Review

Shovel Knight: Specter Of Torment Review

  • First Released Dec 31, 2015
    released
  • NS

The floor is made of lava.

Shovel Knight is defined by its likeness to games from the era of 8-bit consoles. It takes inspiration from games like Mega Man and Ducktales not only in its pixel- and pitch-perfect audiovisual aesthetic, but also in its mechanics--Shovel Knight is a resolutely unforgiving 2D platformer. Peril is almost always present on screen--be it a bottomless pit or a tough enemy that can quickly whittle down your health--making this a game that demands your undivided attention as much as it does your quick reflexes. Specter of Torment is the latest expansion to Shovel Knight, a prequel that's available as a standalone campaign on Nintendo Switch or a free update to those who already own the main game, and it follows the titular Specter Knight as he sets out to gather an army for the series' primary antagonist, The Enchantress.

Specter Knight's default skillset is dramatically more varied than that of Shovel Knight, with a focus on the lightness and dexterity of his character, as opposed to Shovel Knight's heavier, brute-force feel. Specter Knight has an innate ability to wall jump, mount ledges, and vertically scale walls for a short time. Most significantly, Specter has the ability to perform a mid-air scythe dash on enemies and certain environmental objects, an attack which sends him flying at an angle and is used for traversal as much as it is for offence.

The execution of these moves is simple, requiring nothing more than a timely press of the attack or jump buttons, and together they make Specter feel like a powerfully agile character who is a joy to control. But with these abilities come more difficult challenges in Specter of Torment's new platforming levels. Unlike Shovel Knight, whose stages gradually grew in difficulty and were gated in an overworld map style reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3, Specter of Torment presents you with the full selection of what I personally found to be equally-challenging stages and their accompanying boss fights, available to be tackled in any order in a structure more reminiscent of the Mega Man series.

Bottomless pits and other instant-death hazards feel more abundant in Specter of Torment, and proceeding forward almost always involves more than just careful jumping. Stages often require you to chain a series of movements together in order to keep Specter Knight airborne for extended periods of time over treacherous ground, and one fumbled execution could mean a complete do-over. You might climb the side of a wall to get you just enough height to wall-jump towards a series of swinging chandeliers, letting you scythe-dash into each one and eventually fling yourself across the room to mantle an opposing wall. Managing to reach a checkpoint after perfectly overcoming a series of obstacles without fumbles or fatalities is always a thrilling relief. The dexterous demands of performing these moves means that progress always feels satisfying and well-earned, even when it feels second-nature.

Each themed stage adds its own unique mechanical twists to the game's platforming which need to be internalised too. There are some incredibly memorable ones such as scythe surfing, which sees Specter Knight ride his scythe like a skateboard and grind rails to move through stages at speed--but otherwise the majority will be familiar to those who have played the main Shovel Knight game, albeit with minor twists to better accommodate Specter's abilities. This is unsurprising, given the game's prequel nature and the appearance of many of the same characters and worlds, but the new level designs still feel more demanding.

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Specter of Torment also features many of the same formidable level bosses as the original Shovel Knight, and although many of the battles with them seem a bit too similar to their previous appearances, some are altered significantly to make the most of Specter's mobility, and can come as an enjoyable surprise to those familiar. The fight with Propeller Knight, for example, no longer takes place on a static platform, but in the midst of many tiny, cascading airships, requiring you to continually scramble upwards while dodging attacks.

The completion of each level allows you to purchase additional Curios, Specter of Torment's unique version of Shovel Knight's Relics, which allow for the use of special abilities at the cost of a consumable meter. Each Curio has its own distinct use to aid in the dispatching of enemies or to ease the burden of traversal. For example, the Hover Plume gives Specter Knight the ability to float in mid-air for a short duration, and Judgement Rush allows Specter to ignore pits and walls and teleport directly to an enemy. Each tool adds an interesting new facet to the way you can approach Specter of Torment's levels, but the entirety of the game can be completed without using them. I found that relying on Curios diminished the sense of satisfaction that came from overcoming difficult obstacles using only Specter Knight's base skillset, and tended to avoid them.

Much of what made the original Shovel Knight a success can also be found in Specter Knight. Level designs also cleverly act as intuitive tutorials, demonstrating the possibilities and limits of what you can and can't do in particular stages without explicit explanation. Shovel Knight's penchant for rewarding exploration is also still present. Secret paths and areas are strewn throughout the game's stages and hub world. Some are obvious, but some can come as a small surprise to those who are willing to push the limits of the traversal abilities. The game's checkpoint system--which allows you to actually destroy a checkpoint for monetary reward at the risk of having to re-traverse more of the level upon death--is still a clever mechanic. And Shovel Knight's sense of humor and charm still manage to shine through, despite Specter of Torment's more melancholic tone. Small moments like watching a reunited skeleton couple perform a waltz, playing with a cat, or simply enjoying the lighthearted dialog of NPCs provide nice moments of levity.

While it only took us a few hours in total to complete the game's story mode, Specter of Torment felt well-paced and never unnecessarily short. The density of challenge contained within its individual stages meant that I was always entirely concentrated on the next obstacle, but Specter of Torment attempts to pace its demands on your mental state every few levels with short, interactive narrative interludes that serve as an enjoyable prequel to this prequel campaign. Specter of Torment also offers a new game plus option upon completion with a slightly more demanding health mechanic, and also offers a challenge mode which presents a variety of platforming and boss fight trials under strict restraints.

Specter of Torment is a finely-crafted 2D platformer that is satisfying in all respects. Simply controlling Specter Knight--flying through the air and slicing through enemies--is a joy in itself, and being able to push your ability to control these skills in overcoming the game's cleverly-designed and challenging levels is always an exhilarating feeling. Specter of Torment is a focussed, polished, and satisfyingly challenging game that's well worth experiencing whether or not you've had the pleasure of playing Shovel Knight.

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The Good
Challenging and diverse platforming levels
Specter Knight's agile moveset makes him fun to control
Retains the enjoyable mechanics and charm of Shovel Knight
The Bad
Some boss fights are too similar to Shovel Knight
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Shovel Knight

About the Author

Edmond Tran played through the main Shovel Knight campaign multiple times on PC, and spent around 6 total hours with Specter of Torment, exploring all its modes on Nintendo Switch using a Pro Controller.
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Avatar image for tigeroneb
TigerOneB

@Tomcat2007

I feel like I own you an answer toward these argument.

Nowdays you see a lot of pixelated indie game, not only because of people wanting to pkay retro style games. The major reason isbgame developing budget. 16bit greatly reduce the cost. And yet, poor graphic does not stop a game being enjoyable. In fact some people find 16bits give you more space for imagination. Instead being throw a preset 3D model of a character, people can have their own imagination of their 'hero'. Just like when you reading a book.

A lot of games with realistic 3D graphics in the market nowadays sells only on its graphics, and the gameplay becomes very dry and repetitive for some players. I havent play this particular indie game myself, but I know for a fact that a lot of the good indie games have very innovative concepts for games.

What people are saying here is a game should focus on its playability. Graphic is important but it should not impact your judgement on gameplay.

I hope this will clarify.

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Ripper_TV

Done some research - turns out it has only two DLC's. And the first one is basically the same levels all over again, just with a different character.

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crf_stewarje

@Ripper_TV: There is going to be a third DLC later on. Plus, the Plague Knight DLC (the first DLC that you mentioned) is more than "the same levels all over with a different character". It has new bosses, a new story, new mechanics, different character interactions, new weapons, items, armor, etc.

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Ripper_TV

I'm so confused about the DLC/Expansions for this game. So many questions:

1. How many does it have? I think it's the third?

2. Does all the DLC require the original game or not?

3. All the DLC cost as much as the base/original game itself??? Why?

4. How long each of the DLC is? I'm under the impression that they're all the same length as the main game.

P.S. This game looks absolutely HORRIBLE in static.

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Chronologo

@akassassin11: It was released on the switch first, but it's coming to the other platforms on April

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santinegrete

Good to see some gamers see the quaility beyond the pixelated visuals.

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Jag-T1000

Every 8-bit game that is made now days needs some kind of graphics filter. Scanlines would make the game look better in todays flat screen tv's.

Avatar image for juiceair
juiceair

LMAO about children crying over the graphics. Great games are great no matter the visual style. Don't let the retro visuals discourage you from playing this gem.

Avatar image for Tomcat2007
Tomcat2007

@juiceair: You don't even have the intelligence or ability to form any type of coherent argument to even be able to promote this game and explain the reason for its visual style. You and others here just default to calling those who question the game's graphics a child and just tell us "if you don't like the game then don't play it". So I'm going to help you. How about using the movie "Schindler's List" as an example. Steven Spielberg decided to film this movie in black and white. Why would Spielberg throw out decades of film advances and go back to black and white? Because, it was very effective at setting the mood of the movie. It helped transport the viewer back to the cold, war-torn era of 1940's Poland. I assume the developer of this game also wanted to transport the player back to the 80's where we had a lot of these fun side scrolling fighting games with simple graphics. Having said that, I still don't like the graphics. I don't care to relive the 80's by playing a game with pixelated text and sprites and icons that are so fuzzy I can barely tell what they are. But I understand what the developer was trying to do.

Avatar image for tigeroneb
TigerOneB

@Tomcat2007:

I feel like I own you an answer toward these argument.

Nowdays you see a lot of pixelated indie game, not only because of people wanting to pkay retro style games. The major reason isbgame developing budget. 16bit greatly reduce the cost. And yet, poor graphic does not stop a game being enjoyable. In fact some people find 16bits give you more space for imagination. Instead being throw a preset 3D model of a character, people can have their own imagination of their 'hero'. Just like when you reading a book.

A lot of games with realistic 3D graphics in the market nowadays sells only on its graphics, and the gameplay becomes very dry and repetitive for some players. I havent play this particular indie game myself, but I know for a fact that a lot of the good indie games have very innovative concepts for games.

What people are saying here is a game should focus on its playability. Graphic is important but it should not impact your judgement on gameplay.

I hope this will clarify.

Avatar image for traysmooth
TraySmooth

@Tomcat2007: I couldn't have said it better. Agree completely with you and people here aren't making a case for this game, on the contrary. After reading these moron's stupidities I don't EVER want to play this game.

Avatar image for Tomcat2007
Tomcat2007

@traysmooth: I don't think I want to play it either, because those that like it seem to be overly defensive and from the forums I've read, the game seems more like a cult video game with some type of esoteric appeal that none of the game's fans try to talk about or explain to people like us that are curious about the game. Many just bash those that question the games graphics. I never even called it ugly or crappy or said it was a bad game.

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balintcsikos

@Tomcat2007: This is a different genre. The grapchics, art style, the sounds and music, the simplified controls and everything is part of this genre. You either accept it or not but no one can say the game is bad because of the graphics...

Avatar image for traysmooth
TraySmooth

@juiceair: So if I call crap graphics a crap, I must be a child? OK, very mature of you, you really made your point (and yourself look stupid).

If you enjoy playing a game with graphics so low-effort that gives me headache, good for you, champs!

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I for one won't buy a game with worse graphics than Cadillacs and Dinosaurs or Captain Commando.

Yes, you see, I've played those games on arcade, guess I'm not a child after all.

Do you play modern games on very low settings at 800x600? Because I only accept your argument if you say you do, since graphics doesn't matter at all.

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ArabrockermanX

@traysmooth: Yes you're a child.

Just because you're older now that doesn't mean you're not still a child. You have clearly never matured.

Avatar image for traysmooth
TraySmooth

@ArabrockermanX: Because I don't like a pixelated game? Because I don't like a pixelated game that you like I "clearly never matured"?

Just STFU. I wish I knew where you live, so you could tell me this face to face. But of course you wouldn't.

It's pretty clear to me who is the child here.

But I get it, people like you can only be mean online. We all know how you people are in real life, right? I pity you.

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EternalDecay

@traysmooth:

Watch out guys, we got an internet tough guy here.

Grow up.

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hughesyboozy

@juiceair: I was someone who judged games like this, as I'd played enough of them as a kid. But I finally said the hell with it and bought the whole collection on Switch, and now I feel really, really stupid. The game is awesome, almost finished the main game, what a ride! Looking forward to playing the rest of it. I know games can be great without looking great, as game play is king, but I just wasn't sure how much enjoyment I'd get from it, how wrong I was.

I would say it brings back memories of playing NES games, but it's so much more than that. It did get me in trouble at work Friday, as I was late getting back from my lunch break as I was so hooked lol.

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Diegoh1212

@juiceair: The game is great. I completed the steam version this Christmas, together with Axiom Verge.

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ojmstr

This game is awesome, great gameplay and great soundtrack. I usually never play indie games but this game got me hooked

Avatar image for dashaka
DaShaka

I've beat the original game on 3DS, and just repurchased it a month ago for PS4, but I think I will still buy the Switch version because of the portability. I'll be buying most of my indie games for the switch instead of PS4 from here on out since graphics are mostly irrelevant for most indie games.

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VFighter

@dashaka: You have it on the 3ds how much more portable can it get?!?

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DaShaka

@vfighter: I mean the portability as a console, I don't use the actual screen on the switch much. I am constantly traveling, and have access to TVs. Plus the switch version offers the full version and expansion, which I don't have for any system yet.

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Shovel Knight More Info

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  • First Released Dec 31, 2015
    released
    • 3DS
    • Amazon Fire TV
    • + 9 more
    • Linux
    • Macintosh
    • Nintendo Switch
    • PC
    • PlayStation 3
    • PlayStation 4
    • PlayStation Vita
    • Wii U
    • Xbox One
    Shovel Knight is a sweeping classic action adventure game with awesome gameplay, memorable characters, and an 8-bit retro aesthetic created by Yacht Club Games.
    7.9
    Average Rating106 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Shovel Knight
    Developed by:
    Yacht Club Games
    Published by:
    Yacht Club Games, Nintendo, Fangamer
    Genre(s):
    Platformer, Action, 2D
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
    Everyone
    Mild Fantasy Violence