“Shovel Knight” was one of the best surprises of 2014 for me. It came out of nowhere and gave me something I didn’t realize I wanted: a classic 2-D platformer with all the best elements of some of my favorite classic games from the NES era like “Mega Man”, “DuckTales”, and even “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link”. Yacht Club Games managed to also bring mechanics from more modern games like “Dark Souls” to give us a truly unique, yet familiar experience that would have easily grace my top ten favorite games of that year.
Fast-forward to February of 2017 where the developer has released its second expansion since the original game. Much like the first expansion, “Specter of Torment” puts you in control of one of the bosses from “Shovel Knight” to enjoy a whole new adventure. But rather than merely giving you a new character in the same world, this time around the developers have given us a completely redesigned set of levels on top of a clever spin on the mechanics. The final product far exceeded my expectations, and has solidified Yacht Club Games as one of my most-respected indie developers. And I can’t wait to see what they do next.
“Specter of Torment” takes us back to events before the story of the original game, a sort of history lesson that eventually leads us to the “Shovel of Hope” campaign. Specter Knight is on a mission to recruit The Order of No Quarter for the Enchantress, and each original level tasks him with making his way to each boss, forcing them to submit to the rule of the Enchantress. Along the way, we’re also given further backstory behind Specter Knight himself, how he fell in battle, and was eventually resurrected by the Enchantress herself to do her bidding. Where most prequels fall under the umbrella of “trying too hard”, the deceptively simple plot device works perfectly and kept me engaged for my entire five-to-six hour run of the campaign.
Not only are we given a fresh story, but a new set of mechanics as well. Specter Knight may be hampered by a shorter jump height than Shovel Knight was, but his extra abilities make platforming even more fun the third time around. Our anti-hero is given the ability to cling to and climb up walls for a short distance. That coupled with the ability to attack enemies while in midair in a diagonal direction add just the right does of novelty to the familiar formula. This mechanic also plays a major part in traversing each stage, as Specter Knight also has the ability to slash through inanimate objects in the environment to shoot him up to higher ledges.
One of the marks of a quality game is one that makes me feel like I’m far better at video games than I actually am, and “Specter of Torment” does exactly that. Upon entering a room, it’s very clear early on what I need to do next, and it’s immensely satisfying as a player to
recognize it and follow through, many times on a first attempt. Much like the original, the level of difficulty hits that perfect sweet spot in that I never felt frustrated with the design, but still felt like I were pulling of some insane platforming at the same time. In addition, while most games get increasingly difficult, this one stays consistent up till the final stage. You have the choice to tackle each boss in any order you choose, and it truly makes no difference which path you take.
I truly couldn’t ask for a better presentation for a game like this. The 16-bit style graphics are vibrant, and each level feels completely unique in its level design. The bosses (and especially Specter Knight himself) have beautiful animations and character designs that are not as much a part of my modern nostalgia as the ones from my childhood. On top of that, the original, chip-tune music is throughly enjoyable to listen to and had me humming its tunes as I slashed my way through each unique locale.
I know that it’s been a very busy couple of months for AAA games, but do yourself a favor and do not overlook this gem of a title. Yacht Club Games are passionate about what they’re doing, and that passion shines through every frame of “Specter of Torment” as well as its predecessors. It’s truly an experience you won’t want to miss.
“Specter of Torment” is currently exclusive to the Nintendo Switch via eShop download, but will be available on all other platforms in April.