It’s been almost 3 years since the release of Shovel Knight and now Yacht Club games is back with the release of Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment, a standalone game that's also part of the Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove.
As a prequel to Shovel Knight, Specter of Torment allows you to jump into the boots of Specter Knight and tells the story of how he gained his powers, as well as the formation of the Enchantress' Order of No Quarter. Specter Knight’s backstory is told through playable dream sequences similar to Shovel Knight’s where you play as Specter Knight when he was still alive. These backstory scenes are fantastic and give more depth to Specter Knight’s character. All of the story elements in Specter of Torment may not blow you away, but I still think it’s well done overall.
The biggest change with taking the role of Specter Knight is the combat and traversal. Gone is the ability to pogo off enemies Scrooge McDuck style and instead the dash slash is introduced. The dash slash allows you to jump towards enemies with an attack that helps propel yourself either upwards or downwards depending on the angle of the attack. This isn’t limited to only enemies as some of the objects in the background will also allow you to utilize this ability and you’ll need to make use of this to make it through each level.
Specter Knight is also able to climb short distances up walls, allowing you to reach areas you wouldn’t normally be able to access. This ability combined with the dash slash makes up for the bulk of the game’s traversal and gives the game a fast pace. This can also lead some of the game’s most difficult moments, as one mistimed jump from a wall climb or the wrong angle on a dash slash can result in certain death. With enough practice, I found that Specter Knight’s movement became second nature to me with fast, fluid motion, though I could see this being challenging to players new to retro action-platforming games.
Another new change is the level selection. Rather than going to the overhead map after every level, you return to the enchantress’ tower which serves as the base of operations. Similar to one of the towns from Shovel Knight, you can interact with NPCs, buy Curios as well as their upgrades, as well as access the stage select. That’s right, similar to Mega Man, Specter of Torment allows you to take down any of the game’s 8 bosses in any order you choose. While I thought the map design from the original game was a nice addition, I found that being able to choose what order to complete the stages in to be the better system. Each stage has a gold reward amount tied to it which is it’s way of telling you the difficulty of each stage. There are additional levels before and after these 8 stages but I won’t spoil here how that works.
The game’s main stage’s locations as well as bosses are all pulled from the original Shovel Knight but have been completely reworked. Stage layouts are completely different from the base game, complete with new textures and background art. They utilise new enemies and mechanics as well as returning ones that make use of Specter Knight’s unique abilities. While bosses visually look the same, there are major differences in their mechanics and locations, leading to wildly different boss fights from the first game.
With the audio design in Shovel Knight being so strong, being able to surpass it was no easy task. While the vast majority of the sound effects being borrowed from the original, Jake Kaufman outdid himself with the music. With a combination of new songs and remixes of all of the original themes, the soundtrack is just as good, if not better than the original Shovel Knight’s. Not only that, it succeeds in giving Specter of Torment a unique feel that meshes well with the game’s faster pace.
Once you complete the game, there’s a challenge mode containing unique levels meant to test your skills. There’s also a New Game+ mode, allowing you to start a new game with your current equipment that combines your magic and health in one health bar that depletes over time and is quite challenging. The main campaign took roughly 4 ½ hours to complete with 88% item collection.
Specter of Torment is a free update to any previous owners of the original Shovel Knight, it’s also it’s own standalone product as well. Whether you play it as part of the Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove or purchase it on it’s own, Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment is a tour de force! Yacht Club Games really outdid themselves with Specter of Torment, creating a game that’s superior to Shovel Knight in every way. If you are fan like me of retro action-platformers like Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania, Specter of Torment is a must play!