When Yacht Club Games put a four-player battle mode onto its Kickstarter stretch goals, the team probably didn’t anticipate it morphing into a wholly separate game. This was a bonus mode, a quick novelty to supplement the main campaign rather than grab the spotlight. However, much like the playable boss characters morphing into full-on new releases, so too did this multiplayer mayhem transform into SHOVEL KNIGHT SHOWDOWN. A four-player local-co op platform fighter, the game shines as an excellent bonus for Shovel Knight fans. Where it stumbles is in its existence as a full-fledged game all on its own.
Amazingly, even this multiplayer-focused game has a tale to tell in the world of Shovel Knight. Picking up in the closing moments of Specter of Torment, Specter Knight’s allies want to find a way to fight back against the evil Enchantress. They decided to reconfigure a magic mirror to serve as a capture point for the maleficent overlord. Unfortunately, their tinkering causes the magic mirror to shatter, breaking reality in the process. Friends and foes alike team up in a battle arena to fight off countless counterfeit knights and restore order to the kingdom.
Shovel Knight Showdown Review | Brawlin’ and bouncin’
With continuity explained away, Shovel Knight Showdown can get down to the brawling gameplay it does best. Despite some of its shortcomings, this is a well-made battler at its core. Each character has an interesting move set based on their prior appearances, although there doesn’t appear to be much thought put into balance. The titular Shovel Knight lacks a lot of the movement options of his cohorts, making him ill-suited to the main gameplay loops of grabbing items and maneuvering into position to knock enemies out of bounds. Meanwhile, a character like Specter Knight or The Enchantress have seemingly infinite dashes that double as offensive maneuvers.
While the game may not be esports ready, Shovel Knight Showdown does offer the thrill of playing as every notable character from across the series. Once you unlock every last one, you have an eclectic bunch that offers a wide variety of options for any type of player. Some, like King of Cards star King Knight and the aforementioned Specter Knight, feel more fleshed out than others, which makes sense. When you’ve got a whole campaign to draw from, you’re going to have more gameplay possibilities than a character that only shows up at the end of a stage. Still, since Showdown is going for fun rather than strict competitive Evo-level viability, it works out in the end.
Shovel Knight Showdown Review | The trouble with targets
Speaking of unlocks, Showdown is as rich with secrets and bonuses as its platforming cousins. There are feats that unlock alternate color schemes, new arenas, and more characters to fill out your ranks. Most of these unlocks come after beating story mode with each character, a task that poses its own set of problems. The Shovel Knight games have always been difficult but fair platformers, but that same ethos hasn’t transferred over to Showdown‘s Smash Bros.-stylings. The battles work just fine, but the special stages throw a cog in the works every time.
Just like Smash, you get a “break the targets” style mini-game in the middle of your arcade ladder. Where it differs from Smash is that this round isn’t a bonus, it’s just as vital as the fights with A.I. opponents. You have to hit a certain score target in a certain amount of time, or you lose a continue and start again. On Easy, this is time-consuming but doable. On Medium and above, the task is herculean, especially if you’re playing solo or using one of the smaller characters without movement options. Even at its best, this style of gameplay drags and kills your momentum as you try to unlock everything Showdown has to offer.
Shovel Knight Showdown Review | Thwarting the A.I.
When you’re not banging your head against the target mode, you’ll generally breeze right through the A.I. fights. The computer opponents aren’t that smart, even when you crank the difficulty up. They seem to have trouble with auto-scrolling stages and don’t mind standing still for seconds at a time contemplating their existence while you wail on them. Things only get tricky when you have to face off against a swarm of them at once. I had trouble simply due to the A.I. shoving their bodies in front of me, creating an impassable obstacle that forced me off the stage. The one time the game does feel like traditional Shovel Knight in campaign is the story mode’s end boss, which delivers on everything you’d want from the series.
A disappointing single-player component isn’t too surprising in a platform fighter. It’s a genre built around multiplayer, which is why a lack of online support should be another huge blow. On console platforms, it certainly is, but the Steam version of Shovel Knight Showdown flies in the face of convention thanks to the newly released Remote Play Together feature. I was able to enjoy the game with friends from across the country with the push of a button. It performed as advertised and works as a full replacement for an online component. Whether it’s through PC magic, PS4 Share Play, or a full couch, just know that friends are pretty much required to get the most out of this experience.
Shovel Knight Showdown Review | Pommel party
Needing other people is what downgrades Shovel Knight Showdown below its legendary kin. Despite good intentions, this smattering of modes and options never quite come together as something worth seeking out on its own. It’s a solid choice for local multiplayer gatherings, but there’s not enough shine on this armor to take things beyond a passing novelty. That’s probably fine. Considering its origins, it’s a wonder that Shovel Knight Showdown got as much love as it did. While there are a host of better options to get your indie Smash on, Shovel Knight Showdown is still a well-made treasure worth coveting.
GameRevolution reviewed Shovel Knight Showdown on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is available for individual purchase or as a free update to Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove.