The little Kickstarter game that could (The only Kickstarter game that could?) returns again with Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment, another free campaign for early adopters (following 2015’s Plague of Shadows) that makes the original 2014 Shovel Knight not only one of the greatest games of the last, current, or any console generation, but a gift that (still) keeps on giving.
SoT takes the form of a prequel, chronicling the grim reaper-esque Specter Knight’s quest to assemble the Order of No Quarter, the original game’s rogues gallery led by the villainous (Or is she?) Enchantress, who promises Specter a chance to regain his humanity for fulfilling the task. Of course the story takes some twists and turns (Specter being a more stoic protagonist, the characters’ banter is sadly lacking the sarcastic energy of Plague Knight’s campaign), but we’re mostly here for the perfectly realized NES era platforming, and I’m happy to say that Shovel Knight maestros Yacht Club Games are still the best in the business.
Owing more to Mega Man than the Mario styled map based exploration of the Shovel and Plague Knight adventures, Specter Knight targets the game’s rag tag cast of Knights from the Enchantress’ Tower (which also functions as the game’s hub and shop) in any order the player chooses. Specter’s scythe allows him to slash diagonally up and down from certain grapple points, adding almost a classic Bionic Commando element to environmental traversal. Enemies can also be targeted and slashed across in a similar fashion, and doing so after popping smaller foes into the air with a traditional ground attack allows Specter to access heretofore unreachable heights, or course chock full of the game’s signature secrets and loot.
Excellent, spookily remixed music, slightly shaken up level design and the sometimes tragic prequel story add up to another excuse to run through Shovel Knight and fall in love with it all over again. Available for just about every console imaginable, Specter of Torment can be purchased as a standalone 9.99 download, as the 24.99 all-inclusive Shovel Knight Treasure Trove collection, and of course for free if you still own the original SK. Will Yacht Club continue to develop individual adventures for each of their engrossing world’s “Knights”? Or is there a full-fledged sequel in the works? I don’t even care at this point. As long as the talented pixel pushers at YC continue to shame everyone else riding their retro coat tails, I’ll keep playing.