Shovel Knight is easily the greatest Kickstarter success story ever told. Yacht Club Games asked for at least $75,000 to get the project off the ground, and instead wound up receiving $311,502 across 14,749 backers; in the process, they managed to reach every single promised stretch goal, including three separate story campaigns for three members of the game’s villainous Order of No Quarter.
(Logo courtesy of Yacht Club Games)
As of this writing, two of these campaigns have already been released, and today we’re going to talk about the first one that was released in 2015: Plague of Shadows, the story of the Order’s slightly-unhinged alchemist, Plague Knight.
Unbeknownst to the rest of the Order of No Quarter as they try to fend off Shovel Knight and his quest, Plague Knight has his own plans. Rather than planning a coup d’état to overthrow the Enchantress and rule the Order himself, he plans to steal the “Essences” of the Order’s knights to brew the Ultimate Potion, a concoction that would give him anything his heart desires. But there’s far more to Plague Knight’s mission than you may be lead to believe…
Allow me to be straight-up here: The story doesn’t have the same sort of emotional punch that Shovel of Hope had, and is a very straightforward tale. The thing is that Yacht Club Games’ method of integrating storytelling and gameplay in Shovel of Hope was a brilliant idea that made the journey all the more meaningful. With Plague of Shadows, it’s a much more standard telling of what Plague Knight was up to behind the scenes. However, I should point out that this is not to say that this story is bad; Yacht Club Games have established themselves as great storytellers regardless of how they go about it, and Plague of Shadows is no different.
With all of that being said, one thing that Yacht Club Games should be commended for is character depth. They went out of their way to add much more in the way of personality not just to Plague Knight, but also to some characters you may not expect. Of particular note is Mona, the woman who ran the potion-busting minigame in Shovel of Hope; here, she’s a focal point of Plague Knight’s story. Watching Plague Knight interact with Mona, as well as many of the other characters, is bound to put a smile on your face, and it makes for a story that’s every bit as charming as Shovel of Hope’s was.
Graphics and music are unchanged from Shovel of Hope, which means you won’t be seeing much in the way of new stuff. The few new things that are introduced, however, are up to the same level of quality Yacht Club Games is known for; the Potionarium hub, being the only real graphical example that can be brought up, is well-detailed and bristling with perhaps more personality than the village from the base game.
Musically, Jake Kaufman only delivers ten new tracks. But whether it’s “The Alchemist’s Haven” delivering a more subdued take on Manami Matsumae’s “Flowers of Antimony” for the Potionarium, or the pleasantly misty-eyed “Waltz for One,” they’re once again all hits. You might not be getting much in the way of new material, but what’s here is still top-shelf.
Where Shovel Knight takes a straightforward approach with his gameplay, Plague Knight’s gameplay is the opposite: Diverse, and intricate. The star of the show here is a wide array of bomb setups; casings, fuses, powders and bursts can be combined in a myriad of ways for both offensive and defensive trickery. In addition, it gives Plague Knight mobility that is a cut above Shovel Knight, who often struggled with mobility other than standard run-and-jump fare. While having to pop in and out of the submenu to shuffle your setup can be annoying, it’s worth trying out all kinds of combinations to see what works best.
Plague Knight also has his own answer to Shovel Knight’s Relics, the Arcana. They’re certainly useful, but only a few of them find consistent use. The issue is that Plague Knight’s array of bomb combinations is so deep that most of the Arcana rarely see use. That’s not to say that they’re bad, but you’ll only really be using the Bait Bomb, Leech Liquid, and Vat more than anything else, with the latter being clutch over any bottomless pit.
The game’s difficulty is interesting. Navigating stages is trickier than before due to Plague Knight’s mechanics. Even with increased vertical mobility compared to what Shovel Knight has, it’s still easy to miss a jump, whether you overshoot it or otherwise. On the other hand, you can mow down bosses with relative ease if you have the right combination. Some of the later bosses might pose a stiffer challenge, but even then, most times all it takes is a well-placed bomb throw to finish the job. This may make a playthrough of Plague of Shadows longer or shorter than an average Shovel of Hope playthrough, depending on how you go about playing the game.
Plague of Shadows is a rock-solid follow-up to Shovel of Hope. Even though its story doesn’t hold the same weight, it’s still a joy to play the game through Plague Knight’s perspective. What’s more, thanks to the depth of the bombs and Arcana, the flexibility in how you can approach each level is a real treat, especially for more technical players and speedrunners. Give this a whirl if you enjoyed Shovel of Hope; once you get past the initial learning curve…which is pretty steep compared to Shovel of Hope…you’ll be having yourself a blast.
‘Til we meet again,