interesting powers, such as creating a doppelgänger or slowing down time, but the two I found myself exploiting the most were the Will Skull, which heals a portion of health for a pretty cheap amount of the Darkness gauge, and the Hover Plume, which allows Specter Knight to float for a brief period often making the difference between making a difficult jump and falling to your death. Upon obtaining these items, you also get a brief challenge stage to test them out, which is a neat addition.
As opposed to the World Map in the other two campaigns, all the upgrading, shopping and selecting of levels is done in one central base of operations: the Tower Of Fate. All the levels can be selected in any order as well. If you’re worried these levels might be getting stale the third time around, fret not, because they’ve all been revamped to suit Specter Knight’s style of gameplay. One of my absolute favourite features is the rail-grinding, where Specter Knight surfs on his scythe, and anytime this happens, it’s a treat. There are also new enemies, sub-bosses and new gimmicks with the veteran bosses of the series. It’s not just stage mechanics either; the backgrounds have been changed to fit the more spooky and sombre tone of Specter Of Torment, and some stage themes have been remixed as well. It feels anything but stale, and it did away with my scepticism quickly.
There are some bones I have to pick with Specter Of Torment, some of which have been habitual with the older Shovel Knight campaigns, such as some stages being too long. More unique to Specter Of Torment, is the imbalance of curios and armours, or in this instance, cloaks. I’ve mentioned already on how I found the Will Skull and Hover Plume to be a bit busted, but you will only need one cloak for this game: the Cloak Of Clemency. This cloak causes you to lose a portion of your health and darkness gauge when you fall into pits or spikes instead of dying immediately, while also reducing your lost loot when you die.. If it didn’t make the other cloaks redundant enough, it’s also the cheapest to purchase. Specter Of Torment is also the shortest of three campaigns, by virtue of not having any of the shorter levels or even the villages to explore from Shovel Of Hope or Plague Of Shadows.
Once you’re done with the main campaign (which shouldn’t take much longer than six hours), you can test your mettle with the selection of tricky challenges, and the increased difficulty on New Game Plus, both of which have been staples of the other two campaigns. If you’re in the mood for some old-school platforming, Specter Of Torment is well worth putting the few hours needed, especially if you’ve yet to play Shovel Knight at all and buy it as part of the new Treasure Trove collection. Will there be another addition to this series where you play as King Knight, or maybe Phantom Striker? If Yacht Club keep it as fresh and interesting as they have so far, I’ll happily give it another go.