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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Mighty Switch Force! 2 Review (Wii U): “A Fiery Good Time”

Mighty Switch Force 2 Wii U Wallpaper 1

WayForward has had quite the relationship with Nintendo. Whether it be the 3DS, Wii or Wii U, they have always been fond of bringing their titles to Nintendo’s market. At the Wii U’s launch, WayForward remastered the predecessor in full HD, all hand-drawn, and provided a few extras to the HD edition. Earlier this year, the 3DS was graced with the sequel to the cult hit, “Mighty Switch Force! 2”. However, after much demand, WayForward has brought the game over to the Wii U. Does the sequel come blazing in hot or completely washed out?

Mighty Switch Force 2 is a 2D action/puzzle-platformer at heart; One which starts off with a simple, yet unique premise. If you’ve played the original Mighty Switch Force, whether for the 3DS or Wii U edition, the gameplay remains essentially the same. You’ll control Patricia Wagon again, who’s now part of the Galactic Fire Brigade and equipped with an Infinity Dousing Apparatus (I.D.A.) that lets you spray water to no end, trying to capture the Hooligan Sisters. Much like its predecessor, you’ll have to platform your way through 16 incidents. Gameplay wise, you’ll traverse the levels capturing five Hooligan Sisters scattered around the area and then escape with your robot cop sidekick (or as I still call him since the first game, Robocop). New in the sequel are the hidden crying babies in each incident. Find them and you’ll pull off a South Park by “kicking the baby” out of the screen. It’s hilarious when you see it actually happen as you wouldn’t expect Ms. Wagon to punt the baby. While platforming, you’ll notice blocks that are faded into the background. With the simple press of a button, you can switch the blocks to appear in the foreground and utilize them to make your way through the area. However, this simple concept will soon become a real test of your platforming skills, as you’ll have to master switching the blocks from foreground to background on the fly. Sometimes you’ll have to be mid-jump when transitioning this. Later on, you’ll need to be absolutely precise in timing the button pressing so that the background block doesn’t smash your character against the screen when transitioning to the foreground. Since the sequel revolves around the fire element, expect fiery obstacles to block your path. This is where your I.D.A. will come in handy most. You’ll have to extinguish fires that block your path, with small flames dousing almost instantly to larger flames that need more water to douse. If you don’t douse it all the way, it will rise again. In later stages you’ll have to platform on furnaces that you must douse to traverse, but must move quick as they’ll reignite.

Mighty Switch Force 2 Wii U Gameplay 1

It wouldn’t be a WayForward game if their platforming and overall gameplay didn’t ramp up dramatically in difficulty as you advance and their testament still stands here. You’ll get three hearts to get through an area, of which enemies, spikes, or accidentally smashing yourself against the screen when switching a block can take a heart away. There are heart discs that enemies can drop or are laying around the area so there’s a chance to revitalize yourself when needed. There are also checkpoints in each area but that’s only if you get smashed on screen or touch the spikes where they actually come into effect. If you lose all three hearts, you’ll have to repeat the level from the beginning. Luckily, a majority of the incidents are only a few minutes long, with the exception of the final levels. These ones are much more intensive and provide more of an endurance in terms of how much longer you’ll need to survive the insane platforming. Like the first game, there’s a final boss to tackle at the end of the last incident, and it’s pretty intense (also thanks to the music playing). Upon beating it, I wished WayForward would incorporate even more boss battles, as this was definitely a highlight during my playthrough.

Thanks for flying "Air Wagon"! We hope you fly again with us soon!

Thanks for flying “Air Wagon”! We hope you fly again with us soon!

Throughout the game, platforming won’t be your only enemy. Many of the same enemies return from the predecessor, varying from little flying creatures to lock-on to you as you approach them, to walking rocks lit on fire, to robotic dinosaur-type enemies that charge at you, to heavily armored spiky-shelled creatures. However, every enemy won’t be dealt with directly with your water blaster. While the flying creatures can be shot at easily, the robotic dinosaur-type enemies will require you to either shoot them from behind or trick them into running into a switch block and then launch them into the screen. Same goes for the spiky-shelled creatures. They can only be defeated by tricking them into falling on spikes or smashing them against the screen.  A new enemy introduced here are these bloated purple creatures with a big mouth to boot. To take them down, you’ll have to fill it up with enough water to make it explode. To make enemies even more interesting, WayForward made enemies essential into advancing your way through an area. For example, you may need to have fire rocks walk up to a large wooden block so they can set it on fire, opening a passage for you. You may need to utilize launching switch blocks to guide enemies to a certain area to clear a path or smash them against a screen to open a locked door. It’s these moments that really provide a grand sense of satisfaction and open up your mind into more creative ways to advance through a level. However, a new puzzle element are the switch blocks with piping in them. When you see these, you’ll shoot your water blaster into them so that water travels through the pathway and out the other end. This will help wash mud away that was blocking your path or one of the damsels. The puzzles involving these really provide even more satisfaction to the already fine tuned gameplay.

Visually, WayForward has always been known for having a mastery with 2D sprites. When we saw “Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition” on the Wii U last November, the game looked absolutely crisp and stunning in HD. Unfortunately, Mighty Switch Force! 2 is a straight port of the 3DS version that released earlier this year. If you’re expecting to see the lush, hand-drawn HD crisp visuals from Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition, you’ll be let down here. Instead, we get the game in pixelated form, which still looks great honestly! If it wasn’t for the fact that I was blown away with WayForward’s hand-drawn sprites (like Double Dragon Neon, Bloodrayne: Betrayal, and naturally, Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition), I wouldn’t be deducting points off the visuals department. The game still runs as rock solid as you’d expect from the developer’s previous efforts. Jake Kaufman returns to provide yet another great soundtrack for a WayForward title. Providing a little bit of techno, dubstep and retro sounding tracks, Mighty Switch Force! 2 has a catchy soundtrack that does a very good job of nailing the game’s setting. “Flame broiled” and “Safe and sound” may sound cheesy when Patricia delivers the line, but it’s so campy, it’s good.

Mighty Switch Force 2 Wii U Gameplay 3

While the game doesn’t take a terribly long time to beat, hardcore players can attempt to tackle the “Par” times for every incident. These will take the utmost perfection and memorization to complete and if you do, you should be very proud of yourself. These are not for the feint of heart. Unlike it’s HD predecessor, once you beat the game, there are no bonus levels or hyper blaster to replay the game with. As a side-note, I really do appreciate that WayForward is still the only developer to choose a more unique name for their community on the Miiverse. Instead of just calling it “Mighty Switch Force! 2 Community”, they’ve opted to call it “Mighty Switch Force! 2 Command Center”. I love the fact that WayForward tries to make the Miiverse community more “fun”.

KICK THE BABY!!

KICK THE BABY!!

Mighty Switch Force! 2 may not be the HD remaster that it’s predecessor got on the Wii U’s launch day, but that still doesn’t stop it from being a great game by any means. WayForward knows their 2D games and continues to excel in this department. While this edition may not exactly add any content to warrant a new purchase for those who own the 3DS version, Wii U owners would still do very well to grab this for a low $5.99 asking price. If you’ve never played the 3DS version and like your 2D platformers, then by all means pick this up now. It may be a short game, but it’s also just so gratifying to play thanks to the excellent level designs, additional new “switch” mechanics, beautiful visuals and an energetic soundtrack.

Overall Score: 8.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to WayForward for providing us a review copy for “Mighty Switch Force! 2”!

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Nano Assault Neo Review (Wii U eShop): “Wii U’s Super Stardust HD”

While early Wii U adopters are thoroughly engaged in surviving against zombies (ZombiU, expect our review soon), slicing and dicing enemies to pieces (Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge), sharing fun times with friends in a Nintendo filled theme park (Nintendo Land) or simply taking it old-school by playing as Nintendo’s much beloved mascot (New Super Mario Bros. U), there’s no denying the Wii U had a variety of titles available day one. Aside from the 25+ launch titles, Nintendo released a few indie-based titles that can be purchased off of their online service, Nintendo eShop. One of those titles is an arcade-style, twin-stick shooter known as Nano Assault Neo, developed by Shin’en. This is actually the sequel to the 3DS’s Nano Assault (our review here) that released last December and was always a title I recommended to any 3DS owners looking for a twin-stick shooter. While the 3DS version lacked a second analog stick and instead utilized face buttons, the latest installment, made exclusively for the Wii U, removes that control restriction. However, retailing for only $9.99 on the eShop, is it one actually worth your time?

In Nano Assault Neo, you’ll be controlling a vessel on various cell clusters and trying to purify them from virus-type creatures. The premise and controls are as simple as can be, but the game’s difficulty is far from it. When you tackle single-player, there are four clusters you’ll have to venture through: Epsilon, Zeta, Omicron and Sigma. Each cluster contains three cells (stages), followed by a boss battle. When you’re on a cell, you’ll be flying around and destroying everything in the area. You’ll simply control the vessel with the left analog stick while aiming and shooting with precision via the right analog stick. If you’re playing on the TV, you can utilize the Gamepad screen to see a 3D map of the cell and blips that showcase where you are and where the enemies are. Once you’ve eradicated at least 90% of the infection spread around the cell, an exit will open and you’ll have 30 seconds to get to it. Upon purifying a cell, you’ll be brought to the upgrades menu and can choose to obtain an extra life, acquire a secondary weapon, increase your combo meter or get a temporary shield. At the end of a cluster, you’ll face an intense boss that will keep you on the edge-of-your-seat . The bosses aren’t near impossible but still provide a solid challenge that demands your complete focus due to the barrage of projectiles coming at you from all directions.

As you destroy viruses, they may drop specific icons for you to pick up. They may drop the SAT icon, which allows your vessel to have a turret hover around you and provide extra firepower (you can collect up to 4 SATs for quadruple the firepower). There are Point Cards that are lying around cells but enemies may drop these occasionally as well. You’ll use these point cards to upgrade your vessel so collecting as many as possible certainly helps. On the rare occasion, enemies will drop letters that spell B-O-N-U-S. When these are all collected, you will be brought to a bonus stage after purifying a cell, where you’ll fly through a tunnel and have to collect as many point cards as possible without colliding into an object.

Now I mentioned earlier that the game is far from easy. In the original Nano Assault, a single hit would explode your vessel. In Neo, your vessel can now take three hits before dying. Hit detection has also been enhanced and projectiles now have a much better collision box that doesn’t result in slightly cheap deaths that would occur in the original. Should you lose all your lives at any point during one of the cells in the cluster, it’s game over and you’ll have to begin at the first cell of that cluster again. Thankfully, each cell only takes about 1-2 minutes to complete, aside from a few lengthier ones. It can be a difficult game, but never really falls into the “frustration” category, which is always a sign of solid game design. While the game could take less than an hour to beat, there are a few other modes available to play. After completing the short campaign, you’ll unlock Survivor mode, which pits you in random cells with a single life. Also, there’s Arcade mode, which allows you to play through any cell or boss battle of your choice and aim for the highest score possible. There’s leaderboard support on all the game modes so if you’re into that, you’ll extend your replay value here. There are also “Missions”, which act as an in-game Trophy/Achievement system. While they don’t exactly provide you with any incentive to get every one, it’s a nice bonus to see the developers throw in. Completionists will definitely be tested going for some of these. Also, there’s a two player local co-op mode (sorry, no online co-op), where player one will use the Gamepad as their own screen, while player two can use the Wii U Pro Controller, Wiimote-Nunchuk combo, or the Wii Classic Controller, while looking at the TV as their screen. It’s great to see Shin’en took advantage of this and there’s a great amount of fun to be had in co-op.

Simply put, Nano Assault Neo is the best looking launch title available for the Wii U. Running at 60 fps the entire time without a single hitch, while pushing vivid and lush 1080p resolution is fantastic. The game just looks absolutely stunning in action, with incredibly rich textures and detail. Nano Assault Neo can also be played entirely through the Wii U Gamepad and doesn’t lose an ounce of visual detail what-so-ever. You can switch between the Gamepad and TV instantly through the pause menu and there’s even a cool effect showing the screens transfer. Audio is equally as strong as the visuals as well. Providing an excellent techno soundtrack that perfectly accompanies the action, while also having some great sound effects, really helps provide for a more engaging experience. If you have your Wii U set up to a surround sound system or Turtle Beach headsets, crank that volume up.

Nano Assault Neo is a great sequel that takes what worked in the first title on the 3DS and improves upon them. While the game is short, the extra modes and new co-op feature will keep you coming back for more. Essentially, Nano Assault Neo is the Wii U’s “Super Stardust HD” and any twin-stick shooter fan, Super Stardust fan or Nano Assault (3DS) fan should immediately put down the $10 for this.

Overall Score: 9.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!