You’ve got to hand it to Yacht Club Games – they know how to stay consistent with the quality of their games, namely the Shovel Knight series. The NES-inspired side-scroller seemed like a simple attempt at emulating retro titles from decades prior. However, it wasn’t just the colourful graphics and energetic chiptune soundtrack that shone through. The gameplay itself was, to wrap a retrospective up briefly, just like what you’d expect from the era, only polished to perfection.
Despite being packaged alongside every other chapter in the Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove collection, Shovel Knight Showdown is also available on the Switch as a standalone title, respectively. This one plays more like a fighting game in the vein of the Super Smash Bros. series, featuring together an ensemble cast of characters from its expansive universe. Fans of both Smash and Shovel are no doubt going to have a ball in this one.
During an encounter between the Scythe Knight and the Enchantress, the mages within the Tower of Fate construct a magic mirror to seal the evil villain inside. The mirror inexplicably shatters, trapping the heroes and villains of the series in a never-ending cycle of brawls. Only by destroying the corrupt mirror can they escape. Each character has their own personal storyline to follow, as well as a few unique dialogue interactions between friends or foes.
Anyone familiar with 2D ‘scroller-fighters should feel right at home with this one. The controls won’t take much effort to get used to, though each of the 16+ fighters have their own special play styles and special abilities to master. For instance, the titular Shovel Knight can slam his mighty spade downward or fire a projectile, while the Spectre Knight can double-jump, bounce off walls and perform angular slash attacks in mid-air, much like in his debut game. There’s no need to worry about having to memorise a particularly complex series of combos for every character, as the movesets are pretty small and simple. It does make characters like King Knight a bit dull to play as, though some are equipped with some pretty handy skills.
Battle Mode has a generous amount of customizable settings on offer. While the main two modes are a choice between either showdowns (stock battles) or gem-collecting, you can modify hitpoints, continues, time, teams, and so on. ‘Chester’s Choice’ is the real highlight here, as it picks from a random selection of pre-generated modes with their own twists and gimmicks that mix up item frequency, turns everyone into fairies, and so on. Numerous stages of various sizes can be unlocked, too. Some of them have some nasty traps or quirks about them – like a whale that swims around the Royal Pond stage, periodically spamming the area with its young – in order to mix things up. The AI can struggle to get around these, no thanks to some occasionally janky pathfinding.
The story mode is made up of a series of stages with pre-set rules and opponents. Halfway through, you’ll have to pass a manic target smashing mini-game in order to reach the set score. Annoyingly, beating it to progress is not optional. The final boss is a real toughie, but each playthrough isn’t too lengthy or strenuous. Plus, it’s a great way to unlock new fighters.
There’s a sizeable amount of creative weapons and items to get your hands on in this. Items can be collected by bursting bubbles that float around the stage (burst bubbles can push you back a bit, so be wary). Some of the pick-ups are fairly standard, like short-fused bombs or a laser weapon. Others include a wand that turns foes into almost-harmless pixies, a mirror that swaps everyone’s positions, anvils that slam downward, homing bird heads, and more. Food items will periodically appear to keep you topped up a little.
It should come as no surprise that the game looks exactly like the other entries in the series. It’s another explosion of colours, gorgeous sprite artwork and eye-catching backgrounds. Four player battles can be a bit chaotic to keep up with, especially in the smaller levels, though. The 8-bit sound effects always satisfy and never give a headache, much like its energetic chiptune soundtrack from series composer Jake ‘Virt’ Kaufman. It looks, feels, sounds and plays exactly like a Yacht Club game, with the added bonus of running like melted butter on the Switch. Superior technical performance guaranteed right here!
This spin-off is a flawed diamond, though no doubt a delight to play. Even if the movesets are minute and the AI a bit wonky at times, it remains accessible enough to get the hang of pretty quickly. There’s plenty of hectic battles to be had with its diverse customization options, stages and items on offer, and its sizeable amount of unlockable goodies gives it plenty of mileage. And, as expected, it looks and sounds like an absolute beauty. Even if you don’t swipe it up as part of the aforementioned legacy bundle, as a standalone game, I dig it.