SAN FRANCISCO – Shovel Knight was one of the surprise hits of 2014, but looking back, its success isn’t shocking. It’s a well-made, humorous homage to NES games like Castlevania, Mega Man and DuckTales, with just enough modern sensibilities to make it approachable.
Now, it’s one of the first major indie games launching alongside the Nintendo Switch on March 3, and to celebrate, Yacht Club games is bringing out a whole DLC expansion: Specter of Torment, starring the menacing Specter Knight.
I went hands-on with Specter of Torment at GDC 2017 and, coincidentally, it was the first time I’d ever used the Nintendo Switch. As a Switch game, there’s not too much I can say about it; you can play it either on a TV or the Switch screen, and it works fine either way. As a follow-up to Shovel Knight, however, it has the potential to be fantastically entertaining.
Specter of Torment puts players in control of Specter Knight: one of Shovel Knight’s adversaries from the original game. The story setup isn’t tremendously important; suffice to say that it puts Specter Knight front and center, and his tale is quite a bit darker than Shovel Knight’s.
The differences in gameplay between the two characters are profound. Specter Knight attacks with a scythe rather than a shovel; as such, his attacks tend to move at 45-degree angles. He can use enemies to propel himself upward – not by bouncing off of them, but rather by using them as diagonal springboards. He can also run directly up most walls – for a limited time, at least. Veterans will probably adapt to his playstyle pretty fast, but Specter Knight could prove tricky for newcomers.
I played through the first level of Specter of Torment, and it struck a beautiful balance between tutorial and standalone stage. The level didn’t give any instructions, and yet by the end of it, I understood how to climb walls, how to propel myself upward diagonally, and how to take advantage of enemies to reach lofty positions. I did battle with regular enemies and mini-boss dragons, found tons of hidden gems, and picked up hard-to-reach red skulls to upgrade Specter Knight’s abilities.
The real test of what I’d learned came at the end of the level, when I faced off against the Black Knight. This time around, he was riding a rhino, and was quite adept at putting the animal between the two of us. Unlike Shovel Knight, I couldn’t simply ricochet off of him and score hit after hit; instead, I had to hit him diagonally, landing one blow at a time, and using my enhanced jump skills to avoid devastating attacks.
Specter of Torment will hit the Nintendo Switch on March 3, retailing for $10 as a standalone adventure or $25 as part of a complete Shovel Knight package. Although the DLC pack will eventually come to other systems, Yacht Club Games could not provide a hard date, as it’s a small team, and had been putting all of its efforts into a successful Switch launch.