When Shovel Knight launched in 2014 it was already an indie darling. In our review we called it "utterly satisfying and wonderful." Shovel Knight became a massive critical and commercial success for Yacht Club Games, which is now a household name among gamers all over the world. Not content to rest on their laurels following Shovel Knight's success, the team at Yacht Club has been hard at work expanding the indie gem - first with the release of Plague of Shadows in 2015, and now with the first standalone expansion to the Shovel Knight universe, Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment.
Specter of Torment is a prequel to the original Shovel Knight which tells the story of Specter Knight, the scythe-wielding member of The Order of No Quarter. The Enchantress has tasked Specter Knight with essentially building the order on her behalf. This sets up Specter Knight's conflict with the knights who would become the same villains Shovel Knight faces in the first game, while also delving into his origin.
Unlike Shovel Knight and Plague of Shadows, Specter of Torment focuses on a single hub world versus an overworld map. All the familiar sights are there: vendors that will sell you items in any chests you may have missed, new clothing and unique items that will grant Specter Knight new abilities, at the cost of some of his darkness.
Where Shovel Knight and Plague Knight use magic power to utilize the curios they find on their respective journeys, Specter Knight uses his own inner darkness. Also, instead of life, Specter Knight is kept alive by his will, which functions in the same way a typical life meter would.
Much like Plague Knight before him, Specter Knight plays significantly differently than our titular hero. The core of Specter of Torment's gameplay centers around his scythe. While Specter of Torment takes place in familiar locales from the series, the new addition of lanterns in key locations is very important, as Specter Knight can use these to perform a rising or descending slash that will propel him toward and beyond his target. These lanterns are the setups for a number of platform puzzles that require precise timing. As with both prior entries in the series, the platforming in Specter of Torment is satisfying in a way that few games manage in this day and age.
Understanding how to navigate tricky terrain as our undead antihero comes easily thanks to Yacht Club Games's deft hand in level design. New elements are introduced in a very Nintendo-like fashion, with simple low-risk implementations coming early on before you take on more complex maneuvers. Each level feels simultaneously familiar and new, which makes sense given the game's premise.
Specter of Torment is short but sweet, clocking in at just under four hours on our first run through, though your mileage may vary depending on how strong your 8-bit platforming chops are. In your sanctum you'll find a magic mirror that will teleport you to any one of the Order of No Quarter's knights' lairs, lending a Megaman-like feel to the proceedings - however, interspersed throughout you'll experience playable flashbacks to Specter Knight's life as a member of the living, which serve to push the story forward. At the end, as is customary, Specter Knight will have a final confrontation with a boss which we won't spoil here, but it's every bit as entertaining as the rest of the game.
Specter of Torment is the latest in a fantastic series of games; it further cements Yacht Club Games's reputation as a developer capable of crafting experiences that are not only on par with, but often surpass the efforts of some of the largest studios in the world.
The game's excellent level design, charming art style and top-notch soundtrack hold up as well in 2017 as they did three years ago in the original Shovel Knight. If you haven't played a Shovel Knight game before, we would highly recommend you pick up Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove for your Switch instead of this, as it contains Specter of Torment as well, but if you'd rather save some cash you can't go wrong with Specter of Torment.