First of all, Shovel Knight became a tad bit confusing with the transition to Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove. Treasure Trove is the full package, a Complete Edition if you will. Containing every campaign past, present, and future, this is the one-stop shop for everything Shovel Knight. This means it currently includes Shovel of Hope – the original campaign, Plague of Shadows- the first expansion to Shovel Knight, and Specter of Torment – the newest expansion currently available only on the Switch. All future updates will be available as a free update.
For those unfamiliar with Shovel Knight, it is the ultimate love letter to the 8-bit generation. Paying homage to nearly every popular franchise one way or another, the best way to describe the action of the game is as a Metroidvania that takes some of its clearest inspiration from Zelda II for gameplay and Super Mario Bros. 3 for the overworld. While most Metroidvania-style games try to riff off one game in particular, the mastery of Shovel Knight comes from its ability to pay homage to an entire generation and become a legend in its own right.
Several new features are exclusive to Treasure Trove: a Body Swap mode that allows you to gender bend any or all of the characters which actually impacts dialogue and the story albeit in a limited capacity, a Fairy amiibo-activated character, and co-op gameplay using a single Joy-Con, without the requirement of the amiibo.
Without spending too much time explaining the original campaign, Shovel of Hope is everything gamers have come to know and love from Shovel Knight. We previously named it our Best Indie Game on the Wii U. Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope follows the titular character on his(or now her) quest to rescue Shield Knight, fighting your way through a slew of uniquely themed bosses ala Mega Man.
One of the hallmarks of the franchise is the ability to essentially choose your own difficulty through decisions you make as you play. Players can use orbs as checkpoints to revert to if they die, or you can destroy the orb and collect additional gems start over in case of death. Focusing on deaths for a second, the game is not overly punishing for death which you will do…a lot. If, and when, you die you will lose money, but all is not lost! When you return to where you died you can pick that money back up, but if you die without having restored what you lost, it is gone forever.
The second campaign released was Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows. Essentially an alternate universe, Plague of Shadows is a What If? campaign that has Shovel Knight having losing to the Enchantress. Gameplay changes include a double jump and charge attack, the gameplay feels more like Mega Man than the Zelda II roots of Shovel of Hope. The levels are the same and music is similar to the original, but it works well as an additional campaign with a new story, and laid the groundwork for what was still to come. Unfortunately for our friend Plague Knight, this is vastly overshadowed by both its predecessor and successor.
The big feature of Treasure Trove is the brand new campaign – Specter of Torment. If Shovel of Hope takes its largest inspiration from Zelda II, Specter of Torment is an homage to Ninja Gaiden. Rather than focusing on the shovel or alchemy such as the other campaigns, Specter of Torment focuses on wall-running and scythe swinging. While Plague Knight had the same levels as the original Shovel of Hope campaign, Specter of Torment brings brand new and remixed stages, freshening up locations that could have become stale after three iterations.
The changes in gameplay cannot be understated, as it makes this campaign feel completely separate from those that precede it. Utilize wall-jumping to reach new heights instead of a shovel-based super jump, or fly across the world using the scythe’s ability to home in from enemy to enemy similar to Sonic. The game world is carefully crafted to take advantage of these new features. Similar to previous campaigns, you earn new upgrades that can give you ranged attacks, the ability to heal, and more.
Specter of Torment also introduces the deepest story of the series as a prequel to the original Shovel Knight: Shadow of Hope. Shovel Knight wanted to save his friend, Plague Knight wanted to become more powerful, and now, without spoiling anything, we get a glimpse of what motivates Specter Knight and why he recruited the Order of No Quarter for the Enchantress.
One of the biggest concerns going in was the lack of a D-Pad on the Joy-Con, but worry not! While the directional buttons are disconnected, gameplay does not suffer. Handheld mode works well to take Shovel Knight and friends on the go. The Pro Controller, however, was our preferred method of control.
For their ability to create three distinctive games, Yacht Club Games have proven themselves not to be a one trick pony. Each expansion is its own entity, allowing for hours of gameplay that do not seem repetitive between campaigns. Whereas few series dare to take the risk of changing up what worked between games – let alone expansions – Yacht Club Games throws out the book and brings back a masterpiece of a game. No single campaign feels as if its lacking – from the beautiful hand-drawn pixel art to the master crafted soundtrack that transports you to the world of Shovel Knight – yet each complement the other by expanding the lore of the universe.
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is the ultimate package of Shovel Knight goodness and there are still two big updates yet to come this year – a fourth campaign featuring King Knight and Battle Mode. This is a must own for any lover of 2D gameplay and while Shovel of Hope and Plague of Shadows are available on other platforms, Specter of Torment is currently a Switch exclusive. Adding the ability to bring the game with you on the go to play for just a level, or hours at a time, this is the definitive version of Shovel Knight.