When I first played Shovel Knight earlier this year, I found myself enjoying what I would claim to be one of the finest titles available on the PlayStation Vita, so I was more than pleased when I learned that there was free expansion on the way to shake up the entire game.
The free DLC, titled Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows, is added to the game as a patch. For those of you who’ve played through the original game you’ll know that this means you’ll be playing as one of the games most interesting characters and main villains, Plague Knight.
Initially, I found the idea of playing as Plague Knight to be incredibly exciting. I was interested to see how the game would change to integrate the character’s abilities and skills (which would differ from Shovel Knight) but what I was about to experience would ultimately leave me somewhat underwhelmed.
First up is the one major aspect to the DLC that I thought worked well, the story. Obviously things needed a shake up to enhance the story of a character who was merely a boss with no backstory in the initial game, and thankfully Yacht Club Studios executed this greatly.
Plague Knight wants to make the most powerful potion in the world, and to do this he’s going to need a series of ingredients which are closely guarded by the Knights of the other kingdoms, so Plague Knight must infiltrate their kingdoms, defeat the Knights and retrieve these ingredients to achieve his goal.
The humour and interaction with the environments is changed enough to add a whole new dimension to the Shovel Knight experience and really creates and enhances Plague Knight as a character. Shovel Knight makes his way into the story and can be seen when you’re visiting towns, he also appears as a boss in a particular level, which I found to be a fun change up to the story.
As you can imagine, the one thing that Plague Knight lacks compared to Shovel Knight, is, well, a shovel. I felt that this was one of the main things that made the character so special, there’s no pogoing off enemies or digging up environments here, oh no, what you get is something entirely different and believe me, it’s nowhere near as satisfying!
Plague Knight will use potions to throw at his enemies, which requires you to be at a certain distance to hit them correctly. While keeping your distance is encouraged it is often too easy to get hit if you’re too close, this didn’t fit well with my play style and I feel that it really put me off. The same goes for navigating environments and finding lumps of treasure laying around, it’s often hard to get the aim right when throwing a potion to destroy the area leading to a slow down in progression in the game.
Plague Knight is also gifted with one major ability that Shovel Knight was lacking, a double jump – a much welcome addition the gameplay. The double jump can be helpful for jumping above enemies and attacking them from behind, a move you’d normally pull off by bouncing off enemies while playing as Shovel Knight.
Another major mechanic used in the game (that is also unique to Plague Knight) is the boost jump. By holding the square button Plague Knight will charge a potion in his hand, this can be used to boost you to greater heights upon releasing the square button when needed. While the addition of this particular move felt great to use at first, it instantly became more and more annoying as a significant amount of puzzles ended up requiring the use of this move – making the new mechanic feel tired by the end of the game.
You’ll find green coins scattered around levels, these green coins will allow you to unlock new abilities in Plague Knight’s underground lab – which is where you’ll return to after beating bosses and clearing levels. There are important story characters to meet here too, so it’s worth talking to everyone when you return as they’ll give you hints on how the story will unfold.
Also scattered around levels are red potions, these will give you temporary additional health, however if you lose the additional health you’ll need to find another red potion to regain it. I found these extra segments of health particularly useful when it came to boss battles, as they gave me a welcome, added advantage against the bosses.
While it’s always nice to get free DLC in any form, Plague of Shadows, while a full sized game expansion, is one that I found to be a bit of a let down. Some of the new challenges created for the character can be needlessly difficult at times, which in turn really stunted my progress at particular times in the game.
The same great art style and graphics are used for the DLC with no particularly noteworthy changes, however some new music has been created for the game which adds to the eeriness and mystique of Plague Knight as a character.
One last thing of note for the DLC is the addition of Challenge Mode, a series of trials for you to play through as Shovel Knight. There are 27 in total to play through, with the majority of them being rematches against the boss characters under particular circumstances – such as low health or only certain abilities at your disposal. These were fun to attempt and actually left me less frustrated than the Plague of Shadows campaign itself.
Plague of Shadows is only the first of at least 3 expansions to Shovel Knight and has left me questioning if I really want to be excited for the following 2 expansions. I am hoping that the next playable Knight will be better equipped and more interesting to control, but as for Plague Knight, I doubt I’ll be playing as him again.