REVIEW: Shovel Knight: King of Cards

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

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While you could go so far as to say Joustus was made intentionally difficult to make a sort of in joke about how horrible King Knight is at the game, I’m not sure that was the intent. In theory, Joustus is very simple. You only can play one card a turn, you can’t place cards on gems, and you have to use the arrows on Joustus cards to push other cards onto gems. When the field is full of cards, the player with the most gems in their possession wins. It sounds simple, but in reality it’s quite complex and can spiral out of control very fast. It probably doesn’t help that the CPU is very smart, no matter who you’re playing. Oh and there’s Joustus “bosses” who each have powerful and irritating super powers. The Black Knight can wipe out a whole line of cards every few turns, for example. To be fair, I probably could have spent a lot more time tweaking my deck and carefully planning out my strategies, but honestly I was much more interested in the standard levels in King of Cards. The mechanics work so well there, it’s a shame that Joustus wasn’t just a bit better streamlined. Thankfully, you won’t have to become a Joustus champion to beat the game, though you’ll lose out on snagging a few achievements by ignoring the card game.

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I was really impressed how they transformed some of the well known stages from Shovel Knight in this adventure. While it’s true that was also the case in Specter of Torment, I found these to be especially delightful. There’s a few waterlogged swamp areas that are bursting with creativity, where you ride albino worms and bash creepy tree owls. Another highlight was an aerial cliff full of tornadoes that warp you about. Many stages also have alternate exits that open up new paths on the world map. There’s a lot of great ideas on display here, and that goes for the obstacle course stages as well. These each let you buy an Heirloom with Medals, and then use it to get through the area. This was very reminiscent of the Red courses in Specter of Torment. You even get an airship partway through the game that doubles as a transport and HUB area. However, the most ambitious aspect of King of Cards wasn’t the stage design, but the incredible boss fights.

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It might have seemed earlier that I was implying the boss fights in King of Cards were a letdown. That’s not the case. Sure, you can do a ton of damage quickly, but the farther in the game you get, the more tricky and powerful your foes become. I refuse to spoil some of the really cool boss fights, but suffice to say, the Joustus Judges all put up a good fight. And I don’t mean with cards. Besides that, there’s some really clever optional bosses that truly made me smile. And if you were worried about the final boss being a pushover, don’t be. It’s a really challenging series of fights, and the only point in the game I died almost 20 times before I finally beat it. I wish I could elaborate on any of the bosses, but I think that after playing the game, you’ll appreciate that I didn’t. Suffice to say, this adventure has my favorite boss fights in all of Shovel Knight.

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Visually, King of Cards is another retro triumph. The Shovel Knight games have gotten more and more visually complex with each DLC, and this is no exception. It’s bright and bursting with detail. Special note goes to the design of some of the new enemies and bosses, which are all diverse and menacing. Musically, the game is very enjoyable. I find it hard to isolate which Shovel Knight game has the “best” music, but the music here is great regardless. It has a sort of medieval flair that remixes many familiar tunes, and it’s quite catchy. Honestly, Yacht Club consistently knocks it out of the park with aesthetics, and that’s still the case here.

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Other than my quibbles about the plot and Joustus, I have no huge complaints about King of Cards. The closest I can get is that some of the final stages were truly difficult and frustrating, most especially one that has you constantly warping back and forth. This is a very well made game, and had it not released after Specter of Torment, easily would have been my favorite Shovel Knight game. As it is, I got 5 and a half hours out of it for a mere $9.99, and only saw 34% of what the game had to offer. I skipped a whole 13 stages and probably some truly epic optional bosses. You won’t lack for replay value either, with many difficult achievements that are a hallmark of the series. As a fan, I did very much enjoy my time with King of Cards, even if the ending was a bit disheartening. I’m glad I got to play each part of the Shovel Knight saga, and cannot wait to see what surprises are in store for Yacht Club Games in the future.

King of Cards | Finale

Review Score
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About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.


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