Shovel Knight came out back in June 2014, and it’s a wonderful 8-bit-inspired 2D platformer that’s one of my favorite games from this decade. As part of the Kickstarter for Shovel Knight, developer Yacht Club Games promised an enormous amount of content in the months and years to come. This week, the studio finally released the third and final expansion, Shovel Knight: King of Cards, as well as an entirely new fighting game called Shovel Knight Showdown. For fans of the series, the new releases are a welcome excuse to dig further into Shovel Knight’s charming world. But if you didn’t love the original, they likely won’t change your mind.
King of Cards stars the humorously pompous King Knight, and just like the other three Shovel Knight campaigns, he has a unique mechanic and play style that the whole game is built around. King Knight’s signature move is a powerful shoulder bash that feels a lot like Wario’s from the Wario Land series. When you bash into something, King Knight will twirl through the air, letting you bounce on enemies, break through certain types of ground, and dig through treasure piles.
Yacht Club puts King Knight’s shoulder bash and graceful twirl to clever use in smartly designed levels that are typically built around one specific mechanic or gimmick, similar to levels in side-scrolling Mario games. King of Cards’ levels are also much shorter than those in previous games, but there are more of them to charge through. Their brevity and focus make them the best levels out of any of the Shovel Knight campaigns.
Outside of the level design, King of Cards also boasts an impressive amount of charm. Throughout the game, you’ll have a lot of silly interactions with many characters you’ve seen from previous Shovel Knight campaigns (and a few new ones), each packed with the series’s typical groan-inducing puns. I also became surprisingly invested in the plot; King Knight is definitely my new favorite character in the series.
You won’t just be running through platforming levels in King of Cards. You can also play a card game called Joustus. With a deck of 16 cards (each based on enemies or characters from the world of Shovel Knight), you’ll square off with an opponent on a game board grid to push each other’s cards around to vie for gems on the board. It’s a bit confusing to describe, and that’s partly because I found the game a bit confusing and frustrating to play.
There wasn’t a good tutorial, and each time you lose, an opponent can take one of the cards that you played, discouraging you from experimenting. (You can buy cards back that you’ve lost, but they cost valuable gold that I preferred to put toward upgrades for King Knight.) Fortunately, you can go through the entire campaign without playing Joustus once, though you’ll need to play it many times if you want to 100 percent the game.
Several of my issues with Joustus also carry over to Shovel Knight Showdown, the entirely separate Shovel Knight-themed fighting game. The best way to describe it is something like Shovel Knight meets Super Smash Bros. meets Towerfall. You get to play as Shovel Knight or one of many Shovel Knight characters, including each of the eight main villains and some fun unlockable surprise characters.
As a huge Shovel Knight and Super Smash Bros. fan, I figured I would love Showdown. But I found matches to be difficult to follow, and the mechanics were rather shallow. Most of the time, I found it was most effective to just jump around and spam my main attack button.
While it doesn’t necessarily succeed as a great fighting game, Showdown is excellent fan service. I loved playing as Shovel Knight’s great cast of characters, particularly the small bits of lore revealed in through each character’s playthrough in story mode. (This mode is quite similar to the Classic Mode from Super Smash Bros., right down to the mildly fun but boring after the third time mini-game you’re forced to play through.)
If you haven’t cared about Shovel Knight before, King of Cards and Showdown probably won’t change that. But for existing fans, they’re great additions, packed with creative levels and lots of fun new lore that builds on the lovingly crafted Shovel Knight universe. Both games are also free if you’ve already bought Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, which has all of the previously released Shovel Knight expansions, making Treasure Trove one of the best deals in gaming.
Shovel Knight: King of Cards is available today on Linux, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Steam, Xbox One, Vita, Wii U, and Windows. It will be available on Nintendo 3DS on December 13th, and Yacht Club Games says the PS3 version is in the “final steps of submission.”
Shovel Knight Showdown is also available today on Linux, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Steam, Xbox One, Vita, Wii U, and Windows, with the PS3 version in the “final steps of submission.” Yacht Club Games has more details about release rollouts on its website.