Reap what you sow.
We had the chance to check out Yacht Club Games’ current two-level demo of their upcoming (and Switch-first) Shovel Knight expansion Specter of Torment. As the title suggests, it stars Specter Knight and takes place prior to the events of Shovel Knight and Plague of Shadows. As was the case in Plague Knight’s story, Specter Knight has a unique moveset that takes some getting used to, but I’m happy to report that he’s much easier to control than Plague Knight.
Two stages were available: the introductory stage—Plains of Passage—and Polar Knight’s snow-themed area. Plains of Passage is where you get your bearings, so I started there. Specter Knight’s signature move is a diagonal slash that lets him fly through the air. You can apply this slash to airborne enemies, bubbles, and hanging lanterns. You simply jump towards one of these objects and, when Specter Knight is close enough, a diagonal line will appear over the object. Tap the Y button and Specter Knight will slash either diagonally up or down, depending on whether he’s above or below the object. These slashes can be chained together when the situation arises.
Specter Knight doesn’t have much of a jump, but he wall-runs up most surfaces to compensate. It’s only for a few steps and could be construed as more of a wall-kick, but I was a little bothered by how it controls: you jump towards a wall and hold the stick against the wall to start running, then tap jump to wall-jump to the other wall. During that split second when Specter Knight is in the air, you have to move the stick towards the second wall. Otherwise, Specter Knight just falls down and doesn’t wall-run. I would’ve been more comfortable with it being automatic—however, I got used to it fairly quickly.
Specter Knight also destroys soft blocks by jumping off them, as he has no down attack. Plains of Passage ends with the familiar battle with Black Knight, who brings a friend along—a sort of rhinoceros turtle that tries to charge into you while Black Knight is doing his standard attacks. It was a nice way to mix things up.
Polar Knight’s stage introduces another way to move around: conveyor belt-type platforms that Specter Knight “surfs” on. These conveyor belts are often paired with switches that change their direction or make blocks appear or disappear further on. The stage is otherwise unremarkable, if difficult. It was the fight with Polar Knight, though, that proved most challenging. Polar Knight digs up the snow on the ground, which uncovers deadly spikes. Since Specter Knight doesn’t have much of a jump, the challenge became staying in the air, either by slashing Polar Knight’s snowballs or bouncing off Polar Knight himself. It took a couple tries to get the rhythm down, but I appreciated the novel approach.
Other bits and boops: Specter Knight has both a life bar and a “Darkness” bar, which I don’t know the purpose of. In both demo stages, he did not have any secondary weapons. He collects treasure, of course, but also glowing red skulls just like Plague Knight collected green coins. There are still lots of destructible walls which hide challenging platforming segments.
Specter of Torment should be out by April—the reworked version of Shovel Knight (called “Treasure Trove”) is going to be on the Switch, which I will probably triple-dip on. This expansion seems very fun and less frustrating than Plague of Shadows, so I’m all about it.