Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment Review

Following the success of Shovel Knight and its Plague of Shadows expansion, Yacht Club Games is back with another installment of the retro-inspired 2D platformer. This time you follow the origin story of the mysterious Specter Knight, one of Shovel Knight’s fearsome foes, as he gathers knights to join The Order of No Quarter. Specter of Torment takes the series to new heights while remaining true to its challenging side-scroller roots.

Specter Knight wields a scythe, arguably a more common video game weapon than a shovel. Beyond basic close-range attacks, you can perform an upward or downward diagonal slash on most opponents and objects, thrusting you past them. Not only does this help you reach higher ground, but it’s also necessary to cross bottomless pits. By slashing through enemies in succession, you string combos together. The burst of momentum from each hit lends itself to satisfying twitch-based gameplay. Accompanied with the ability to climb walls and grind rails, you’re endlessly moving, producing a gratifying mix of combat and platforming.

It helps that the stages are so wonderfully designed, which should come as no surprise for Shovel Knight veterans. Though the locations may look familiar, the experience is wholly new thanks to Specter Knight’s radically different abilities. In fact, the stages have been retooled to complement the unique playstyle. Slashable lanterns provide boosts to higher platforms, grindable rails push you along in paths reminiscent of Donkey Kong Country, and novel enemies shoot projectiles that you can use to your advantage. The creative stage elements that are carried over from Shovel Knight also impress. Be it magical books that create temporary platforms or snow mounds that cover one-hit-kill spikes, the masterfully crafted design keeps you on your toes. Each stage caps off with a challenging Mega Man-esque boss battle against one of the knights. Like the stages, the one-on-one forays have been altered to reflect the slash-dash heavy combat, and lead to some truly surprising encounters.

Specter of Torment wisely retains elements that worked well in the original game. You can still destroy checkpoints for money, creating high risk/reward situations. Instead of a traditional life system, you lose money upon death, which you can reclaim if you can avoid death’s grasp the second time around. Stages are littered with breakable walls and hidden paths leading to treasure.

If it wasn’t clear, treasure and money play a big role in the game, allowing you to purchase new ability-granting cloaks, increase your health (or “Will” to fight, as it were), and obtain new skills called “Curios.” By using up some of your “Darkness,” a form of magic, you can perform special techniques such as throwing boomerang sickles, floating in midair, and creating a battle-ready clone. These skills are fun to activate and add to Specter Knight’s already diverse moveset. They work well for gamers who may find the game challenging, providing them with ways to circumvent health loss and even death.

The main game is short, partly because a small hub castle replaces the typical overworld map, removing some of the extra surprises. While some compelling story-based stages fill the gap, the tale is over just as quickly as it began. Postgame modes and achievement-like “Feats” lengthen the game, and finding every secret collectible can take some time too, depending on skill level. Nevertheless, it’s about five hours of quality gameplay, so it’s hard to complain.

The stunning faux-NES graphics and visually pleasing artstyle round out the package. From the detailed backgrounds to the cute character designs, you can see the intent to build a coherent, beautiful world. The remixed Shovel Knight playlist sounds just as good as its source music, which were some of the catchiest chiptunes I had heard in years.

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment is one of the best launch games the Nintendo Switch currently has to offer. As far as platformers go, the only better option would be to plop money down and get the full Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove experience, which bundles this in. Specter of Torment is such a solid feature-filled game on its own that you wouldn’t guess it was a DLC expansion. Yacht Club Games has outdone itself retooling an already excellent game with new satisfying acrobatic thrills.

I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!