With the major success of the Shovel Knight Kickstarter campaign, Yacht Club knew they had something special on their hands. They worked tirelessly to give us an experience that lived up to classic NES platformers. Shovel Knight passed this test with flying colors. It became a miniature phenomenon in itself. Inspiring a whole host of indie game crowdfunding campaigns.
Yet Yacht Club job was not done yet, they had promised us 3 DLC campaigns and a multiplayer battle mode. The first of these DLC campaigns was to center around the conniving Plague Knight. The base game had built him a very interesting character, so fans were intrigued to find out what else Yacht Club had in store.
Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows focuses on the signature Plague Knight, and side character Mona. In Shovel of Hope Mona only served to give you a simple minigame. Many found this choice odd, but I think they definitely made the right one. You as Plague Knight must gather the essence of the entire Order of no Quarter. Putting you directly at odds with your teammates, and perhaps on the path of a few heroes as well.
Plague of Shadows takes place at the same time Shovel Knight is going through his journey. The game reminds you of that well enough. I found it cute.
Plague Knight is many things, but Shovel Knight he isn’t. Plague Knight has a poor jump, but the ability to double jump, and a special boost by charging with the attack button. Platforming was hard with Plague Knight. It took until the end of the game for me to feel like I was in control. Plague Knight attacks by throwing potions, much like his boss fight. It was neat at first, but quickly became annoying when I got into some of the bosses designed for Shovel Knight’s movest.
Plague Knight’s journey is very similar to Shovel Knight’s. You go through the same areas, fight the same bosses. There’s a lot of unique dialogue, and level changes. Most of it is incredibly similar. I wouldn’t have been able to do this back to back with the original. It would’ve dragged too hard. It felt too exact to the first game. Much like the Mario Lost Levels. As a sequel, that’s a horrible thing.
One of my favorite details in the entire game was that Plague Knight would often run into Shovel Knight, and avoid him. You fight him twice in the entire campaign, much as Shovel Knight fights him twice in his. It was just one of those things that constantly brought a smile when he showed up, or was present in other ways. Sometimes as simple as hearing the sound of digging in The Explodatorium.
When I first tried this game I played only for a few hours. I got so incredibly mad that I had to put it down. I don’t know exactly what I felt, but I couldn’t stand those first hours. If I didn’t agree to this whole Shovel Knight marathon I wouldn’t have continued.
I was frustrated because I had just finished such a wonderful game only to be faced with a harder, for the sake of hard, version of it. I missed the free-flowing control of Shovel Knight. I hated this stiffer character. The game didn’t feel like it was designed with him in mind.
Plague of Shadows makes many changes to accommodate for Plague Knight’s unique movement. It doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from Shovel of Hope. I have no doubt that people can have a fun time navigating the stages. I just couldn’t do it with joy.
Plague of Shadows feels like the exact opposite of Shovel of Hope. Shovel of Hope had amazing platforming, and poor combat. Plague of Shadows’ combat is easily the best thing the game has to offer. I had so much fun in boss fights that it came close to making me forget how much I hated the stages.
Plague Knight can buy different potion bottles, fuses, and mixtures. Changing the effects of said potion drastically. Some change so you only throw 2, but they do far more damage. Others turn into pillars of fire that travel a long way down the stage. Mixing and matching the potions was super fun!
Plague Knight feels designed for combat, but thrown into a platforming world. Unlike Mega Man, he doesn’t adapt to it well. Perhaps Plague Knight truly is the polar opposite of Shovel Knight. Shovel Knight isn’t a boss rush though, it’s a platformer. Plague of Shadows is also mostly platforming gameplay. I think Plague of Shadows falls hard because of it.
In my opinion it doesn’t succeed as a sequel. It improves combat but makes the primary gameplay far worse. Sure it is an enjoyable package, but I can’t give excuses. I can’t convince myself that this would be a good deal on its own. Plague of Shadows stands tall as a game with amazing combat, wonderful presentation, and awful platforming. I was mixed on Plague of Shadows. If you are getting the Treasure Trove, it is worth a try.