Digging deeper into “Shovel Knight”

During its Kickstarter campaign, “Shovel Knight” was able to hit several stretch goals, one of which was the inclusion of some playable boss characters as free DLC in future updates. Plague Knight is the first to receive the playable character treatment in “Plague of Shadows.”

Set in parallel with the main “Shovel Knight” campaign, “Plague of Shadows” lets players taking control of Plague Knight to gather essences in order to use his alchemical skills to create an ultimate potion that can grant any one desire of the user. These essences are found within Plague Knight’s fellow members of the Order of No Quarter, as well as Shovel Knight himself.

The expansion progresses along the same set of stages as the main adventure, with a few extra hidden areas in each stage that have more collectables in them. However while Yacht Club Games could have easily put a Plague Knight skin over Shovel Knight and called it a day, they put a significant amount of effort into the new story and the way Plague Knight is controlled as a playable character.

Unlike Shovel Knight, who uses his shovel and magic relics to attack his foes, Plague Knight uses his alchemical bombs and arcana magic to dispatch enemies. One of the first things players will notice about Plague Knight is how he moves; he naturally has a double jump, and can perform a bomb burst to get a triple jump by charging up his bombs. These added movement abilities, as well as the later arcana abilities that allow him to have a fourth jump or place platforms directly below him in midair, allow Plague Knight to reach places that Shovel Knight could only dream of.

Plague Knight has an arsenal of 216 bombs. While the standard bomb is effective, it is fun to play around with combinations like boomerang bombs and bombs that detonate when an enemy approaches. Combined with his arcana abilities, which range from an upward driving thrust with his staff to potions that cause enemies to take contact damage from hitting the player, Plague Knight is an extremely versatile character.

That being said, Plague Knight’s adventure is hard. Plague Knight’s additional movement abilities allow him to move around very freely, but his speed and momentum can easily carry him into danger, mostly due to other player’s overreactions.

Since each of Plague Knight’s jumps provide a different shift in momentum and can be used in any order, there are a variety of platforming challenges that test the player’s jumping ability.

Combat can get pretty difficult as well. While Plague Knight’s bombs provide a ranged attack that doesn’t use up any ammo, they are tricky to use when enemies close the gap and much less reliable up close than Shovel Knight’s standard shovel swing, particularly in tight corridors where there isn’t much room for Plague Knight to position himself. Boss encounters generally are easier though, as Plague Knight can spam bombs from a safe distance to deal damage very quickly. However this is not as effective with faster moving bosses.

Despite these difficulties, “Plague of Shadows” is nonetheless an enjoyable experience easily equal to, if not better than, the original game. The perfect combination of new and old provides a distinct experience that manages to make this feel like far more than a simple reskin. Smart level design, tight controls and one of the most adorable eight-bit endings ever all combine to form an excellent and surprisingly meaty addition to what was an already awesome game.

Game: Plague of Shadows
Platforms: PC, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One
Release Date: Sept. 17, 2015
Rating: ★★★★☆