By Drew Hurley 20.03.2017 1
Shovel Knight has dug its way into the hearts of players around the world and has continued to put out quality games since its launch in 2014. This latest in Yacht Club Games' series is the third expansion to that original game, but is also the first standalone game and a prequel to the original. Specter of Torment chronicles the creation of the Enchantress' "Order of No Quarter," with each of the dark knights being headhunted quite literally by the Specter Knight, while also telling the backstory of the Specter Knight via flashbacks.
Specter Knight's story picks up with him already working for the Enchantress and being ordered out into the world to supplicate the great Knights of the world. Those who have played the original Shovel Knight will be well versed on the members of the Order of No Quarter, but this is not just a retread. Playing as the Specter Knight is very different to the Shovel Knight and the Plague Knight of the past. The mechanics focus more on aerial gameplay, both in combat and exploration. The Specter Knight can lock on and attack both enemies and elements of the scenery, which let him shoot through or bounce off onto otherwise unreachable areas, combined with a wall run/wall jump makes for a fantastically fluid and fun platforming experience.
The game is centralised around the Tower of Fate. Acting as a hub between stages, there are a whole host of evil minions; some are able to sell weapons, upgrades and special "curio" weapons, some are there just for a bit of comedy flavour, and others offer special challenges. One of these minions has a special portal to transport the Specter Knight to the lair of each enemy he must recruit. Like the legendary Mega Man series, each of the stages are centred around these enemies, with unique and challenging new experiences, overflowing with tons of nods and homages to the very best of 2D platformers. There's an ice stage where the platforms are made for slipping and sliding, an underwater stage, areas where the stage moves and falling behind results in an instant death, and plenty of other familiar settings.
While jumping and slashing through each of the stages there is plenty of items to pick up along the way. The usual gold coins and gems used to purchase new pieces of armour and to upgrade special equipment, "curios." These curios are purchased using Red Skulls, 10 of which are hidden on each stage to try and track down, along with a special chest on each stage that permanently increases the HP (Will) and MP (Darkness). The curios are fun, but a little overpowered, making some of the more challenging stages a great deal easier, as well as giving the ability to float or teleport to enemies, or deliver huge melee attacks, amongst others. At the conclusion of each stage, the boss Knight awaits, and again it harkens back to the Mega Man series, with each boss Knight having unique abilities and sequences to learn.
Upon completion of the story, a New Game Plus mode is unlocked, which grants all of the previously acquired equipment, and also combines the Will and Darkness bars, replacing them with a single bar, which constantly decreases. This puts a real pressure on keeping an eye on this bar and speeding through to get to the next checkpoint. It's pleasantly challenging. Speaking of challenges, a challenge mode is unlocked, too - a handful of quick, short stages, along with revisits to each boss, but this time with limited abilities available during the fights.
Yacht Club Games once again manages to deliver a game that perfectly captures the heart of the 80s classics, while still managing to feel fresh. Specter of Torment is just so ridiculously enjoyable and satisfying that it's hard to put it down. Zelda isn't the only must-buy title on Switch right now. This is the perfect accompaniment to "Switch" to when you need a break. Easy to pick up and put down, and great playing on the go, this is definitely worth the cost. Even better: for those new to the series, Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is fantastic value.