Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment is the second expansion to the original game from Yacht Club Games and shows that they’re not willing to rest on their laurels and just recycle old content for new games. They’ve taken many of the lessons learned in the two years since Shovel Knight’s original release and crafted a prequel that worth any player’s time to play.
The game takes place before the events of the original Shovel Knight and you play as Specter Knight, one of the eight members of the ‘Order of No Quarter’. In the game you are tasked by the villainous Enchantress to seek out the other members of the Order and recruit them to her cause. You’ll also learn the back story of Specter Knight and just how he became a member of the Order in a series of flashback levels, essentially a mini-prequel inside the prequel, if you will.
Rather than the fairly linear events of the first game you’re now given a hub world that you can explore and travel to each of the game’s 10 different levels, in any order you choose. All of the villains from the first game are present, but these aren’t just rehashes of the levels from the first game. These are completely re-worked, often times completely new areas to explore. You’ll see some familiar places in a slightly better state of repair than they were before, but none of it is just re-used assets from the first game.
Specter Knight’s attacks don’t follow the DuckTales/Zelda II inspired attacks of Shovel Knight. Rather he fights with a large scythe that allows him to reach out well in front of him and grab onto objects in the environment to fling himself around the world. This new style of attack allows the developers to create some truly interesting platforming experiences that you couldn’t have gotten with Shovel Knight’s bouncy attacks. He can also run up walls and jump off of them to reach areas that would have been inaccessible to Shovel Knight. His style of play takes some getting used to, as he’ll automatically vault over a corner once he reaches it while wall running. His scythe attacks also require some precise timing that you’ll have to get the feel for to effectively use. Once you do you’ll find it very easy to zip around levels and take out enemies from the air. It’s a completely different feel from any previous experience in the franchise.
Specter Knight has access to a vast array of upgradeable cloaks that allow you to customize his abilities somewhat. He can visit merchants in the Tower to buy health and special attack upgrades that you might have missed in each of the levels, for a fairly inexpensive price. New sub-weapons can be acquired by collecting Red Skulls hidden throughout each level and rather than just being given them once you’ve purchased them they take you to a small one or two screen level where you are required to solve a small puzzle using that item to acquire them. It’s a nice touch and an interesting way to incorporate a tutorial for an item without just telling you exactly how to use it.
I did feel that some areas of the game were a little easier than their counterparts in Shovel Knight. I felt the boss fights, while interesting, were a little easier this time around thanks to Specter Knights quick style of play. They do take advantage of his abilities to make some interesting, not static boss fights, however. For instance, Propeller Knight’s fight takes place on what I believe to be a crashing air ship where platforms are falling and breaking apart as you fight amongst them, the ground, nowhere to be seen. They’re not easy, but I didn’t find them as challenging as I did when I played Shovel Knight.
Yacht Club Games built an already solid foundation with Shovel Knight two years ago and they’ve been constantly building on top of that foundation ever since. Specter of Torment shows that they’ve taken feedback from fans in that time and used it to create a really fun, really different experience inside essentially the same world as its predecessor. If you haven’t played Shovel Knight I’d recommend getting the newly renamed Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, which includes all the currently available Shovel Knight content, including Specter of Torment. However, if you’re just looking for a fun platformer and you’ve got a few extra bucks on the eShop pick up Specter of Torment. There are ways to get the rest of that content should you decide you like the world of Shovel Knight.
Review copy of the game purchased through the eShop
Played through the full campaign
Total Play Time: 5 hours
Specter of Torment is going to be available for all platforms, but at the time of this review was exclusive to the Nintendo Switch.