For old school platforming with a modern soul all its own, you really could do no better than last year’s Shovel Knight. A potent mix of Mega Man and Duck Tales, with some Zelda II, Castlevania and Mario tossed in for good measure, SK wasn’t just calculated nostalgia baiting but a full-fledged, fully featured triple A, current generation behemoth of quality and polish that just happened to look and sound like a late period Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo title, and it earned it’s spot on several year-end best-of lists accordingly. Yacht Club Games’ Kickstarted masterpiece ruled the roost on Steam and Nintendo systems for almost a year before hitting PS4 and Xbox One last month, and now it returns again with its first hefty chunk of promised free DLC.
Plague of Shadows takes the beloved platforming adventure and blows up everything you thought you knew about its’ mobility and attack options. Gone are the diminutive blue titular hero’s Scrooge McDuck style shovel bouncing, diving and deflecting, replaced by the Plague Knight and his arsenal of alchemical warfare. Bombs can be thrown from on foot or mid-jump, causing PK to hover a bit, and he can also charge an explosion to propel himself through the sky at high velocity. It completely changes the entire feel of the game, raising the challenge in some aspects and lowering it in others. Hardcore platforming sequences can be a bit of a trial for Plague-y since he tends to throw himself all willy-nilly across the screen, but bosses are a cinch due to his ability to hover in the air and rain death upon them like a hooded, masked Akuma.
The entire story’s been changed around too, PK turning on his fellow Order of No Quarter members to team up with former Village NPC Mona and steal their essences to create an ultimate potion. NPCs and Bosses will react to you accordingly, making for some hilarious new dialog interludes. Trust me, even if you already have hours into Shovel Knight’s game, this is worth another go-round just for the writing. The upgrade system has been completely redone as well to account for PK’s unique abilities, allowing you to change and beef up his bombs and potions in any way you see fit, including different fuses, powders and casings that are switchable on the fly using the WiiU GamePad’s touch screen. It’s seriously fun, feels brand new and is totally worth your time, whether you’re a Shovel Knight vet or a curious neophyte looking for unorthodox platforming challenges with a wickedly sardonic sense of humor. This one’s for you.
Calm like a bomb…
The most insane part is that this near-completely new game is absolutely free to current Shovel Knight owners and adds no cost to the existing download. Yacht Club Games could’ve charged basically anything they wanted for this, it’s so complete and well done, from 5 bucks to the full 15 that Shovel Knight originally cost, most companies would, but no. Upon booting the game up it downloads automatically and quickly, and you have a whole new masterpiece to tackle for absolutely nothing. In an age where the old guard Japanese companies like Konami and Capcom can’t seem to stop alienating and infuriating the fanbases of their classic franchises, it’s great to see a company like YC taking inspiration from the beloved 8 and 16 bit masters when it comes to graphics and gameplay, but being able to teach them a thing or two about customer service.
The retail version of Shovel Knight, including this DLC on the disc (assessable via Konami-esque code, in true old school fashion, if the game hasn’t yet been beaten) drops on November 3rd on WiiU, 3DS, PS4 and Xbox One, but of course the game is available to download now for 14.99, and the non-Nintendo versions include small bonuses, like a fight against God of War’s Kratos for Sony owners and a battle against the Battletoads for the Microsoft faithful. Fret not fellow Nintendites because an SK Amiibo is heavily rumored to see release on November 27th. Shovel Knight fun for everyone!