Developer/Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Platform: Wii U, 3DS, Xbox One, PS4, PS3, PS Vita, PC (Reviewed on PC)
Release Date: September 17th
So, funny story. I planned on doing a writeup of my impressions of Yacht Club Games’ first expansion for Shovel Knight, since it is DLC and I’ve done some impressions of DLC in the past. As it may imply by this turning into a straight-up review, Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows brings a lot more to the table than I had anticipated. In fact, Plague of Shadows is on par with Shovel Knight as a full-fledged product.
Since Plague of Shadows is a free expansion to the base game, you’ll just need to update your copy of Shovel Knight or it will be already available if you buy it now. Plague of Shadows unlocks if you’ve beaten the game already, but there is a password you can use on the title screen to unlock it early.
In Plague of Shadows, you now have the ability to play as Plague Knight on his own seperate quest. He and Mona (remember the woman in the Village basement that hosted the potion bottle game? That’s her) are on a quest to concoct the Ultimate potion call the Serum Supernus. In order to do this, they need the essences of the remaining Order of No Quarter. With that setup, Plague Knight goes on his way to his former allies’ hideouts to defeat them.
Honestly, the only thing that Plague of Shadows had to do was setup a reason for Plague Knight to be fighting his allies and leave it at that, but Yacht Club Games went further. In fact, pretty much everything in this expansion takes the game a step further.
Shovel Knight’s story mainly involved Shovel Knight’s relationship with Shield Knight and his desire to rescue her. Plague of Shadows, on the other hand, incorporates more of the characters around Plague Knight, as well as his presence in the world as a villain. Without going too much into spoiler territory, Plague Knight’s relationship with Mona is more dynamic, with it developing beyond Shovel Knight’s dream sequences. The story actually kept my attention and deserved that attention more than it did in Shovel Knight because of this.
The presentation of Shovel Knight is also taken a step further in Plague of Shadows due to Yacht Club Games expanding the world in more than just character swapping. It really has the advantage of not being tied to Shovel Knight’s canon and can be free to add character interactions without messing anything up. Plague Knight’ place in the world is also done well, with new characters, areas, and scenarios having been added to the game.
New music composed by Jake Kaufman (who was the main composer for Shovel Knight) has also been added. While the older tracks are still in full force as to what you’ll be hearing most of the time, the additional tracks add punch to the new scenarios of the game.
Out of my entire playthrough of Plague of Shadows, there was one moment of its presentation that really left an impression on me. Don’t worry, it’s not a major spoiler. In fact, it’s subtle enough to possibly go unnoticed.
After visiting the Troupple King with Plague Knight, you get the ability to dance by holding Down instead of the standard one-pixel squat. In most areas including levels, you can dance to your heart’s content. However, if you try dancing in the Potionarium with Mona in the room, Plague Knight gets embarrassed and twiddles his fingers. It’s such a small touch, but I always appreciate when developers take the effort beyond what’s required.
Plague of Shadows also has gotten a mechanical overhaul compared to Shovel Knight. The core concept is the same, traverse 8 levels, fight enemies and sub bosses before fighting the main boss, reach the final level, do the boss rush, and beat the final boss. The main levels are still intact, but they have had some tweaks to accommodate Plague Knight’s new moveset. And yes, you do play through Plague Knight’s stage as well, but I don’t want to spoil what happens.
That moveset is quite a bit more complex than Shovel Knight. Plague Knight’s jump is shorter, but he can double jump. Pressing the Attack button lobs a bomb instead of swinging an attack straight in front of you. That change makes regular encounters harder at first, but is a ton of fun once you get used to how Plague Knight throws his bombs. Holding down the Attack button will charge a boost jump called Bomb Burst. You can either launch straight up or in an arc to the left of right.
The introduction of bombs adds a crafting system to the possibilities of what you can spend your hard-earned treasure on. You have the ability to customize the casing, powder, fuse and burst of your bombs. Casings affect the throw arc of your bombs. Powder affects the type of explosion and number of bombs that can be thrown at a time. Fuses affect how long it takes for bombs to explode. Bursts affects the properties of your Bomb Burst.
You unlock more crafting tools by collecting Cipher Coins. These can be found throughout the world. When you collect enough of them, talk to Mona to unlock the next set of gear.
Relics return in the form of Arcana, and are not just re-tooled copies of Shovel Knight’s abilities. While some are similar (Bait Bomb acts like the Fishing Rod and Smoke Bomb acts like the Phase Locket), Plague Knight has plenty of unique abilities and modifiers at his disposal.
You obtain these in a similar way to Relics in that you have to find the new secret areas in each level. However, finding these and getting the new treasure rewards you with that level’s old Relic, which is useless to Plague Knight. To get that level’s Arcana, you have to take that Relic to the location in the level where you previously found the Relic in Shovel Knight. If you miss it, you can buy them later on for a steeper price.
Like I said before, boss battles do return in Plague of Shadows. Each of the Order of No Quarter you fight have patterns that remain unchanged from Shovel Knight, but are manageable once you get used to them. For the most part, that is. The main exception and my biggest gripe with Plague of Shadows is Propeller Knight.
Propeller Knight was tricky in Shovel Knight, but that’s a cakewalk compared to facing him with Plague Knight. The one point that makes this boss fight so hard is one that doesn’t really make a lot of sense. You can’t hit Propeller Knight directly with your bombs. Even if you use the Impact Fuse that causes bombs to explode on impact, they’ll still bounce right off.
For regular bomb attacks, it’s better to use powder that has an area of effect in order to hit Propeller Knight indirectly. Otherwise, the Berserker’s Brew allows you to damage him without hurting you. Propeller Knight’s wind attacks combined with your changed moveset can make for some cheap deaths when he doesn’t act the way you may expect.
As far as gameplay goes, that’s the only real issue I had with Plague of Shadows, so it could be worse. For your own sake, expect the worst from Propeller Knight. I would consider him to be the hardest boss in the game, but that could just be me.
Plague of Shadows did also add a Challenge Mode accessible from the main menu. This adds a bunch of new platforming, combat, and boss battle challenges for both Shovel Knight and Plague Knight. This will really test your mettle with Plague of Shadows, especially with the time limit and reduced health for boss fights. I’m having a lot of fun trying it out (and struggling) and it’s great to see some new content for Shovel Knight himself.
Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows does what other DLC content should do. Adding a ton of new features and reinvigorating a game is what we should expect, and it also helps that Plague Knight is a lot of fun to play with. Sure, there are moments where the original design may clash with these new elements, but Plague of Shadows has so much to offer in a game with so much heart. Besides, it’s hard to argue with that price point.