Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove Review (Switch) – “Pure 8-Bit Solid Gold”

With indies being a scene where developers can truly create the games they envision, Yacht Club Games sought out to release a game that’s an homage to the golden NES era of gaming. Shovel Knight was a true Kickstarter success story, and since then, the developers have continued to keep adding to the game. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove has hit the Nintendo Switch as a launch day title, containing three campaigns: Shovel of Hope (the original Shovel Knight), Plague of Shadows, and the newly released Specter of Torment. How does this compilation fare on Nintendo’s new platform, and how does Specter of Torment fare as the newly released addition?

Let’s kick off by saying, if you haven’t played Shovel Knight on any platform yet, there is no better time to experience it. Yacht Club Games is extremely passionate of their project and have literally brought it to almost every platform possible. Now, here we are with a version for the Nintendo Switch, containing the entire package plus more. As mentioned, Shovel Knight contains three campaigns, and while the majority of the review will cover Specter of Torment, we will cover the basic ground work of what’s new with the previous campaigns.

Shovel Knight’s original campaign remains fully intact, with the added features such as co-op play and Custom Knight (both of which were on the Wii U with its latest update). Additionally, there is a new feature to summon a fairy knight to follow you around and highlight where helpful items are (both in plain sight and hidden). Plague of Shadows takes the original campaign’s framework and provides players with an entirely new (and challenging) way to play by controlling Plague Knight. This has players trying to master the alchemy that Plague Knight wields, and utilizing this fully during platforming sequences. It’s a fun twist to the original Shovel of Hope campaign that’s certainly a ramped up challenge. However, the real highlight of the show here is Specter of Torment. While the original Shovel Knight (Shovel of Hope) is a spectacular game, and Plague of Shadows is a blast (literally), Specter of Torment really takes the formula further ahead.

This campaign serves as a prequel to the events leading up to Shovel of Hope. It tells the tragic story of Donovan and how he became Specter Knight. Without spoiling anything, Specter of Torment’s story is the strongest one told yet, and kept me going to see how it all connected. You will face off against all the knights from Shovel of Hope, showing how they swore their allegiance to the Enchantress. However, the levels will not be the same layouts as that from Shovel of Hope. Make no mistake, Specter of Torment feels more like a sequel to Shovel Knight (even if it is a prequel) rather than a simple addition.

Specter Knight’s platforming and combat has much more versatility than Shovel Knight and Plague Knight. Thanks to Specter Knight’s ability to run up walls for short distances, grind rails on his scythe, and “Dash Slash”, this really adds an engaging new dynamic to the gameplay. It’s not even just these new mechanics, but rather the brilliance in each level’s design. Yacht Club Games clearly provided an immense level of care to each stage, testing players with these mechanics and making them feel rewarded. Even with those tense platforming moments, the game never hits that mark of being “hard” just to be “hard”, but rather hits that perfect mark of being “challenging but fair”. Even the Dash Slash makes a big difference in terms of combat. Imagine Ninja Gaiden’s Ryu Hayabusa homing in on ememies with his air slash attack and you have an idea of what’s in place here. Whether with enemies or bosses, it feels gratifying to keep pulling off. And speaking of bosses, all the bosses have new attacks and tricks up their sleeves. Oh and the final boss battle in particular is really badass.

Specter Knight’s overall structure is similar to Shovel of Hope. After the opening level, you will be presented to the Tower Hub where you can walk around and talk to NPCs, acquire upgrades, find hidden elements, and choose your level. Unlike Shovel of Hope, you will have access to all the levels right from the get-go (akin to Mega Man). Throughout the levels you will find red skulls. These can be used to acquire Darkness abilities in the Tower Hub. These abilities range from summoning a skeleton sniper, to recovering health, to throwing your scythe and have it slice along platforms to take out enemies. A really neat feature is that when you cash in the skulls for an ability, you are brought to an area where you must escape using that particular ability. As opposed to just having the ability and rarely trying it, or not knowing how it works at all, the developers found a perfect middle ground introducing new abilities. You can even upgrade those abilities and acquire new sets of armor to change your passive attributes. For example, there’s an armor that allows you to still live if you fall on spikes or fall in a perilous pit (which would normally be an instakill).

When you beat the 3-5 hour campaign, there’s a New Game Plus mode, as well as a Challenge mode. You can even go back and try to get 100% game completion before tackling New Game Plus. Investing in the Treasure Trove collection versus just Specter of Torment will net you the previous campaigns as mentioned. Also new in this version is Body Swap mode. Every character has a male and female altered appearance now. The Enchantress will now be The Enchanter, and all the Knights will have specified appearances and animations to coincide with their gender swap. It’s a neat little feature, and one that feels more thoughtout than thrown-in. Playing through Shovel Knight in co-op is also a great addition and something not often seen in 2D side-scrollers.

Visually, Specter of Torment (and its predecessors) is a flawless rendition of how an old-school, 8-bit game looks. The game runs at 60 fps (as many NES games did), has stunning sprite work, and excellent backdrop effects. It’s like literally popping in a high-quality NES cartridge. It’s just stunning to see how clean it all looks while maintaining the authentic old-school style. Audio wise, Jake Kaufman returns to provide a remixed soundtrack (and some new tunes of course) for Specter of Torment, and hits it out of the park. The soundtrack perfectly nails the energy this campaign has and stuck with me well after turning the game off. The entire audio package is superb and really nails the NES feel to a tee. 

It must be stated that I was a bit concerned playing this with the Joy-Con’s button pad. After going back and forth playing this with the Joy-Cons and Pro controller, I can positively say that the Joy-Con’s button pad was very natural to play with. So if you were on the fence about playing this side scroller with the Joy-Cons and can’t find a Pro controller at the moment, the button pad does a superb job.

No matter how you perceive it, the NES era was an absolutely essential moment in gaming history. Through the 8-bit era, we have come to see many iconic characters burst into the gaming world, becoming legends amongst the gaming society. From Mario, Link, Mega Man, Hayabusa, Bomberman, and countless others, there’s no denying the impact these characters made 30+ years ago, up to this very day. Shovel Knight and crew certainly ranks among these legendary characters. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is an absolutely essential game to own on the Switch. It’s perfectly crafted gameplay and level design truly showcase a labor of love for this genre that many others cannot imitate. For $25, you’re getting a combined 10-15 hours of three campaigns, plus an additional free campaign (King Knight) releasing in the near future, as well as a free 4-player Battle Arena mode (also in the near future). Steel thy shovel and get this collection now!

Overall Score: 9.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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