By William Shelton
Release Date: September 17, 2015
Systems: WiiU, 3DS (Reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, PS3, PS Vita, PC
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Metacrtic Score: N/A
Shovel Knight was one of the best games of last year, hands down. It was a retro throwback that managed to pay homage to the classic games of yesteryear while having a clear identity of it’s own. It was filled to the brim with interesting characters and touching moments making the game as charming as it was challenging. Now, over a year after the original release Yacht Club Games has given us the first peace of DLC, a side story starting the boss character Plague Knight. Now the only question is: does Plague of Shadows live up to the main game or should you avoid this…Like The Plague (don’t tell me you didn’t see that coming).
For the uninitiated, Plague Knight is an early boss in Shovel Knight; An alchemist (unfortunately not of the “Full Metal” verity) and member of “The Order of No Quarter” who’s made too look early similar to European Plague Doctors of the mid-1300’s. In the main game Shovel Knight defeats Plague Knight on his way to rescue Shield Knight. The events of Plague of Shadows runs parallel to the events of the main game, showing what Plague Knight was doing before and during Shovel Knight’s adventure. And surprisingly, the two aren’t all that different.
It turns out Plague Knight also needs to challenge The Order. He is attempting to create the Ultimate Potion, a brew that will give him nearly unlimited power, but in order to finish it, Plague Knight needs the essences of the rest of the Quarter. What’s his master plan? That you’ll have to learn for yourself.
What I can tell you is that the story isn’t quite as good as Shovel Knights tale. While I enjoyed Plague Knights sarcasm and wit more that Shovel Knights heroic stoicism, the main thing Plague of Shadows lacks is the same impact the main game had. Moments like fighting the Enchantress along side the friend you fought so hard to save, or how Shield Knight falls asleep beside Shovel Knight after her presumed sacrifice, those moments stuck with me. Those moments are what transcended Shovel Knight from a great game to a beautiful experience in my mind, and this DLC doesn’t have anything like that. It’s heartwarming in it’s own right, but it just doesn’t have the same punch too it.
While the story may not have reached the bar Shovel Knight set, the game play more than makes up for it. One major complaint I had is that all the levels you explore are the same from the main game, but Plague Knight plays so differently I think this actually works in the games benefit. Where Shovel Knight gained relics that allows him more maneuverability, Plague Knight’s move set stays pretty much the same despite the upgrades you get. This means you have to get really good using Plague Knights signature move, the bomb jump. By holding the attack button you can charge an explosion that lifts Plague Knight into the air and can even be used as a triple jump if timed right. By the end of the game this will feel as natural as po-going on enemies in the main game, but early levels are a pain do to having to relearn the controls. In fact, I died multiple times in the opening stage due to a small enemy who sat on a platform too small for both of us too fit on. I either died due to Plague Knights more exaggerated flinch when hit or overshot the jump entirely. This caused a bit of frustration in the early game, but is a necessity for teaching players how to control this new anti-hero.
The upgrades you get are all based around Plague Knights bombs and come in three basic forms: the Casing which determines the arch of your throw, the Powder which determines the type of explosion and the Fuse which determines how soon the bomb goes off. You can switch these elements out at any time in the gear menu. While I did enjoy experimenting with bomb types, I did wish there was a way to save preset builds as there were times I’d switch bomb types several times in a fight and having to go into the menu to do it somewhat killed the games pacing. This wasn’t a huge issue, but when I could change gear on the fly in the main game by using the 3DS’s touchscreen, it’s hard to imagine why I couldn’t do the same here.
And then there are the boss fights. While they’re the same bosses as before, fighting them with the new move sets and equipment made them feel fresh again and I loved beating them all over. Except for Propeller Knight. This one boss felt like he should have been slightly retooled to compensate for the new play style and is the only boss that took me more that five tried to beat. When I saw that the boss rush near the end was back I nearly quit out of fear of not being able to beat him again. I did though, and that’s one of the things than makes This DLC (as well as the main game) worth playing: it’s challenging but you can overcome anything it throws at you.
The music, as far as I remember, is mostly the same tunes as before. This is something I can’t complain about as I loved the hell out of the games soundtrack before hand.
Plague of Shadows might not be quite as good as the original game but it is still a damn good game. For a free expansion it’s amazing how much time and energy the guys at Yacht Club Games put into this. They could have easily just have reskined the game and called it a day but instead they crafted an experience that is every bit as worth your time as the main game. Plague of Shadows is a great follow up and if you haven’t already you should give it a look.