Rise from your grave!
My utter devotion to Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight is well-established. I fell in love with the original game back in 2014 and enjoyed the game’s first expansion, Plague of Shadows, though that sidestory is not without its faults (for one thing, it’s brutally difficult and I'd change that score today). Yacht Club just released Specter of Torment, the second side story—a prequel this time—in which players control Specter Knight, a ghostly, scythe-wielding character. The campaign is free via update to everyone who already own Shovel Knight on Wii U or 3DS, but it’s available two ways on Switch—you can buy it separately for $10 (which seems weird) or you can buy the revamped Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove for $25, which includes all the campaigns and bonus content (like challenges). However you get it, Specter of Torment is amazing and comes very close to the highs of the original Shovel Knight.
Specter Knight’s main gimmick is that he moves through the air by slashing objects at a shallow diagonal angle, either up or down depending on his position relative to the object. He can also do a brief wall run that you can convert into a wall jump. But that’s just his moveset. Specter of Torment constantly takes old design elements and revises them to provide a fresh experience. For example, you know that green jelly in Mole Knight’s stage that Shovel Knight can bounce on? Here, you can turn red lanterns (which you usually slash through) into green lanterns which Specter Knight can slash against, bouncing him in the opposite direction. That sort of minor tinkering is present throughout the game. Even the music is slightly different in a similar way, rife with remixes of familiar tunes from the original Shovel Knight.
It seems like the levels have been redesigned to a larger extent than they were in Plague of Shadows, to take advantage of Specter Knight’s specific movement style. The big problem with Plague was that you spent half your time concocting and experimenting with different potion combinations, which killed the game’s momentum. Here, Specter Knight just has his normal moveset and “Curios,” which are essentially new subweapons. A couple are super useful (claw, green skull) while others are interesting but rarely utilized (sniper skeleton, boomerang). Interestingly, you get an actual tutorial for each Curio, which you buy using Red Skulls in Specter Knight’s hideout. You can also buy new cloaks, upgrade your Curios, and play with a kitty in the hideout. Plague Knight warps to different levels with a portal as opposed to moving around a world map.
As for the story, it’s surprisingly tragic. Specter Knight is the first of the Order of No Quarter, commanded by the Enchantress to recruit the other knights to her cause. He does this, of course, by fighting them. However, at certain points in the game, you’ll play through Specter Knight’s backstory. You learn his real name and how he came to meet the Enchantress in the first place. There’s at least one big reveal that, as a fan, made me smile from ear to ear.
My only niggling complaint is that while you quickly become accustomed to Specter Knight’s moveset and moving around the levels becomes second nature, the early boss encounters are frequently much more difficult. This isn’t necessarily because Specter Knight isn’t as powerful as them; he just has far less health and has to rely on Curios to get things done. A couple of the bosses became downright frustrating, and I eventually had to (begrudgingly) rely on the green skull Curio (which restores health) to get through them. Maybe I just need to “git gud,” but it just seems like there’s a mismatch between the difficulty of the level design vs. the difficulty of the boss encounters.
That is really my only criticism. You’ll be doing things in Specter of Torment that literally make you say “wow” out loud. It’s a smooth, expertly-crafted platformer filled with heart. Again, it’s a free update to your Wii U and 3DS versions so there’s no reason not to play it. For Switch users, it’s absolutely worth experiencing, as is the rest of the Treasure Trove.