As I start this review, I have to say once again: I love how Yacht Club Games added so much free DLC to Shovel Knight. I once read that if they had charged a single penny for each new campaign, they could have made millions off the downloads, but instead they opted to add them for free – in an industry as greedy as the video game industry, I have a lot of respect for that.
Anyway, Spectre of Torment is the third Shovel Knight campaign and the second one they added to the base game – which can also be viewed as an independent game in its own right. In this story, you play as the Grim Reaper-esque Specter Knight, who I thought was one of the toughest bosses in the original game. While Plague of Shadows was different enough, I did think that Specter of Torment did more to distinguish itself from the original game. The story is not set at the same time as the base game and is actually a prequel, with Specter Knight working for the Enchantress at the Tower of Fate in order to help her grow her forces.
Just as Shovel Knight and Plague Knight both control very differently, Specter Knight also has a completely different playstyle. You have to jump through the air and lock onto things to attack with your scythe – you can also run up walls. Every level feels completely different and you ultimately have to get used to a whole new way of playing… and it’s really fun. There was a lot more technique to it, but once you master it, Specter Knight begins to feel very powerful.
One of the big upsides, for me, was the fact that the tone of this game was much darker. We learn that Specter Knight was once a regular human called Donovan and as you progress through the story, you get to play as Donovan in occasional flashbacks, all of which lead up to him eventually becoming Specter Knight. It’s as beautiful as it is tragic. Both of the previous two games had been moving, but nothing quite to the extent to what you get this time. It’s nice to have so much emotion in a 2D platformer as I know its a genre which can sometimes skrimp on the story side of things.
You’re also allowed to play through the game in whatever order you like, with all the levels accessible from the start. The benefit of this, I suppose, is that you don’t risk getting stuck on one specific level for ages, because you can just play the other levels until you’re good enough to come back to the one you struggled with. Since you can buy weapon and armour upgrades, Specter Knight may well be powerful enough to win those levels by the time you next return to them. In some ways, that makes it even more like Mega Man.
Other than that, all I can say is that this game is just delightful. It captures all the charm of the NES era of gaming and takes it further with modern technology. It has a beautiful 8-bit aesthetic and a suitable atmospheric soundtrack – I’ve already said this in my other Shovel Knight reviews, but it surpasses the games it drew inspiration from. Specter of Torment is, potentially, my favourite Shovel Knight campaign, as the character is particularly endearing and the gameplay is amazing. Definitely worth playing, though I would recommend at least playing regular Shovel Knight first.