Wednesday 18 December 2019

Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows Review (Switch)

The first major expansion released for Shovel Knight focuses on Plague Knight as the protagonist and runs in parallel to the main quest. It follows the same map as the original game and presents players with a remixed set of levels designed to accommodate Plague Knight's unique skill set.

Playing as Plague Knight requires you to get to grips with using explosives with three interchangeable parts. As the adventure progresses players will acquire different casings, fuses and explosive to create different bombs that do everything from heat seeking to sending walls of flame around the levels. Even basic functions like how long the bombs take to explode and weather they are thrown high or low can be customised as you progress.

Getting used to the bomb mechanic is tricky to start with and the initial levels can seem far more difficult when playing as Plague Knight. Once you have a few things unlocked and have more options the difficulty does drop but taking down Spectre Knight in particular was incredibly frustrating with just a basic load out.

The other key gimmick of the campaign is the how the health system works. Plague Knight is somewhat more fragile than Shovel Knight but he can boost his health with potions. The increased health bar stays in place until you die. At that point it reverts back to the original base level and players will need to find more potions to increase it again. This sets up a risk strategy where it can often be safer to travel through levels with low health so as not to waste the potion effects until you get to a major obstacle.

After a tough and somewhat frustrating start we found the Plague of Shadows campaign developed into a highly enjoyable and smartly written adventure. There’s a lot of humour in the interactions between Plague Knight and the other characters and small touches like the character having to take alternate ways into the villages and other areas where ‘good guys’ are often raise a smile. Size wise it rivals the original game as well which is impressive.

Overall, if you enjoyed Shovel Knight and are up for a challenge then you should enjoy this adventure as well. It requires a completely different rhythm and approach to the original game and offers up a greater understanding of the world and characters that fans should love. It can be frustrating but once the new mechanics click you’ll be just as addicted to it as before.


Friday 13 December 2019

Shovel Knight: Looking at all Five Amiibo

For an indie game Shovel Knight has impressively managed to have had five separate Amiibo figures created for it. Here we are going to look in more detail at what they do and how the figures hold up.

All five of the Amiibo act in pretty much the same way. Each one allows for the unlocking of exclusive challenges and fairy companions which accompany you through the game and mainly provide comic relief by doing little actions like riding on enemies or trying to pick up jewels. On top of this the Amiibo Knight three pack also unlocks an exclusive cosmetic set of armour for each character and knight related spirits in Super Smash Brothers Ultimate.

The Blue and Gold Shovel Knight both unlock the same Shovel Knight related content (aside from some gold looking armour). With these you get customisation options for the appearance of your Shovel Knight. It also unlocks the ability to play through as Custom Knight. Here you level up by collecting gold and unlock new abilities and relics as you go (some of which are exclusive to this mode and comically overpowered to boot). It offers a different way to play and is the most significant reason to track down either of the Shovel Knight figures.

All the Amiibo are impressively detailed with King Knight being our personal favourite. How essential they are depends on how much you love the game. The Shovel Knight figures are definitely worth tracking down as they add a genuinely new and unique way to play the game. The Three pack is more cosmetic so a lot will depend on how much you like the actual figures themselves. Look at our pictures below to see just how detailed these figures are.


Thursday 12 December 2019

Shovel Knight: The Shovel of Hope Review (Switch)

Shovel Knight has been around a long time now. We loved it when we tried the PC version out originally and found it had lost none of its magic on the PS4, Vita or Wii U, in fact it became only the third game to receive a 10/10. Another in the long line of retro styled platformers, it has always had something a little bit special about it.

The game follows the tale of Shovel Knight who used to act as one of the champions of the land, defending it from evil along with his companion Shield Knight. One day the two knights fall fowl of a cursed amulet in a magic tower. Shovel Knight awakens to find Shield Knight has been sealed in the tower and the entrance is now impassable. While Shovel Knight hides away from the world the evil forces of the enchantress take hold. In doing so she unseals the magic tower and Shovel Knight sets off to rescue Shield Knight and stop the evil.

Shovel Knight is a platform game that wears its influences very plainly on its sleeve. There’s a  bit of Mega Man in there, (though you don’t take powers from fallen bosses), Some Duck Tales style bouncing, a bit of Castlevania 2 and 3 with the sub weapons and even a touch of Dark Souls. The thing that sets it all apart though is while all these elements are identifiable the game feels like something unique. It’s not just a trip down memory lane but a game that has taken key elements and forged its own identity with them.

The graphics and music are 8-bit themed and it certainly feels like the sort of thing you could be playing on a NES or Master System. Despite the potential limitations of the style each level is filled with detail and they each have their own clear identity. This is where the main Mega Man influence comes and it keeps things fresh as you never really know how an enemy boss knight’s stage is going to have to be approached until you get into it.

The adventure is set across a map screen with locks at the edge of it. Defeating the correct enemy boss knights releases the locks and allows you to move to the next section. As well as the enemy castles there are villages where you can get new gear and special levels which offer up gems or unique adventures for our hero to conquer (You can also go and speak to a big fish thing which fills up empty chalices with magic). You’ll need all the gems you can find as it acts as the in game currency and allows you to buy a whole host of secondary weapons and shovel and armour upgrades.

It should be pointed out that though the game is called Shovel Knight, this is not a title in the same vein as Steam World: Dig or Spelunky. It’s very much a platformer in the Mega Man or Castlevania style with skilful jumping and boss fights on the menu for intrepid explorers. The game is challenging but it has a very well balanced difficulty curve and we never felt completely out of our depth. Levels also have a large amount of checkpoints and there is no lives system in place so you can keep continuing. The main penalty for death is losing a chunk of your money. When this occurs it hangs around the area you died and must be reclaimed. If you die again then it’s gone, much like Dark Souls.

It’s a game that wants you to keep playing it. The constant supply of gems and available upgrades, the gradual revealing of the map, the extra levels – it all just keeps you wanting to see what else is out there and what’s going to be next and there is always something more to see. You’ll get random monsters and bosses roaming the map like in Mario 3 or pick up a new weapon and be able to complete a level you couldn’t before. You’ll just keep going and going until the end and then there’s always new game +.

Overall, Shovel Knight is a brilliant game. Everything is does it does well and everything works. It’s balanced and challenging and constantly offers up new surprises. The controls work perfectly, the levels and enemies are well designed and there’s a nice chunk of humour in there as well. This probably is it for the 8-bit retro styled platformer as to beat this would really take something. We tried and tried but it simply cannot be faulted. It’s just a magnificent game.

Overall 10/10

Thursday 5 December 2019

Transistor Review (Switch)

Bastion was a massive success for Super Giant Games. Most people have played it and numerous gamers own it on at least two different machines. With that in mind it would have been easy for the studio to release a sequel or spiritual successor to it. We’d all have played it, loved it, and raved about it. Transistor is not like Bastion.

Starting in a beautifully depicted futuristic cityscape you pull an electronic sword from a body and you’re on your way. No explanation is given and no background about the world or yourself is forthcoming. The player, like the character you control is thrown in, as if awakening from some strange dream and this gives a wonderful sense of mystery and discovery as you progress.

From the outside this may look to share some similarities with Bastion. The perspective is the same and there is also a narrator of sorts, although he is talking to the female protagonist as you go. Right at the start you begin to think this is going to be another hack and slash but then about five minutes in it asks you to hit the freeze button and everything changes.

Here, you suddenly realise you are actually in a real time/turn based cross over style RPG. You can execute attacks in real time (and even boost them to activate almost instantly), but the real trick is mastering the freeze system. Hitting the button stops everything and you then have an action bar you can use up before the enemy moves again. It’s kind of like the V.A.T.S system in Fallout 3 or the system at work in Vagrant Story.

During this time you can move around and stack up attacks. Pressing the button again sends you into action like a blur across the screen. The downside is that you then can’t use any attacks or special moves until the bar has regenerated in full. The more attacks you use, the longer the bar takes to recharge. This means you have to be extremely careful about what you are doing as you are often slower than the enemy robots sent to stop you. It’s essential to get in, attack and get back out to a place you can safely recharge as avoiding damage otherwise is almost impossible and you’ll be downed in no time.

If your health bar depletes while you have charge time you’ll get a chance to move away from danger. If not, one of your powers will be damaged and unusable until you make it to two save points. This severely limits your attacking options and often leads to a daisy chain effect of you losing all your powers and flat lining. On the off chance you are finding things too easy you can also add a number of handicaps as you go which increase difficulty and the amount of experience you gain.

The options you have to play around with are numerous and can be set up in a ton of different ways. This is one of Transistors strengths but we can see it easily overwhelming some players. When you gain a power you can do one of three things with it. Equipping it in an active slot will allow the player to use it via a button press. This could be a long range attack, a fast dodge, an area effect attack or something like summoning a creature to assist you. All attacks have different speeds in real time combat and few of them work fast enough to run through the game hacking away without the freeze system.

Each active power can also be boosted by equipping powers as support. For instance, you could take the bouncing bomb power and add it to your long range attack, thus making the attack ricochet off enemies and into others.  You can add two boosters to each active attack which opens up all sorts of crazy possibilities. Finally, you can add powers to your passive support slots. This means they normally do things like boost player speed or increase resistance. Any power can be assigned to any slot on any other power so finding the perfect combination will require some thought and the possibilities are just about endless. The only limit on what you can do is that each power takes up a certain number of points and once that hits maximum nothing else can be equipped.

While you are getting used to the combat you’ll be experiencing some absolutely beautiful visuals. The Neo Noir tone of the game is offset by stunning, neon tinged environments full of small details and snippets of information about the world you’re exploring. It reminded us of an isometric Deus Ex or the SNES version of Shadowrun if the rundown world had been replaced with some kind of semi-utopian society. There are also a few pretty big nods to Final fantasy VII in there as well. It’s gorgeous and the musical score and sound effects also help to build a picture of a once perfect, now lonely world where something seems to have gone wrong very quickly.

Overall, Transistor is a triumph of both style and design and Super Giant Games have tried something a little different here and it works. There’s the odd pacing issue and players will need to spend some time getting used to how the combat works but it’s a rich and rewarding experience and something that you’ll likely return to long in the future.
Overall 9/10