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PAX Online – Alien Hominid Invasion First Impressions

PAX Online – Alien Hominid Invasion First Impressions

Even confined to a virtual environment, PAX is always a conduit for hype, and for this year’s PAX Online, there was hardly a studio I was more excited to check in with than The Behemoth. Even as someone whose childhood was partially defined by trying to beat the opening stages of Alien Hominid over and over, I can happily say that The Behemoth have evolved far beyond their Newgrounds origin. The team returning to their foundational IP with eighteen years of additional experience was an enticing offer. Having just played the demo for Alien Hominid Invasion, I am happy to report that the Alien Hominid formula is as insane as ever while promising a more refined experience that could end up being The Behemoth’s most accessible game yet.

 

It certainly feels like a culmination of The Behemoth’s previous titles. The Metal Slug-indebted, run-and-gun gameplay of Alien Hominid, the XP and upgrade system of Castle Crashers, and the nimble movement of BattleBlock Theater shine through complete and utter chaos. In contrast to the original Alien Hominid, where you always progressed left-to-right through the same series of setpieces, Invasion frees you to maneuver all around its procedurally generated mayhem. Your task is to collect intel from the FBI agents that flood the screen by virtue of dodging their fire and returning it tenfold. A few well-timed laser blasts decimate a mob of enemies and bring you closer to the finish line. Alien Hominid Invasion chiefly contrasts its predecessor in its punched-up stage design rather than gameplay.

 

 

With that in mind, Alien Hominid Invasion counteracts the simplicity of combat encounters with sheer enemy quantity. Progressing a bit like a run-and-gun Rampage, enemies spawn from all sides in gradually tougher waves. The more you destroy in quick succession, the better you can avoid the helicopters and agents with jetpacks eventually firing upon you. This encourages a speed-run-like mentality that fits perfectly into the twitch shooting inherent to Alien Hominid. In contrast to the original’s infamously sadistic difficulty, Invasion gives players ample progression opportunities. Enemies are always encroaching but never become overwhelming, despite arriving in much larger waves than the game’s predecessor. Despite my personal affinity for it, I wouldn’t exactly call the original Alien Hominid rewarding. The methodical difficulty curve present here is far superior.

 

With an intricate upgrade and character customization system, players are meant to be playing Alien Hominid Invasion for the long haul. Unlike the arcadey setup of the original game, where a two-hour length was buffered with punishing difficulty, I could see myself logging tens of hours into InvasionWith incredibly agile movement, enticingly vulgar visuals, and a greater emphasis on player progression, the only hangup I have with Invasion is a potential lack of variety. Up until a closing boss battle pitted me against a stronger airborne menace, each stage I played in Invasion revolved around the same core objectives: collecting data, annihilating agents, and destroying technology as fast as I could. A greater objective variety would allow Invasion to transcend its Neo Geo influences, but then again, how many run-and-guns allow you to ride the head of an FBI agent like a bucking bronco.

 

I greatly enjoyed my time with Alien Hominid Invasion, and though its release date is as of now a mystery, the game is already a blast that is merely in need of more content. Long-term fans will be pleased to hear that the game features The Behemoth operating at peak idiosyncrasy (including in-universe crossovers with their other games), and those interested in modernized run-and-gun action ought to keep their eye on the title. Alien Hominid Invasion will eventually be available for PC, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.

 

Ubisoft Announces Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Remake

Ubisoft Announces Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Remake

Just a few hours after making a conspicuous and accidental appearance on UPlay, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Remake has been formally announced. Quickly becoming one of the more polarizing events at today’s Ubisoft Forward, the remake’s trailer shows a game that may be a bit too faithful to its 2003 source material. The environments vividly resemble the labyrinthine architecture of the original game, but the remade character models have left many players scratching their heads. Prince of Persia was last seen on the market in 2010 and fans have been quick to remark that this remake doesn’t necessarily look current or next gen.

Also of note is the fact that the entire Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time trilogy was previously released together in remastered form for the PS3, whereas Ubisoft have now decided to just remake the first and release it for $40. This is an approach that proved fruitful for Destroy All Humans earlier this year, but could rub fans the wrong way if they view this remake as a cynical way to gauge interest in the IP. Nonetheless, the acrobatic swordplay-platforming balance defining this franchise still remains unique and has strong potential to win over a new audience.

The trailer is primarily cinematic, featuring brief interjections of combat and parkour gameplay. You’re as reliant on wall-running and fast paced puzzle solving as ever, with the classic controls retained or able to be switched out for a modernized version. The titular Sands of Time still allow you to rewind time to undo past mistakes and experiment with your surrounding environments. The Prince’s original voice actor Yuri Lowenthal is once again on board, and time will tell how faithful or modified the game’s narrative will be. Even if Ubisoft didn’t necessarily put their best foot forward with this trailer, we can hope that subsequent gameplay footage wins fans over. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Remake will be available for PC, PS4, and Xbox One on January 21st, 2020.

Pesterquest Review – Roll Persuasion

Pesterquest Review – Roll Persuasion

Yeah, yeah, I’m a bit late with this one. Homesquared is already well on its way and all anyone wants to talk about is its questionable character choices and whatever nonsense its writing team has got up to this week. But to celebrate the end of the school year (and because god knows I can’t do anything else right now), I decided it was about time to dip my toes into Pesterquest, the successor to Friendsim.

I enjoyed Friendsim a good deal, so I had high hopes for Pesterquest going in. Each character has their own chapter with only three endings each, with two choice points throughout. Except in a few special circumstances, there’s only one way to get to the good end, with the other two leading to bad ends with various levels of badness- it ranges from simply not making a friend to some pretty brutal deaths. In short, it’s exactly the same as Friendsim, which is all I really wanted anyway.

Some of the choices can be pretty counterintuitive, urging you to go against common sense, human decency, and the basic drive for survival in order to end up making a friend. In some visual novels this would be frustrating and leave the player feeling like they have to guess their way to the good end, but because this is a comedy game, most players are going to want to see every ending anyway. The simplistic nature of each chapter,as well as the fast forward button means it’s easy to get every ending with no guesswork whatsoever.

Naturally this leads to a lack of challenge, so if you’re the type that likes playing VNs and figuring out how to get to the good end like a puzzle, this certainly isn’t going to satisfy. There’s a few achievements that require going down specific paths, but with such a limited number of paths to go down you’ll probably unlock them all on a casual playthrough. The main strength of Pesterquest is in its comedy, and for me it hits all the right buttons. It reminds me a lot of the early acts of Homestuck, fairly lighthearted humor based off character dialogue (or monologue, a lot of the time) with the occasional really dark joke thrown in there when it starts to get a little too easygoing. While some of the dark stuff is played for laughs, quite a bit of it isn’t, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

 

 

Before talking about the characters, though, let’s get into presentation. I already made a whole article about how much I love Homestuck‘s music, and it continues to deliver here. In the typical HS style, there’s some repurposed old tracks, some remixes, and a handful of new ones. While some of the remixes (Jade’s route especially) weren’t necessarily my favorite, and the title theme sounded unnecessarily depressing, most of the music was pretty great. A good chunk of it was by James Roach, who worked on the music for Hiveswap and Friendsim, and he reaches the same standard of quality as always. He even manages to use the music to add his own brand of humor: John’s theme is “I’ve been calling Andrew Hussie “Andy” for years and he hasn’t corrected me yet”, and Aradia’s theme is a soft cover of Megalovania titled “Yeah it is”.

The art is solid as well, there was a uniform style throughout the game despite the number of artists and no one looked too radically different from anyone else. I enjoyed the way they adapted homestuck’s style, everyone still looks like their original sprites while having human proportions. The only one that stood out as a little weird was Roxy, mostly because of her hair. Most characters look like cartoons of real people, but Roxy’s hair leaves her looking a little bit like a caricature even though her face and clothes look perfectly fine. I’d also like to give a shout-out to the background artists. All the kids’ rooms look wonderfully busy, cluttered and messy but able to showcase each kid’s interest. The inside scenes are full of personality and the outside scenes are colorful (except when necessary) and detailed without being distracting.

The writing isn’t quite as uniform, Dave’s route breaks the fourth wall repeatedly and overtly bringing up “more work for the artists” while most other routes either make subtle references or just act like the fourth wall still exists. Most of the humor is modeled after Homestuck, specifically the early parts because all the beta kid routes take place when they’re 13, but what parts of that humor is present depends on both the writer and the setting. Gallows humor is much more present on Alternia than when hanging around with a goofball like John. Some routes are much less humorous than others, though, and prefer to lean on drama and emotional beats to entertain. This isn’t to say any chapter is all humor or all drama, just that some lean more on one than the other, and when all of them are put together it leads to a very nice balance.

 

 

One last gripe before moving on, though, the writing is oddly self-congratulatory at times. A couple routes bring up the epilogues and content in it like Ultimate Dirk and laud the writers (some of whom are also involved in Pesterquest) and talk about what a great job they’re doing, and not in a way that strikes me as tongue-in-cheek either, especially since some of them have talked on social media about how grateful we should be for them for making homesquared, and it’s a bit eye-rolling to see. It’s not exactly common, but if you’re going for 100% completion you’re going to run into it once or twice.

As I was playing the game and planning my review, there was one question I realized I had to ask myself: What do I want out of this game, aside from entertainment? If this was an original IP, I’d want to be introduced and get attached to all the new characters, but considering I’ve already read 1,358,808 words about them (per readmspa), I think I’m already pretty well acquainted. In this case, what I want is to see is a different side of familiar characters. For the most part, it provides.

Sometimes it’s something goofy, like Dave secretly loving Olive Garden because when you’re there, you’re family. Sometimes it’s bittersweet, like the protagonist helping Rose hide her mother’s alcohol or allowing Roxy to have a too-short meeting with her mother. There’s happy and victorious moments like allowing Jade to finally spend time with her friends and a surprisingly moving moment when you fail to help Equius in the same way. In terms of the story, I’d say there’s really only two issues.

 

 

Spoilers begin

At the start of the game, you accidentally destroy John’s copy of sburb, stopping anyone in universes A and B from being able to play it. You meet everyone in the time they would be playing sburb, making the game’s canon a doomed reality. Naturally, you end the game by going back in time to allow John and friends to play, undoing every action throughout the game. On its own, I don’t really mind this. You spend the entire game knowing that this is in direct contradiction to Homestuck’s canon, and that somehow every character arc in the game must be undone to allow them to play the game. In Aradia’s route, though, you’re promised something bigger. She’s the only one who realizes you’re in a doomed reality, and as a middle finger to the “powers that be”, the two of you together start to screw with the timeline just to see what happens. The route hints at some potential fallout from this, but it never happens.

Major spoilers end, Vriska’s route spoilers follow

Pesterquest continues the weird relationship HS has developed with content warnings, listing them for each individual chapter but mocking them in-universe. Vriska’s route has tags relating to “gender identity” and “stimming” (I don’t see why either of those require a content warning, but sure), implying neuro- and gender diversity in the route (and therefore in Vriska herself). This is where I start to get a little torn: if this was a completely new character, this would be fantastic, I’d love to see a badass transgender and autistic character introduced into the Homestuck canon. The problem is, this isn’t a new character. It’s Vriska, whose traits and identity have already been incredibly well established. The Vriska in Pesterquest just isn’t Vriska.

When I say that, I’m not just talking about the retconning in of diverse traits into an established character (as a Harry Potter fan, I’ve already complained enough about that for a lifetime). Both the dysphoria and the stimming are integrated pretty well into the story, neither of them take the forefront, they’re just parts of her character that show up in her actions while her actual arc is about something entirely different. Again, if this was a new character, this would be great rep. She just doesn’t act like Vriska. When I play through the route, this character does not seem like the same Vriska who paralyzed her friend, who blinded Terezi, who got Aradia killed. The Vriska in Pesterquest isn’t gleefully violent, she isn’t grandiose, she isn’t controlling, she isn’t Vriska at all.

 

 

The same goes for the player character in her route as well. MSPA Reader is defined by being two things: they are pathetic and they are 100% incompetent. On the occasions where they try to do some grand heroism, it’s supposed to blow up in their face and get them hurt or killed. Vriska’s route ends with MSPAR throwing her spider into a volcano. While normally I’m massively in favor of over-the-top revenge fantasies against abusers, that isn’t MSPAR’s thing. In any other route, they’d either decide against trying to kill her or they’d get gored and eaten in the process.

The only other character that feels “off” in this way is Terezi, although not nearly to the same extent. She’s in a much lower mood than when she’s introduced, more brooding and hopeless than the gleeful and maybe a little unhinged character in the comic. It’s more believable than Vriska, we do see this side of her a bit later on as well as in the epilogues, but I was hoping for more “ laughing legislacerator” than the discouraged rebel we ended up with. Her route also involves her friendship with Vriska a bit more than her personal arc, and it feels like Vriska’s taking up a little too much space her.

Spoilers over

Aside from that, though, Pesterquest was pretty much all I wanted. Not only does it show us the characters we’ve grown to love in new scenarios, it also gives characters that were killed off too early some much needed time in the spotlight. I really loved getting to see new sides of Equius, Nepeta, and Feferi, and hell, I even grew to like Eridan some more. If a game can make me invested in Eridan Ampora, even out of pity, you know it’s doing something right.

Correction, 6/3/2020:

At the time of writing this review, I failed to find the true ending of the game, which is accomplished by clicking on the MSPA Reader sprite during the final choice as opposed to the other two options. For the record, I think this is pretty stupid, and would prefer something more like a completion bonus after finding all endings. Regardless, the true ending is fantastic, and I withdraw my previous comment about the Aradia route under-delivering. I won’t spoil it, as I much recommend playing it and seeing for yourself. The music, visuals, pacing, and content make something absolutely beautiful.

 

This review of Pesterquest was based on the PC version of the game. A review copy was provided.

Infinite – Beyond The Mind Review – Hack ‘n Sigh

Infinite – Beyond The Mind Review – Hack ‘n Sigh

Remember Strider? How about Shinobi or Metal Slug? These are all well-loved games from the side-scrolling action genre which, until the rise of indie gaming, was an exclusive resident of the 8 & 16-bit era. Emilie COYO recalls these titles fondly, and their debut game, Infinite – Beyond The Mind, attempts to pay homage to this classic genre. Heading into Infinite – Beyond The Mind, you might expect a nostalgia-driven experience with some fun, retro action and a dorky but endearing plot. Sadly, the final product manages to be anything but.

 

Damsels In Distress 

 

The story begins in that eventful year of 20XX with Tanya and Olga, two women with special powers. At the game’s start, you’ll choose one of these characters to play as while the other is kidnapped by Queen Evangelyn, the dictator who helms the militaristic Beljantaur Kingdom. From there, it’s your job to take down the Queen’s forces and rescue your spiritual sister before her powers are used for evil.

 

Infinite - Beyond the mind upgrades

 

Anyone hoping to get wrapped up in an evolving narrative throughout the game, though, will be sorely disappointed. Zero context is provided as you flit between jungles and army bases, so you’ll emotionally check out well before you reach the game’s obligatory ice level. The only cutscene occurs moments before the final boss, which proceeds to dump a sudden and underwhelming backstory on the player. More uncomfortably, it then attempts to ‘do an Undertale’ by calling into question how many people you’ve killed along the way in an effort to make the player feel the pangs of cognitive dissonance. It rings hollow, especially when campaign progression is frequently gated until you’ve murdered waves of bad guys. It’s a contrived and unfulfilling story which is all the more aggravating to endure because the actual game leading up to this conclusion is deeply frustrating.

 

A Long Way Down

 

It is, however, fair to mention that the game’s boilerplate, hack-‘n-slash gameplay is perfectly adequate. Combat is a little weightless, and enemy quantity typically stands in for quality encounters, but overall, the game is bug free and the controls function to an acceptable standard. There’s even some fun to be had during the shmup-style levels that’re interspersed throughout the campaign. It’s a shame, then, that the missions themselves are unexciting to conquer and full of maddening design choices. Stages feel endless due to lengthy stretches of empty space and mandatory mid-level wave combat encounters that always manage to overstay their welcome. The sides of spikes hurt you, and some vehicles smash into you from off-screen, resulting in undeserved damage. Before you’ve even pressed ‘Play,’ you can automatically attribute 80% of your total deaths to the numerous insta-kill bottomless pits that litter the game’s second half. Restarting a stage after falling to your death is a demoralising prospect, especially when the slog to regain your progress is lengthy and fraught with unengaging combat. When you factor in the game is a whopping 16 chapters long, that feeling of miserable exhaustion after you die may determine if you actually have the patience to see the game through to the end. Then there are the compulsory turret sequences…

 

Infinite - Beyond the mind enemies

 

Turret sections have long been the subject of ridicule in gaming, but at least they serve some purpose. Even during their most shallow incarnations, they cleanse the gameplay palette and offer a fleeting power trip to the player. The first turret you see in Infinite – Beyond The Mind evokes fond memories of piloting the mechs in Metal Slug, but once you jump inside and start shooting, all those happy thoughts disappear faster than a speeding bullet. Aiming the guns is achieved through a wide and lazy turning circle, so it’s a struggle to take out incoming threats. If the turret takes a hit, an eternity passes as you wait for the stun animation to end. After it does, more foes are ready to attack, thus freezing you in a lengthy cycle of stun locks which is only broken once the gun is destroyed. Turrets can be a fun reprieve, but here, the sight of one elicits thoughts of dread.

By far, though, the game’s most egregious issue is its inconsistent difficulty. You’ll breeze through the game’s opening levels only to get trapped in a stage that suddenly expects far too much from the player. Unless you played the optional tutorial, at no point does the game try to layer in or teach its wall jumping mechanic. As a result, it leaves players ill-equipped to deal with the later stages where, in a brazenly misguided attempt to replicate Half Life’s Xen levels, the game suddenly decides its strong suit was always its platforming. One late-game boss even has the gall to engage you in a room where a pair of climbable walls are the only thing separating you from an insta-death pit of rising toxic gas. This is officially where the game hits rock bottom, and I can personally say that it’s one of the most infuriating and misconceived boss fights I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing.

 

Game Over, Man

 

Character design is also oddly unappealing. The look of sub bosses appears to be lifted from the depths of DeviantArt and the overall visual tone never knows if it wants to be cute, sexy, or scary. An early indicator of this arrives in the form of the game’s first boss:, two shirtless dudes strangely introduced as ‘Royal Guards’. In almost any other game, this would establish a jovial, tongue-in-cheek tone, but here it sets a lewd precedent that uncomfortably lingers in the mind like an embarrassing memory.

 

Infinite - Beyond the mind Boss

 

The one thing Infinite – Beyond The Mind has going for it is some genuinely decent pixel art, particularly the game’s backgrounds. Detailed mountain ranges and cityscapes briefly catch the eye when starting a new stage, and they follow the action smoothly, thanks to multiple layers of parallax scrolling. On a technical level, the graphics are of a high standard, but the art direction really lets the side down. Virtually every level uses the same military aesthetic to the point where stages begin to blur into one.

More damning is the unoriginal turn the visuals take in the game’s final act, which is entirely derivative of Aliens. The penultimate level is a Facehugger hatchery, its boss is literally a Xenomorph, and the final encounter is fought in front of a (say it with me) giant air-lock. It’s immeasurably disheartening to see the weight of the game’s finale so shamelessly rely on nostalgic goodwill rather than try to establish its own identity.

 

The Lowdown

 

There’s an underlying sense throughout Infinite – Beyond The Mind that the developer has a technical, but not an emotional, understanding of what makes a compelling game. Thankless gameplay and an undernourished plot make this an adventure that’s near-impossible to recommend. The game would earn some favour if it at least tried to show off a new idea, provide a creative wrinkle in the gameplay, present an original moment in the storytelling, or offer some spark that says, ‘Look at me and pay attention!’ Instead, it’s an indie game with some OK pixel art, and in 2020, they’re a dime a dozen.

 

This review was based upon the PC version of the game. A review code was provided for this purpose.

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

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

Unfurl the banners and ready the feast!

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.

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

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

Unfurl the banners and ready the feast!

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.