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Shovel Knight: King of Cards Review: Fit for a King

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After almost two years in development, King Knight is ready to make his grand appearance. Shovel Knight: King of Cards has spent a long time in the oven, but after spending just a few moments with the game you’ll understand why. It features the longest character campaign, a fully featured card game and even a couch competitive multiplayer mode. It’s a genuine juggling act, but do any of these new additions drop the ball?

 

Long Live the King

 

King Knight’s story acts as a prequel to Shovel of Hope, chronicling King Knight’s rise to glory to become the coveted ‘King of Cards’. This final campaign doesn’t act like a last farewell to the Shovel Knight saga and it’s all the better for it. Instead it keeps the focus purely on King Knight’s journey from a mother’s basement-dwelling cosplayer to a self-absorbed monarch. Even though he’s an anti-hero, King Knight’s witty dialogue keeps you invested in his character… even if his ruling tactic is brutish and all style, no substance.

King Knight bickers with his Mom

Pig-headed and flashy is also the best way to describe King Knight’s play-style. In lieu of traditional weapons, King Knight uses a speeding shoulder bash to charge into enemies. Once a blow lands, King Knight is propelled into the air in a spinning frenzy, from here you can continue attacking by bouncing on foes until something breaks your combo. This one-two punch is also the basis of the game’s platforming, ramming into walls effectively lets you double jump and when in ‘twirl mode’ King Knight can pogo over hazards with ease. His moves are fun to use because the level design takes full advantage of his moveset, providing varied and rewarding challenges for those looking to master the game’s platforming.

 

No Meager Feast

 

Individual levels are significantly shorter than classic Shovel Knight stages which is initially disappointing, but once you notice just how tightly designed each bite-sized level is you may end up preferring this new mission structure. Three Merit Medals are begging to be collected in each stage and they can be spent on new moves to further bolster King Knight’s arsenal. Some stages even sport secret exits that lead to some of the best boss fights and chance encounters the game has to offer – seek them out if you want to get the very most out of your play-through.

There’s a lot to see and do in this expansion and even familiar worlds have been given new creative spins, plus all new stages like the Troupple Pond and Birder Bluffs offer yet unseen enemies, world designs and music tracks. In between platforming jaunts, you can rest up in your trusty airship, the Glidewing. Throughout your adventure you amass followers who live on the airship, seeing the decks fill up with friendly faces lends a real sense of connection to the world and it makes your goal seem all the more personable. You can chat with your subjects, buy upgrades from shopkeepers or even unwind and play a game of cards with them.

 

Ace in the Hole

 

New to King of Cards is Joustus, the latest card game craze to sweep over the kingdom and King Knight has his eyes on winning the tournament. Fundamentally, Joustus is about building your deck and controlling the field of play as contenders vie for individual tiles. Like learning to control King Knight, there’s a learning curve to this minigame but the tutorial does a great job in getting you up to speed. It’s easy to steamroll through the first wave of players, chuckling manically as you steal their best cards and their riches, but some late game matches will really test your mettle. If card based minigames aren’t your thing then you’ll be pleased to hear that Joustus is entirely optional, but you’ll be doing yourself a disservice by ignoring it. A truly challenging foe lies between you and the Joustus crown, not to mention the minigame is legitimately enjoyable, serving as a welcome reprieve from the platforming.

King of Cards Joustus Gameplay

The last hefty chunk of content in this new update is Shovel Knight Showdown, a four player battle mode that’s surprisingly rich in content. 20 playable fighters populate the roster, each one sports a totally unique playstyle. Characters like Black Knight have a wealth of offensive options, while mobility is the calling card of other fighters like the ever-floating Enchantress. While you can play a standard deathmatch, Gem Clash is Showdown’s best mode, seeing a mountain of players scramble for collectable gemstones is chaotic bliss. The multiplayer value you’ll get out of Showdown will be somewhat dependent on how many friends you have that are versed in Shovel Knight’s gameplay and physics, but there’s plenty to do solo too. The enemy AI can occasionally counter your attacks with the foresight of a mind-reader and battles in larger stages can get a bit too frantic, but Showdown offers a great excuse for players to return to Shovel Knight long after the main campaigns are done and dusted.

Shovel Knight Showdown VS

 

Pretty as a Portrait

 

King Knight himself may be a decadent dandy, but there’s so much more to oggle at in this package. Yacht Club Games flex their pixel prowess with detailed environments and adorable characters. Areas like the Glidewing and the various Joustus hideouts are brought to life with densely populated backgrounds and bustling animations. Parallax layers not only give every scene depth, but also a sweeping theatrical feeling that pulls you into the experience. There’s always an impressive vista or classy transition to see around every corner and drinking in the various sights is rewarding unto itself.

King Knight in the Glidewing

This final 3-in-1 content update for Shovel Knight is a real juggling act, yet the most remarkable thing is how fully featured and enjoyable every aspect feels. Showdown is bombastic, Joustus is addictive and King Knight’s story maintains the gold standard that Yacht Club Games is known for. King of Cards was well worth the wait, providing the perfect closing act for the Treasure Trove. Let it be known far and wide that by royal decree, this final content update is fit for a king.

 

This review of Shovel Knight: King of Cards is based on the PC version of the game. A review code was provided by the publisher.

  • 8.5/10
    King of Cards Review - 8.5/10
8.5/10

Summary

A worthy conclusion to the Shovel Knight Saga. King of Cards boasts delightful platforming, charming characters and one hell of an anti-hero to root for. Joustus and Showdown are worthy additions too, primed to keep Shovel Knight fans playing for years to come.

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