Should you buy Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment?

Yacht Club games has come out with yet another Shovel Knight update, proving that they have distilled the retro gaming experience down to its purest components. Their latest release, Specter of Torment, could have been yet another run-through of the Shovel Knight stages we all know and love and we would have eaten it up. But it’s so much more than that. It offers revamped gameplay mechanics, totally new stages, and enough content to border on sequel territory.

Let’s Get Serious

Specter of Torment puts you in the ghostly shoes of Specter Knight, one of the members of the Order of No Quarter. Unlike Plague Knight’s chapter, which played out as a sort of goofy side story, Specter of Torment is a direct prequel to the events of Shovel Knight. It takes itself surprisingly seriously and it really works. The events of Specter of Torment are framed in a darker context than even the main Shovel Knight campaign, and this gravity feels fresh in a game that has largely reminded us of more colorful NES titles like Mega Man and Duck Tales.

Speaking of NES classics, Yacht Club has been clear that their protagonists were built to feel like mashups of your favorite 8-bit characters. Shovel Knight himself felt like Scrooge McDuck and Simon Belmont had an armored baby, and Plague Knight felt like a sort of floaty Mega Man. Specter Knight is no different, combining elements of Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden and Sonic the Hedgehog, of all things.

Specter Knight’s main mobility trick is the ability to run up walls, wall jump, and ledge grab. Unlike Shovel Knight and Plague Knight, who both had problems with verticality, Specter Knight only needs to get into the vague vicinity of a platform to pull himself up onto it.

Specter Knight’s main attack is also a method of mobility. It is essentially the homing attack from later Sonic games. He will always come at his target at either an upward or downward angle, however, ending on the opposite side. This allows him to move from enemy to enemy in mid-air by chaining his slashes together. He can also grind on raise, much like Sonic could in later games.

Overall, Specter Knight is a far more mobile character compared to Shovel or Plague Knight, and would easily blow through all of Shovel Knight’s original levels. That’s why Specter Knight’s campaign features an entirely new set of levels to traverse. Unlike Plague Knight’s levels, which were just small remixes of the original Shovel Knight levels, each and every level in Plague Knight’s campaign is completely unique and designed for his movement mechanics. It really does feel like a new game. The only thing the levels share is assets, but even then you’ll encounter new enemies and remixed bosses with new abilities that mix-up the experience. There’s even new background music to listen to!

Prepare for Battle

All of this new content does come at a sacrifice to total length, however. Specter Knight’s campaign is shorter than both Shovel Knight and Plague Knight’s campaign. Several aspects of the original campaign have been trimmed down. For example, Specter Knight doesn’t even have a map to traverse. He simply selects his levels from a central hub world, Mega Man-style.

Specter Knight’s campaign also feels more combat-oriented than either Shovel Knight’s or Plague Knight’s. It was very easy to bounce off an enemy’s head until they died with Shovel Knight or chuck homing grenades vaguely in the enemy’s direction with Plague Knight. Specter Knight’s combat is far more intricate, requiring the player to string together slashes and unique “darkness” abilities in combos. In fact, you recharge your darkness by killing or attacking enemies, kind of like a fighting game character. It’s also worth noting that nearly all of Specter Knight’s abilities cause him to move, which makes it difficult to spam attacks. However, Specter Knight’s battles do feel as if they have an extra dimension of environmental interaction to them. Where Specter Knight attacks from is just as important as how he attacks.

And there’s way more content here that makes this campaign worth playing, from armor upgrades, to hidden collectibles. It just feels great to be traversing the world of Shovel Knight again in a totally new way. So if you are already a Shovel Knight fan, it’s obvious that you should pick up and play Specter of Torment. It’s everything you loved from the original and then some. Besides, original purchasers and backers get this chapter for free anyway.

But if you haven’t experienced Shovel Knight before, you have some choices. You can either pick up Specter of Torment alone for 10 dollars, or pick up the Shovel Knight Treasure Trove for 25 dollars. Frankly, we can’t recommend the Treasure Trove enough. It comes with Shovel Knight’s, Plague Knight’s, and Specter Knight’s campaigns, along with all the DLC that used to be exclusive to Nintendo platforms, like co-op mode. It’s the definitive way to experience this indie classic.