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Monday, May 8, 2017

Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove Review!

Okay, so back in 2014 an indie platformer game inspired by 8-bit classics such as Mega Man, Castlevania, and Super Mario Bros 3 was released by a small dev team known as Yacht Club Games and took the world by storm, becoming so famous that the main hero of this game got one of those Amiibo figurines. So famous, in fact, that this character has went on to cameo in OTHER indie games such as Yooka-Laylee. This is the story...

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...Of Shovel Knight! And while I didn't get into the Shovel Knight craze back in 2014, my Nintendo Switch Bundle had some download codes for a remaster of Shovel Knight titled Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove. Now I see why so many people love the original and all the DLC it received (Yacht Club Games, you are one of the few companies that know how to do DLC right!).

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Now the thing about Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is that it has multiple story campaigns, each one starring a different Knight. You got the Shovel of Hope story, which is the MAIN story of the game. In this story, after years of fun and adventuring with his best friend/crush Shield Knight, Shovel Knight is separated from his beloved by a cursed tower. But when he learns he might be able to save her, he goes on a quest to climb The Tower Of Fate and reunite with his closest friend/crush, platforming his way through a variety of stages and duking it out with the villainous Order of No Quarter (who have turned the tower into their headquarters) in Mega Man style boss battles. It is at the end of the day a "Free the Damsel in Distress" story, but thanks to a clever plot twist that I will not spoil becomes something much more memorable. It's a perfect example of how making a plot complex is not necessarily a good thing, which is fitting for a game inspired by classics that long-time gamers might have grown up with, but today's generation aren't willing to give said classics a chance because they don't have cutting-edge graphics and tons of violence and guns and profanity and what not.

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The next story, titled Spectre of Torment, stars a vengeful edgelord ghost known as Spectre Knight. Spectre Knight's story is a prequel to the other two, and primarily exists to further clean up the already well-written lore. The story follows Spectre Knight as he recruits various Knights into the Order of No Quarter on behalf of the villain of all three stories, the Enchantress. It's notably darker and more mature in tone than the other two stories, but again, I must congratulate Yacht Club Games on making a really good prequel that ties up all the loose ends in a way that feels natural and satisfying. Unlike the Star Wars prequels which had the mentality of "Let's put all of our budget into visual effects and absolutely nothing else!".

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The final story in this remaster is titled Plague of Shadows and actually runs parallel to Shovel Knight's campaign. In Plague of Shadows, the star is the weirdly adorable Plague Knight, who, taking a page right of *Starscream's book, betrays the Order of No Quarter with the help of his equally weirdly adorable girlfriend (girlfriend as in a friend that is a girl, they are not dating during the events of Plague of Shadows...yet. #ShipFuel) so he can brew the ULTIMATE POTION!!! Why? For SCIENCE!!! It's arguably the most lighthearted of the three, and Plague Knight himself makes a good protagonist thanks to his cheerful yet obviously insane personality. Random fun fact! Plague Knight is based off a Plague Doctor. In case you don't know what a Plague Doctor is, they were doctors from back in the day who were sent to deal with populaces that have the plague. They would often wear bird-like masks that hid a variety of filters inside the "beak" that, in theory, would purify the air (keep in mind, during the time period Plague Doctors were in use, everyone thought the Plague was airborne) and would do the best they could to cure the residents of said populaces, which is difficult considering there was no definitive cure for it. The More You Know! *twinkle*

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First thing to note is that all three of the Knights have play styles so drastically different that each campaign could easily pass as their own separate game entirely (in fact the campaigns were sold separately before Treasure Trove was released!). Shovel Knight is the most simplistic of the three, as his control scheme consists literally of the control stick and two buttons (one for attacking and one for jumping). Shovel Knight's weapon is, quite obviously, a shovel, which he can use to dig up treasure (needed to buy upgrades such as extra health), slash at enemies, and the most useful trick out of his moveset is a pogo-stick jump attack that lets Shovel Knight destroy dirt blocks blocking the way or bounce on enemies. Additionally, Shovel Knight can find artifacts known as Relics which effectively let him use sub-weapons at the expense of the item/magic gauge. Some Relics are kind of overpowered (Phase Locket, how I love you so!). Shovel Knight himself plays fantastically, and personally, I recommend playing through his campaign first because Shovel Knight is perfect for beginners or people aren't good at platforming (like me). Or what you could do (and I did this when playing the game myself) is start any campaign you want, then switch to another campaign on a separate save file (the game gives you TWENTY!!!) when you inevitably rage quit (assuming, of course, you aren't good at platformers). Because even though Shovel Knight's campaign is the easiest of the three, it's still fairly challenging. Especially if you have become spoiled by how most modern games include a lengthy tutorial because low and behold, NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THE THREE CAMPAIGNS has any kind of tutorial (the idea being you figure out how to play through trial and error).

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Admit it, this image looks pretty dang awesome!

Spectre Knight on the other hand is MUCH more agile than the other Knights, being able to Dash, run up walls like a flipping Naruto character, and even unlocks the ability to teleport over to enemies for a powerful slash with his Grim Reaper-esque scythe. His agility comes in handy, since Spectre of Torment possesses lots of ways to die (and Specty is already dead, so if you die that means he's deader than dead!) Spectre of Torment is considered the hardest of the three campaigns by many (I consider the other two campaigns to be harder, because Spectre Knight's Dash and Wall Run abilities make what would be some of the more difficult platforming sections more bearable). Spectre Knight was really fun to play as, thanks to the fluid controls and the emphasis on agility (I'm pretty sure he was a Naruto character in a past life. Wait...) and he's arguably my favorite out of the three.

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Plague Knight has perhaps the most unorthodox play style of the three. He can double and (technically) triple jump, something neither Shovel Knight nor Spectre Knight can do. However the most notable aspect of Plague Knight's campaign is how he can use customizable bombs and potions to help him on his quest for SCIENCE!!!! What kind of potions and bombs does he have? He can drink Health Tonics to temporarily increase his Life gauge, he can toss down smoke bombs that render him completely invincible as long as he stays within the smoke, he can cover the floor with bright pink flames, he can use the recoil from his Bomb Burst attack to triple jump (a lot of platforming challenges rely on this trick), and he can summon a giant vat of potion-y goodness to serve as a temporary platform. His unorthodox play style combined with his weirdly adorable-ness make him my favorite out of the three. The fact that he is basically the Shovel Knight universe's version of Starscream nets him bonus points in my book. Seriously, Plague Knight is basically a sillier, funnier, and more cheerful version of Starscream (I always imagine that if the Shovel Knight franchise ever had voice acting that Plague Knight would speak with Starscream's voice lol),

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Something interesting about the three campaigns is that they all share the same levels. And while Spectre Knight's version of the levels are completely overhauled to accommodate his agility, Shovel Knight and Plague Knight share the same level designs almost identically. The idea being that areas where Shovel Knight will have no problem navigating become tougher for Plague Knight and vice versa. I, personally, like the idea behind the shared level design, even though I know some folks are going to cry foul and ask why Specty's levels are so different while Plaguey's are almost identical as Shovelry's (never let me come up with nicknames ever again lol). However, here's my counter-argument to that. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is a VERY difficult game, ESPECIALLY if you are playing blind (blind as in avoiding spoilers for both story and gameplay, like I did) and don't play platforming games often enough to be legitimately good at them (like me) but on replays the game because easier because the first playthrough gave you enough practice to be at least decent at platformers. Or maybe you are already good at platformer games anyway and in that case you will probably breeze through this game.

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Tinker Knight? More like, **MEGAZORD KNIGHT!!!

By far my favorite part of the game are the boss battles. They never outstay their welcome, are satisfyingly challenging without being too unfairly difficult, they were all fun to do battle with, and it feels awesome to take down the Order of No Quarter one by one as you make your way across the land. However, going back to how Plague Knight's campaign and Shovel Knight's campaign are eerily similar to one another, all three Knights fight the same bosses, only altered slightly to keep things fresh (for example, during the first fight with Black Knight on Spectre Knight's campaign, he rides a giant turtle steed. Meanwhile, during Shovel Knight's campaign he fights Shovel Knight on foot).

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A very entertaining feature exclusive to Shovel Knight's campaign is Body Swap mode which lets you change the gender of every major character in the game (that is, Shovel Knight, Shield Knight, The Enchantress, Black Knight, and the members of the Order of No Quarter). Not only does in-game dialogue change to match the gender, but almost every character gets massive redesigns to appear either more masculine (the Enchantress becomes the Enchanter and is wearing what looks like bright purple samurai armor instead of robes) or more feminine (King Knight becomes Queen Knight and trades the red with white fur trim cape for a red-and-white ball-gown). The changes are less obvious on Shovel Knight himself (his female counterpart's helmet has smaller horns, but otherwise looks identical) and Black Knight (whose design is so androgynous that it's hard to tell if he is male or female regardless if Body Swap is in effect or not). Body Swap doesn't impact gameplay aside from changing the appearance of everyone, but it's fun for a good laugh. And it gives you an excuse to replay the game! Sadly, this feature is exclusive to Shovel Knight's story, since all the characters are locked into their canon genders during Plague of Shadows and Spectre of Torment. So now you don't have an excuse to replay the game six times over.

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As for visuals, Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove basks in the nostalgic 8-bit retro style. Yet another praise I must give to Yacht Club Games is how they managed to make every stage not only look, but FEEL unique. Each stage has a unique theme going for it, from the Clockwork Tower's steampunk vibe, to the forest of deathtraps that is the Lich Yard, to a giant submarine called the Iron Whale (which is a WHALE of a time to play!). The character sprites are charming and full of life, which is impressive, because Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is completely 8-bit. The music is just as nostalgia inducing in addition to being really good even ignoring the nostalgia factor. The boss themes are also really good, partly because they are, as far as I can tell, more energetic remixes of the regular stage music.

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Before you ask why Shovel Knight is red in this
image, it's because you can customize him and 
the other Knights with different outfits.

So the question at the end of the day is, should you buy Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove? Yes. Treasure Trove is basically three games in one, all of which have been carefully crafted to pay homage of the greatest games of a by-gone era while making it worthwhile for folks who never got into the 8-bit craze. The only real flaw, if you really want to call it that, is the somewhat steep learning curve present in all three campaigns, but then again, that's how games USED to be before all this "modern games are too hand-hold-y" shenanigans.So I give Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove a 10/10.

*- Starscream is a villainous character from the Transformers franchise, famous for betraying other villains to pursue his own personal agendas, just like how Plague Knight betrayed the Order of No Quarter for the surprisingly selfish goal of creating THE ULTIMATE POTION in the name of SCIENCE!!!

**- That was a Power Rangers reference. Obviously.

P.S. I almost forgot to mention, Yacht Club Games aren't done adding content to this neo-retro masterpiece of a game. They are currently working on a FOURTH campaign starring King Knight, as well as a four-player Battle Mode which I am assuming will be some kind of PvP.

P.P.S. Using a shovel as a weapon... What a GROUND-BREAKING idea, Yacht Club Games!

P.P.P.S. I guess you could say that I had a BLAST playing as Plague Knight (because his moveset involves using bombs)!

P.P.P.P.S I know this game can cause people to rage quit, but don't throw in the TROWEL!!!

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