When Shovel Knight was Kickstarted in March 2013 and subsequently met its funding goal, Yacht Club Games announced additional content to follow its release if stretch goals were met. The developer is now delivering on its promise with the release of a new downloadable campaign titled Plague of Shadows. We recently had the opportunity to preview the much-anticipated new content and not only did it meet our expectations, but it provided a completely new and unexpected experience in Shovel Knight gameplay.
There's not much that we can say here that hasn't already been revealed by the developers, but what we can do is talk about how having your hands on Plague of Shadows puts everything into perspective. The truth about this new content is that it doesn't build off of the Shovel Knight that we already know and love, but it instead rebuilds everything from the ground up. If anyone is still concerned that this is little more than a costume swap, they're in for a pleasant surprise. Plague of Shadows is the kind of additional content that makes players want to revisit a game long after completion and work their way through the world all over again.
The obvious big change here is the ability to play as fan-favorite villain Plague Knight, but the new content goes much deeper than just a sprite swap. Beyond looking different than Shovel Knight, Plague Knight plays in a completely different way than the shovel-wielding hero. The controls remain as tight as ever, but his bombastic movement – as seen in the original campaign's boss battle – is recreated perfectly, giving the feeling that you're playing a different, much more chaotic game. Plague Knight's use of explosions as both weapons and a makeshift triple jump rather than equipping a shovel means that you have to rethink how the game is played and approach situations from a different angle.
The stages throughout the campaign remain the same as they were in Shovel Knight, but new paths have been added, made accessible only by Plague Knight's unique move set. Players will be familiar with the environments, but being able to explore them in a completely new way makes the experience feel fresh. Rather than streamlining stages to be quickly passed through with the new character, new areas are accessible and old areas have been made either easier or more difficult to reach, depending on your play style. It's impressive to see a game be turned completely on its head in a way that makes it feel like something totally different. We can not express enough that Plague of Shadows is the type of content that would do well to stand on its own as a standalone game. It's great to see the universe's lore being expanded, but there's enough content here to justify an independent release.
The original Shovel Knight was not a platformer for the faint of heart, and from what we experienced with Plague of Shadows, neither is this new campaign. Being familiar with the environments and enemies that you'll encounter is a leg up, but it really means nothing when you consider that you're essentially playing a different game. We were able to defeat some enemies with greater ease using Plague Knight's signature bombs, but figuring out the best way to jump and blast through the environments is going to take a bit of getting used to. In other words, we died more times than we'd like to admit.
Our time with Plague of Shadows was limited, but even in our short playtime it was made apparent that this is truly something special. Arguably the best part of the whole thing is that the expansion will be available to download for free later this week to everyone who already owns a copy of Shovel Knight on the 3DS or Wii U. All of the effort that has been put into Plague of Shadows, coupled with the recent amiibo announcement and all of the additional content that it brings along with it, makes it clear that Shovel Knight is a franchise with plenty more to offer, and we're looking forward to digging into it.