The Indie Gold Standard
HIGH More time spent in the Shovel Knight universe
LOW Showdown is just okay in singleplayer mode
WTF King Knight’s mom charges her own son for dessert!
Back in 2013, Yacht Club Games began a Kickstarter that would become the gold standard for crowdfunded indies. Thanks to fantastic gameplay, retro-inspired graphics and a killer soundtrack, their work would go on to leave a mark on the indie scene, appear in Nintendo’s Smash Bros. and even receive four different Amiibos. Their game, of course, is the one and only Shovel Knight!
Six years later, Yacht Club is closing the book on the Shovel Knight universe with the release of two final expansions – King of Cards and Showdown.
King of Cards continues the solo adventure gameplay of the originals and is available to any player who has previously purchased a copy of Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove. Co-op is the focus of the second expansion, so all versions other than Vita and 3DS will also receive Showdown, a Smash Bros. like take on the Shovel Knight kingdom. With both, Yacht Club shows that instead of resting on their laurels, they’ve gone the extra mile and once again delivered fantastic gaming experiences that will be free of charge for many fans.
Shovel Knight: King of Cards
King of Cards follows the story of King Knight, one of the bosses from the original Shovel Knight. This add-on is a prequel that tells how King Knight came to rule the land before eventually encountering Shovel Knight.
The slightly narcissistic King Knight is looking for a kingdom to rule when he comes across two travelers who think they can be of assistance. They inform him of a tournament that may help him in his quest — “Joustus” is a card game sweeping the land, and its three judges just so happen to be kings. If he can defeat them, he might rule the empire.
Gameplay is similar to the previous entries in the series — explore a level, defeat some enemies and collect treasure. However, instead of using a shovel to accomplish these feats, King Knight relies on a shoulder dash that also helps him defeat enemies and reach higher locations.
Players will need to dash in mid-air to hit ledges that then spring King Knight up to elevated platforms. However, not all ledges can be used for a boost — those covered by ivy or banners, for instance — so players will need to develop strategies like bouncing off opposing walls or nearby enemies to overcome difficult obstacles and chasms.
In addition, hitting foes allows King Knight to spin around in the air, which is perfect for dealing damage to enemies from above and also for digging up buried treasure. Exact controls are needed as most of the levels require precision jumping, twirling, and dashing to reach the end, but it comes as no surprise that Yacht Club again turns in handling that’s precise and smooth.
All-new levels are spread out across various kingdoms, one for each Joustus judge. Players will explore caves, castles, swamps and frozen peaks, just to name a few. Many areas have multiple exits, which allows for branching paths on each map. This in turn means that players can fully conquer every stage or try for the fastest route and with a minimal amount of work.
Each kingdom ends with a battle against a Joustus judge. Battles are challenging, but much like its retro inspirations, each boss provides a tell prior to attacking that becomes easier to notice with each attempt. The final boss is a little frustrating thanks to a certain attack that seems impossible to avoid, but even then the challenge never felt insurmountable.
In addition to excellent boss fights, wandering warriors will often appear on the map to challenge the King. Series fans will find these faces to be familiar, such as Polar Knight and Plague Knight. And really, King of Cards is overflowing with fanservice — not just from the Knights of No Quarter, but from other recognizable NPCs including a most memorable encounter with Mr. Hat.
As for Joustus itself, the card game portion of King of Cards requires players to capture gems on a board. Cards are laid within the playing field, but not directly on the gems that are the goal. Each card has a number of arrows which indicate the direction it can be ‘pushed’ by other cards, and a gem can only be captured when a card is ‘pushed’ onto it. The game is over once the board has no open spaces left, and the player capturing the most gems wins and gets to take a card or two from the loser.
Joustus is ultimately a simple-yet-enjoyable side activity that serves little purpose outside of starting King Knight’s story. Players will be able to skip most of the matches simply by avoiding the map’s Joustus locations. Although it was slightly disappointing to knowing that it didn’t play a key role in this add-on, I did enjoy that the script provides a humorous reason why Joustus doesn’t exist in the other storylines.
As a whole, King of Cards does so much well that there isn’t a lot to dislike except perhaps for the ice levels that required King to constantly move while ice-skating, but even these stages were completed in a couple tries. Also, a few of the vertically auto-scrolling levels would be too slow for my pace, but again, this is a minor issue.
While technically a prequel, Shovel Knight: King of Cards is a fitting end to the Shovel Knight saga. It continues the tradition of great graphics, sound, and level design set by the original, while still providing a fresh take on platforming.
Shovel Knight: Showdown
Shovel Knight: Showdown is unique within the Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove collection. Instead of being a platformer, it’s a 2D fighter designed primarily for multiplayer madness — players feud in four player free-for-alls or even team up to conquer a group of computer controlled opponents.
The story is that a curse has been brought upon the land, causing friend and foe alike to battle. Players control of one of sixteen different characters from the Shovel Knight universe, including all of the Knights of No Quarter! This is great for fans of the series, as many of these characters have never been playable prior to this release.
Gamers can duke it out in standard fights, battle for randomly-appearing treasure, or even play a target mini-game that’s a little tedious alone, but would obviously be better with a friend or two. Unfortunately, multiplayer battles are local only, no online battles here.
Everything a fan of Shovel Knight would expect in terms of production can be found within Showdown thanks to its excellent 8-bit inspired graphics, a fabulous soundtrack, well-designed battle stages and precise controls. Attacks are simple, requiring only a single button to perform a move. But with air assaults, charged attacks, and the ability to parry opponent’s strikes, there’s plenty to prevent the game from becoming a simple button masher.
Single player follows standard fighting game formula — beat a series of foes and then defeat a final boss, and the target-hitting mini-game is also part of each quest. This mode is fine since it does what it’s supposed to, but it doesn’t do much more. I beat a couple paths and unlocked a few extras, but didn’t have much desire to play again, probably since Showdown is billed as a multiplayer game, which is quite evident when playing solo.
For instance, late in Shovel Knight’s solo path, six computer opponents appear on screen for a royal rumble. Tackling such a task by myself was enjoyable, but I couldn’t help but think how much more exciting it would have been with three friends playing along side me. With lack of online play, co-op mode becomes an infrequent option for myself, and unfortunately Showdown doesn’t offer a substantial singleplayer experience.
From a presentation standpoint, Showdown is an excellent additional to the Shovel Knight kingdom, but with multiplayer being restricted to couch only, it doesn’t hold up as well as its platforming brethren.
Yacht Club Games should be commended. They’ve created a beloved franchise in Shovel Knight and have continued to give back to the players who have enjoyed it for the past five years — this kind of support is virtually unheard of in our current age of microtransactions. As such, even though King of Cards and Showdown can both be purchased individually, my recommendation is that anyone on the fence should go ahead and take the plunge, pick up the entire Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove. There aren’t many gaming purchases that provide more bang for the buck.
Disclosures: These games are developed and published by Yacht Club Games. King of Cards is currently available on Wii U, 3DS, Switch, PS3, PS4, Vita, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux, and Amazon Fire TV. Showdown is available on all the same platforms, except for the 3DS and Vita. Copies of each game were obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the King of Cards was completed. About 2 hours of play was devoted to Showdown and two of the single player routes were completed.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Everyone 10+ and contains Fantasy Violence. Parents, this is a safe one for most gamers. Enemies either fall over or disappear in a burst, there’s no bloodshed here.
Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are available, but the mode is listed only for the Joustus card game in the King of Cards expansion.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game is fully accessible. Story is told solely though text – each character has a portrait and their name clearly labeled when speaking. Text size cannot be changed. All noticeable sound cues have a visual cue as well.
Remappable Controls: Yes, both games offer fully remappable controls.