Title: Shovel Knight: King of Cards
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Genre: Platformer, Adventure, Action
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: Pegi 7
Release Date: 10-Dec-2019
Price: £7.99 – Rapid Reviews UK were very kindly provided with a review code for this game.
Having just finished playing Shovel Knight Showdown, I was worried about jumping straight back into the series. Showdown was, as you can see in my review, a bit of a disappointment. It was natural therefore for me to be hesitant about picking up the second of the recent releases. Then again, King of Cards is a different game. It is more akin to the OG Shovel Knight game and with the added concept of a deck-building game thrown into the mix, it was inevitable I was going to pick it up and give it a go.
So how did Shovel Knight: King of Cards hold up? Did it surpass my expectations, or did it fall short of the mark yet again and leave me wondering if sometimes, a series should just be left alone?
There’s only one way to find out. Keep reading this Rapid Review and I will tell you everything…about the game, I’m not talking the future or anything.
Once again, the team at Yacht Club games hit the nail as far as graphics go. The look and feel is just like the original game and the disappointing (in my view) Shovel Knight Showdown. Only this time, you are not playing as the emerald armored hero, but rather the slightly troubled youth known as King Knight. A child, who rules over rats and clearly believes the world owes him a favor…and a kingdom.
The characters and sprites remain not just true but spot on with the original installment, and the level designs are both challenging and wildly entertaining. The different boss encounters were also nicely varied, with different styles and approaches being needed for the core fights, while the appearance of familiar foes along the way paved the way for mini-boss battles not dissimilar to the on-map encounters in Super Mario Bros. 3. Yes, that’s an old reference and there are other games that have done the same, but it’s SMB3, it deserves a mention somewhere.
While the core platforming element of the game brings with it the full charm of a true Shovel Knight game, the introduction of a deck-building card game only serves to push this installment to new heights.
More on the structure and how they made it work later, but the setting and the style of the matches, the look of the cards and the way the game plays out were clever and at times really made you think about your moves. There’s no easily given win when it comes to Joustus.
As you would expect with a Shovel Knight title, the chiptune soundtrack remains and gives the game that perfect audio backing that invokes memories of the old games you used to play on the NES after school.
When I picked up this game, I didn’t really know what I was expecting. Mixing a retro graphic platformer with a deck-building component seemed like a strange mix. I was intrigued as to how they would pull it off and impressed with the end result.
Rather than mix the two genres together into a mash-up, Yacht Club games gave each genre its own role to play in the story. The core element, that which you will play the most, is platforming. You will be jumping, barding and dashing your way across maps that at first look impossible but soon become easy. As strange a comparison as it may be, I thought of Celeste while playing some levels, the way you were initially overwhelmed but soon found yourself dashing around from enemy to object and back again covering huge distances in what previously felt and looked impossible.
The card game, Joustus, is a secondary element and one that could, in many ways, be largely skipped, or so I feel. I loved the card element and played every chance I got.
The game of Joustus is well laid out, detailed enough to be challenging yet simple enough to pick up fairly easy. The fun comes in the deck building, as you would expect. You can win cards by winning games, finding them in chests or purchasing them from an NPC. This added a secondary element and layer to the game that made it even more compelling to play. There were times when I loaded it up just to play a few rounds of the game at the Joustus table on the airship.
Without spoiling the actual story of the game, your quest is to become the King of Cards, by defeating the three Joustus judges in some way, shape or form.
The game is chock full of collectibles, or at least add-ons and power-ups. As you get deeper into the game you will have the opportunity to meet and ‘rescue’ a range of characters. Each one will join you on the airship and have something different to offer.
Your mother will sell you extra hearts, for example. I’m not sure what that says about her parenting skills but hey, I didn’t write the game’s story. In total there are 8 NPCs that you will meet who all offer you goods or services in trade for gold. This adds a layer of detail to the game that can really change the way certain levels played.
These items range from permanent ability and skill upgrades to heirlooms sold by King Pridemoor which, while permanent, offer limited use based on your level of vigor. Vigor is a life force that you can collect and increase by purchasing upgrades from your mother.
Due to the cost of the upgrades, you do find yourself giving serious thought to the ones you buy, or more importantly, the ones you don’t, and adds a clever depth to the gameplay that makes every level different depending on what configuration you play with.
Personally, I see a huge layer of replayability in this game. Not only because of the different paths you can unlock in order to get to the end of each level, but also just in general terms of gold collecting to buy the different perks and upgrades that are available for you on the airship.
On top of that, I see a big market for speedrunning this game. I’m not big into that (yet) but really enjoy watching runners do their thing and can already imagine some very impressive displays. The bounce and dash combination is perfectly suited for that sort of playthrough. Come on the next GDQ event.
Shovel Knight King of Cards is an amazing game. It’s entertaining and challenging, but once you get the hang of the controls and the rhythm needed to bounce from one object or enemy to another. you will find yourself flying around the screen without issue.
The card game aspect is another refreshing twist to things, and the way it is worked makes it something you can play or skip as much as you want. While the story is woven around the concept of being the King of Cards, it is really a largely secondary concern.
I had a blast playing this game and am really looking forward to seeing it come through the speedrunning circuits as I can already imagine some of the craziness people will be pulling off.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase your copy of Shovel Knight King of Cards from the Nintendo eShop right here.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.