REVIEW: Shovel Knight: King of Cards

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Title Shovel Knight: King of Cards
Developer Yacht Club Games
Publisher Yacht Club Games
Release Date December 10th, 2019
Genre Platformer
Platform PC, 3DS, Vita, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Age Rating E for Everyone – Mild Fantasy Violence, Use of Alcohol
Official Website

I’ve been a fan of Shovel Knight since the very beginning, so it’s somewhat bittersweet covering the final DLC for the first game, King of Cards. Though I didn’t personally cover Plague of Shadows for the site, I did cover Specter of Torment, and it goes without saying I’ve played through every major update to the game in my limited free time. The first DLC adventure was a tale of villainous romance, the second was a tale of loss and vengeance, and King of Cards is a tale of ascension. King Knight might seem the least interesting of the other playable members of the Order of No Quarter, but Yacht Club did a good job of making his adventure lively and varied. Put simply, King of Cards is huge, and though you don’t have to play through every level to beat it, even racing through the game as I did, it is a longer than average Shovel Knight game. The real question for me was – is this the best DLC adventure for Shovel Knight?

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Though this won’t be news to any fan of the series, King Knight is a bit of an odd choice for his own story. He’s a bit of a narcissistic buffoon, and you never get the impression there’s much brain hidden behind that golden helm. However, I do applaud the way his story was woven. The tale is told with a mix of the offbeat humor from Plague of Shadows and combat that is a mix of elements from that campaign as well as Specter of Torment. The cards in the title refer to an up and coming card game in the realm called Joustus. Not only is it a hit, but it’s drawn people together to compete for the title of champion. King Knight is all about being recognized as the best, and sets out to win the tournament, defeat the 3 Joustus Judges and get the recognition he feels is long overdue. Along the way he’ll acquire a quirky entourage of allies, and their personalities were a highlight. There doesn’t initially seem to be much more to the plot than that, but I promise the wrinkle eventually reveals itself later in the game, and though not entirely unexpected, it did a good job of keeping things entertaining.

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I will say now, if you came to King of Cards expecting the level of storytelling and nuance from Specter of Torment, you’ll be disappointed. This is a very different story, and to be fair, each of the DLC campaigns is quite distinct stylistically. With that said, I did hope that there’d be a bit more backstory to King Knight than we got. You do learn that he’s very immature, and possibly young as well. His mother plays a large role in the story, and his reactions to her indicate he’s a teenager or young adult. To put it simply, King Knight is a bit of an ass, though thankfully that ties into the humor I mentioned earlier. I just wish we knew a bit more about him, such as whether he found or made that golden armor, and how he trained rats to work for him. At the end of each stage, you’ll grab a golden hoop suspended by your flying rat minions, and they’ll carry you away. That’s far from typical rat behavior, and more than anything, I’m really curious how someone that lacks intellectual curiosity like King Knight had the patience and knowledge to teach such advanced skills to animals. Or how he built those tiny propeller harnesses. Having said all that, overall I did enjoy the story in King of Cards, even if it was more shallow than Specter Knight’s tale.

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Though I’ve been (rightfully) talking some shit about King Knight, I will say that he has certain things going for him. For one, he’s quite powerful in that golden armor, and can move surprisingly fast. His main attack is a powerful shoulder bash, and when he connects with something, be it foe or wall, he’ll do a fancy aerial spin. This is actually another attack, and by landing on anything except flat ground, you’ll continue bouncing and damage any foes you stomp. As if that wasn’t enough, when you land on proper terrain while spinning, such as swinging lanterns, you’ll reset your bash, and be able to do it again. This makes King Knight quite powerful and very versatile in how he fights and platforms. Most stages make use of this mechanic to force you to smash into things just to get aerial, and then use your spin to maneuver around. Sure, he’s not as nimble as Specter Knight or as tricky as Plague Knight, but he is really comfortable in a sort of middle lane between the two. I grew to really enjoy how he played, and found he was especially effective against many of the games bosses. You encounter Specter Knight as a boss early in the game, and I literally beat him in less than a minute. Now, that’s not to say the bosses in King of Cards are all pushovers, they aren’t. It’s just a good indication of how powerful King Knight can be once you learn his mechanics.

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One way King of Cards is different from the other DLC adventures is the overall number of stages. I beat the game as fast as I could, and only got through about half of them. Quite frankly, there’s a plethora of stages, though to compensate, most are quite a bit smaller. Many stages only have one checkpoint, and only a rare few have two. That’s not to say that this game is super easy. Yes, the stages are shorter, but given how aggressive King Knight’s controls are, and how easy it can be to fall into a pit or damage yourself charging into foes, it evens out pretty well. I did appreciate how foes give up a heart after taking enough damage, as this really helped keep me from dying more. And though these are shorter stages, you’re given incentive to take your time playing them with Merit Medals. There’s typically 3 in every stage, and these are your primary currency with which to acquire Heirlooms (powerful artifacts that provide new abilities). There’s tons of Heirlooms in the game, though my favorite was probably the Turn Coat, which lets you deflect projectiles back at foes.

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You might be wondering what you spend your money on, and the simple answer is Joustus. Though you get a free starter deck pretty early, you’ll want to buy new cards, as well as buy back those you lost. See, every time you lose a match, your opponent gets one of your cards. Which might seem unfair, except that you can buy back duplicates, or win them back by beating them again. Additionally, if you need the help, you can buy Cheats that provide powerful effects during Joustus matches. I’m not ashamed to admit I ended up needing these Cheats regularly, and the reason is simple – I’m terrible at Joustus.

More Joustus on Page 2 ->

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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