I doubt backers expected back in March of 2013 that the retro-inspired Shovel Knight game they were investing in would continue to expand and grow for so long. The fact that this game has done so, and is now concluding leaves me with a small feeling of sadness with this, the final expansion release in Shovel Knight: King of Cards. Any sadness though leaves me the moment I jump into this fantastic game, reminding me why this title is so special.
Taking place prior to the original Shovel of Hope campaign, you play as the golden monarch, King Knight. Presumably having watched far too much Yu-Gi-Oh growing up, King Knight decides he must travel across the kingdom to take on champions of the card game, Joustus, in their quest to win a fabled mysterious prize.
Similar to the previous expansions of Shovel Knight, King Knight comes with his own unique set of moves and abilities, one of which involves him dashing into walls or enemies. Doing so will send King Knight spiraling into the air with grace and style, allowing you to bounce on enemies or dig into gem piles, similarly to the shovel-pogo. What is a king without loyal subjects to boss around? The second of King Knight’s main mechanics is the ability to do just that. Wielding the mighty magic of monarchy, King Knight can order the likes of his royal rodents, strapped with bombs, to charge courageously into their foes, exploding on contact. Each underling and kingly-item he finds serves to make him a grander king.
Many stages return from the previous campaigns of Shovel Knight’s past, retooled to suit the King’s specific abilities alongside new ones that will test the king’s skill. Similarly, you will be doing battle with many familiar faces, each fight made new again as you contend with them with your new skills. Yacht Club continues to prove that they know what they’re doing as the platforming found in King of Cards is exceptional.
Combat and exploration is merely a detour as the king’s true quest is to topple the Joustus Judges, win an incredible treasure, and be crowned an actual king, the King of Cards! Taking place on varying size boards, your aim is to push your cards into spots that hold gems. Whoever holds the most gems when the entire board gets filled, wins. The large pool of cards you are able to collect on your travels adds a similar “gotta collect ‘em all” drive that trading card games have. Joustus has a good amount of depth and strategy but isn’t too intimidating for players who aren’t big into TCGs. I was particularly a fan of the idea that King Knight can cheat, turning the odds in his favor. By purchasing special cheat cards from Chester, you will be able to take advantage of such cheats as playing your entire hand at once, changing all of the gems on the field currently held to your own color, or even weakening your opponent’s cards. This silly addition adds character and charm to an already silly game. As much as I appreciate the work that Yacht Club put into Joustus however, it never quite fully clicked with me. Whenever I had to play Joustus, I found myself getting through it so I could get back to the platforming. After going through tense platforming levels, these tournaments halted a lot of the sense of momentum, making them a bit of a drag.
King of Cards is a strong sendoff for this first generation of Shovel Knight. I wouldn’t put it at the top, as I still find the original campaign to be the best of the bunch, but the silly nature of this romp with King Knight is worth taking. The new characters, especially King Knight’s loving mother, are stars and I hope that we get to see them again. This final campaign is a perfect reason to reinstall your Treasure Trove game and for new players, King of Cards rounds out an already exceptional package that any fan of platforming games owes it to themselves to experience. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we get to venture out with Shovel Knight and the Order of No Quarter again.
This game was reviewed on a PC with a review code provided by a PR representative of the game