By Thom Compton 17.04.2017
Kickstarter game projects get a really bad wrap, though it's not wholly unjustified. For every Hyper Light Drifter there's a Mighty No. 9. Still, there have been success stories, and one such story was Shovel Knight. At a time when it seemed like every Kickstarter project was getting delayed into oblivion, Shovel Knight arrived to give gamers hope that the platform could be used to produce quality work. Specter of Torment is the newest instalment of Shovel Knight, and it holds many of the standards of the original game in place. Unfortunately, it falters a bit more than the original.
Specter of Torment puts players in the position of Specter Knight. They will move through the world of the original game, albeit from the safety of a giant mirror. The hub is kind of nice, but it removes some of the excitement from exploring the giant world map. This, however, shows the precarious position many Shovel Knight fans will be in. If viewing this as an expansion, or even a proper sequel, that would be a mistake. Specter of Torment instead feels like a reboot, a sequel, and a totally different game all wrapped in one.
The tone is very malicious. Specter Knight is one of the bad guys, and levels have been given a much darker tone than may be remembered. This manages to work its way into the hub, the level design and even the artwork. Whereas in Shovel Knight everything had a hopeful charm, Specter Knight's adventure seems to be taking place during an eternal solar eclipse, with each environment being hopelessly dreadful.
Much like with Plague Knight, Specter Knight has his own style of fighting. It essentially amounts to being nimble, often airborne, and fast. Specter Knight could easily have been a ballerina, à la HP Lovecraft. His fighting fits perfectly with the Castlevania style aesthetic. He can progress in his move set, much like Shovel Knight, but the fluidity always seem to be present.
That is, the fluidity if you're using a controller. Controlling Specter Knight is great with a gamepad. On a keyboard, players will spend a lot of time fighting with the controls. Now, it's at this point it's important to note that, of course, some of the more proficient keyboard users will probably dance their fingers around the keys with enough grace their hands could end up in the next Dirty Dancing remake. Unfortunately, for the rest of the gamers out there, it would look like their hands' first time playing Dance Dance Revolution. Things like wall running and quickly dashing through the air while slashing through a bush are not very fun with a keyboard, so a controller is practically mandatory to enjoy the experience.
Beyond this, the retro feel that Shovel Knight is known for has been even further refined. The pixel art is beyond sublime, and just hearing the game start is like being transported back to 1993. While the controls may not work as well as they could, just buy a controller, because Specter of Torment is just as great as the game that spawned it.
Specter of Torment feels like a new mode more than a sequel or an expansion, and it benefits from this. With a new story, completely new move set, and a much darker tone, it's a must-play for fans of the original release. Make sure to grab a controller, because the keyboard isn't ideal for everything Specter Knight is capable of. Congratulations, Specter Knight; you're too good for a keyboard.