Shovel Knight: Showdown Review — A Challenger Approaches!

Shovel Knight: Showdown Review — A Challenger Approaches!

Yacht Club Games splashes into battle with their spin on the 2D platformer brawler with Shovel Knight: Showdown.

For the past six years, Yacht Club Games has been working on the same type of game: An NES-inspired platformer with unique characters for the player to control. Each expansion after the initial release of Shovel Knight has been a remix or reimagining of the mechanics to keep the game feeling fresh for each new playable knight. We just reviewed the last playable knight expansion, Shovel Knight: King of Cards, and thought it was a rousing send-off for Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove.

There was one more expansion though that launched simultaneously with King of Cards and it is an entirely new game type for Yacht Club Games. It’s also one that probably helped keep things fresh inside Yacht Club Games while they worked on some of the generation’s best 2D platformers.

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Shovel Knight: Showdown is a one to four player battle game. Showdown takes the platformer mechanics of Shovel Knight and turns them into a brawler. Really though, Showdown is a party game. It takes cues from local party classics to try and make a party game tailored to Shovel Knight fans and newcomers alike. With four friends, I could easily see Showdown entering your rotation of Friday night games to play during get-togethers alongside others like Towerfall, Jackbox, and others. Where Showdown falls short, however, is in an unbalanced single-player offering and inconsistent controls.

Showdown’s main multiplayer mode consists of three main game types. There is Treasure Clash, Showdown, and Chester’s Choice. Treasure Clash has players duke it out over a set number of gems that spawn in random locations throughout the stage. When a player dies, they will lose a gem. First player to reach the set goal or to have the most when time runs out will be that round’s winner. The game’s namesake, Showdown, is a traditional 2D platform fighter, where the last player or team standing wins it all.

Right out of the gate, an immediate comparison to Super Smash Bros. can be made. It’s not a far stretch at all, especially when you remember that the little blue knight is an assist trophy in Nintendo’s staple fighting franchise.

Showdown can be played just like Smash with a set life count, with or without items, and on various stages themed after stages in the Shovel Knight universe. The roster of unlockable characters will be immediately familiar to fans of the series. Showdown is not just a Shovel Knight skinned clone of Super Smash Bros. though. Mechanics unique to platformers enter the fray to give Showdown its own unique flair.

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Most stages have continuous boundaries, where walking off-screen on one side will spit you out on the other. Reminiscent of older arcade games like Pac-Man or the original Mario Bros. this makes for strategic screen transitions and safer edges to the maps. This makes it less punishing for new players, while rewarding those that think ahead and carefully space themselves.

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When a player takes damage, they enter a retro-flashing animation used to indicate damage/invulnerability. This stage of temporary invincibility lasts for quite a bit, but can be ended whenever a player chooses to by initiating an attack. While a player is invulnerable, they cannot collect gems or items, making it a fair trade-off that lets players position themselves before re-entering the fight.

Where Showdown really sets itself apart is with its Mario Party-inspired mode, Chester’s Choice. This mode takes all the possible game variants and presents pre-made rule sets on a flashy roulette. It provides a fun and random go at battling that removes all the friction of deciding on conditions as a group. Chester’s Choice quickly proves itself as the best mode in Showdown for taking control for you and just letting you and your friends party it up.

The core game modes are the backbone of Showdown’s story mode. Showdown tells a cute side story taking place during Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment that grants matchups that would not be possible without some fun magic. It can be played solo or in co-op with three levels of difficulty ranging from easy to hard. You’ll play through a set number of matches with various conditions. Some will be against a team of CPUs, others will be four player free-for-alls. It all ends in a pretty rad boss fight with the gnarliest pixel art boss I’ve seen in a hot minute.

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Smack dab in the middle of each story run is a challenge called Targets. The goal is to reach a certain score by racking up a huge combo. The targets are bales of hay and move across the screen on rails. If you destroy all the bails in a set, then your combo will ramp up. If you don’t destroy enough hay in time, the combo will dwindle down to zero again; taking damage will automatically kick it to the bottom.

When I first came across this mode, I got excited for the clear “break the targets” reference from Super Smash Bros. Then I lost five times in a row, which resulted in a game over kicking me back to the start. I tried again and could not reach the goal of 20,000 points. This was on medium difficulty. I kicked the story mode down to easy and breezed through the battles and was able to beat the targets mode with a lower goal of 10,000. I have continually not been able to pass this medium difficulty roadblock of targets. Hard mode is out of the question with its 40,000 point goal.

I’m not sure if I am just plain old terrible at this combo racking mini-game, but it sure sucks to hit the wall every time in story mode on anything higher than easy difficulty. While playing on the easiest setting allowed me to beat the story mode, it never challenged my actual battle skills against the CPU. Maybe playing with a partner in co-op is the key for me, but I don’t plan on breaking anymore targets real soon.

The roster of characters is super impressive for a first multiplayer outing. Ranging far wider than the bosses in Shovel Knight, there are 20 characters to choose from. Each varies in size and ability, giving players a buffet of pixelated fighters. I played with some friends that have never played Shovel Knight in any capacity. They thought characters like Polar Knight and the Liquid Ninja were rad, while I opted for characters with more finesse, like King Knight. My knowledge of Shovel Knight gave me some edge as I knew how my character would play (especially coming off playing King of Cards) and typically what they could possibly do.

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The controls are the same across the roster. The Y button is attack, the B button is jump, the X button executes a special move, and the L or R button triggers a parry. If a parry is pulled off when another player attacks you, then they will be knocked back. These controls also mean that it is not possible to play Showdown with an NES style controller, like the other games, since it requires four buttons.

These basic controls help with the pick-up and party aspect of the game, but some characters have more moves than others. Take for example Propeller Knight, who has nine moves in his move list compared to Shovel Knight’s six. The only way to find this discrepancy out is to pause the match and check the Move List for each character. Some characters fly or hover, while others are bound to the ground. These move sets fit each character’s design extremely well, but it comes off to me as imbalanced and creates a barrier to entry for people who may pick a character and wonder why their opponent can do so much more than they can.

Unlocking all these characters is rather easy and offers you plenty of choice. Unlock events will take place after every few multiplayer matches or when you complete certain challenges, conveniently listed in the challenge menu with handy hints. You could also play through the story mode with each character and unlock the rest bit by bit. For those with a lack of patience or those who need to unlock everything for a party, there are some handy cheat codes that Yacht Club Games released to expedite the process. There is a code for both temporarily or permanently unlocking all of the game’s unlocks. I tried out the temporary code and was met with a clear message saying that progress would not be saved until I rebooted the game. After that, everything was at my fingertips, allowing my friends and I to soak in all the new characters and stages. It’s a clever balance of giving players choice for whatever situation they may be in.

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Shovel Knight is finally done. Every Kickstarter goal has been met and Yacht Club Games is finished. Showdown is a fun, break-from-concept game that captures the heart of Shovel Knight for multiple people. It has heart that I can easily see being the life of a game night with friends, but the heart doesn’t beat as strong when playing by yourself.

Showdown is a great first effort into multiplayer madness beyond co-op for Yacht Club Games that I am sure will carry lessons into their next project. Showdown is a compliment to the entire Treasure Trove package that does not encroach on the core experience. Some people will love Showdown’s addition and others will brush it off to the side. It’s like a cherry on top of an ice cream sundae; a sweet inclusion, but not essential to the overall enjoyment of the package.