After the longest success story in gaming Yacht Club still had one last story to tell. The story of King Knight, a fan favorite, Shovel Knight’s last stretch-goal campaign. Yacht Club decided to aim for the stars. They set their heart on creating the longest experience of the four campaigns. Riddled with secrets, fun stages, and a virtual card game. The scope of King of Cards is something to admire. Let’s see if they hit the shot, shall we?
A new card game is sweeping the nation! The world can’t seem to get enough of Joustus! A group has organized a tournament to compete for the title “King of Cards!” One earns this title by beating the three Joustus Judges, proving their superior intelligence, and earning the respect of the world’s kings.
King Knight isn’t the most unique of the playable knights. He has a Wario-esque shoulder bash. Hitting an enemy with it will cause you to spin. You can attack enemies in the air, bounce on platforms, and dig up treasure. It’s a very simplistic moveset. Much more complicated than Shovel Knight, but definitely easier to grasp at first than Specter Knight. I had the purest fun with King Knight’s movement. He just felt the best out of the four to me.
Combat in King of Cards might even top Plague Knight! Who up until this game was my favorite knight to just purely battle enemies. King Knight’s moveset gives him a very unique way to tackle the different enemies of the journey. The bosses are all designed with these new moves in mind. They just felt like a joy to tackle each and every time!
King Knight collects treasure in the same way as the others. Exclusive to King of Cards specifically are the merit medals. These are relatively unique among the game-exclusive collectibles of the past. With only three per stage, and use as a currency in some shops. They are often hidden in hard to reach spaces, or rewarded for other tasks. I liked them.
This time instead of relics King of Cards introduces the heirloom. They work in the exactly the same ways as before. Unique items that are situationally useful. Most heirlooms have stages attached to them. Heirlooms can be purchased with merit medals. I was very happy to see the “curio stages” concept return from Specter of Torment. Even I never used other curios, seeing the exclusive stages around them was so much fun.
Heirlooms are incredibly unbalanced. Most of them were either too good or downright useless. I didn’t use any, in gameplay, until the end of my run. Where I unlocked the Bubble Frog heirloom. It is far too overpowered, and it remained a permanent fixture of my moveset.
You can also find decrees, a one-use item with a special effect, in treasure chests during levels. I never used a single decree. They never crossed my mind when the situation would’ve called for one. Most of the time, I needed emergency saving, I just used Bubble Frog.
King of Cards introduces Joustus to the Shovel Knight universe! A card game based around collecting gems with a limited number of spaces to play your card. I won’t cover the rules of Joustus too thoroughly. Each card has a set of arrows, or other effects, on it. It determines from what sides a card can be pushed, or if it can be at all. There are plenty of modifiers in Joustus. Some cards can blow others up, or flip their color. Winning is determined by who has the most gems when the play area is completely filled in. By completing Joustus rounds, you earn merit medals.
Joustus is played within Joustus Houses throughout the game. Joustus Houses feature a few challengers within them. After completing every other member within a Joustus House you may challenge the Joustus Champion. Once you have beaten the champion, you may continue on your journey. Joustus Houses may contain different secrets within walls. The thing I found most fun with them were bonus challenges where you must win a game of Joustus in one turn. They weren’t required for beating the house, and could easily be brute-forced, but they were fun little challenges.
I didn’t like Joustus much at all. I found the AI would often have just what it needed to completely screw me over, where I’d be stuck with an awful hand. What made it all worse was losing a game meant the enemy can take one of your cards. Of course, you can take an enemy’s card too upon winning the match. You can buy back lost cards from Chester and cheats from him too, but they were never too useful.
Joustus is so prominent within King of Cards that it is a literal roadblock for those who don’t enjoy it. I often didn’t want to continue when I’d be stuck with having to clear a Joustus house before going about my adventure. Joustus as a concept would’ve been perfectly fine as an extra bonus game where merit medals could be earned. I hated the decision to force it upon us to complete the game.
The game has a lot to offer in level design. The maps now feature secret exits! The game just dares you to explore each nook and cranny of every level to find them all. Sometimes you will find little golden hooks. These take you to a separate challenge area to collect a lot of money. Before reverting you onto your original path. King of Cards makes sure to alert you of the different secret paths you can take. Definitely, something I got a lot of enjoyment from!
King of Cards brings it’s A-game to presentation. The graphics and music are the best the series has yet to offer. Such vivid locations that stick in the mind for much longer than I expected. I still find myself humming some tracks and jingles from the game too! If King of Cards is a small peek into Yacht Clubs future projects, including Shovel Knight Dig, I am all here for it!
My experience with King of Cards was definitely a positive one. Joustus brought the entire experience down a lot. I was originally very harsh on Joustus, I still strongly dislike it, but it’s something one can work through if they truly wish to beat the game. Of course, I can’t excuse that! That’s like getting a moldy breadstick at Olive Garden and being told to “just eat around it if you love us so much!” I’m not sure if I could recommend it as a stand-alone experience outside of the Treasure Trove.