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Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment Review

It was way back in April 2015 that I reviewed the original Shovel Knight, and you know what? I absolutely adored it.

It wasn’t just me who loved it either; it was pretty much universally praised. In light of its success, developer Yacht Club Games decided to expand upon the title, planning three expansions that build around the original release to enrich the experience. Specter of Torment is the second of these expansions, and until at least the end of March, it’s exclusive to Nintendo Switch.

Available on its own or as part of the Shovel Knight Treasure Trove, Specter of Torment places you in the cloak of the Specter Knight, loyal servant of the Enchantress. Tasked with rounding up eight formidable knights to form the Order of No Quarter before the events of the original Shovel Knight, it offers a surprisingly engaging story that will really have you rooting for your scythe wielding avatar by the end. That’s impressive for a game with 8-bit graphics and no voice acting whatsoever.

Specter of Torment’s gameplay is the real star of the show though. Specter Knight’s limited ability to run up walls and use his scythe to dash at enemies and certain environmental elements gives his campaign a unique feel despite the familiar locations and characters. They bring their own issues too though, with the Specter Knight’s wall run in particular being a tad troublesome at times.  On more than a few occasions I met my unfortunate demise during Specter of Torment‘s more challenging platforming moments due to the Specter Knight’s stickiness when jumping near walls. With play you learn to accommodate this little quirk however, and be more precise with your actions.

With just over ten levels on offer – the order in which you tackle them being largely up to you – your first playthrough of Specter of Torment is likely to take you around five hours. The acquisition and use of skill-granting curios defines the difficulty of the game on your initial run. Amidst the many offensive options on offer, there’s also one curio which enables you to heal, which makes most boss fights rather trivial, and one that enables you to float, which can prevent many an unfortunate platforming mishap. All of your curios can be upgraded too, increasing their damage, range or benefit.

That’s the joy of Shovel Knight and its expansions though – they’re challenging by default but not overly so, and if you do want to up the ante there’s plenty of opportunity. Destroying checkpoints, for instance, definitely makes your adventure more fraught with peril, but you’re rewarded with more riches if you’re up to the task. And the unlockable challenge mode presents you with a number of opportunities to prove your prowess. Specter of Torment‘s New Game Plus mode is the real test of one’s skill however, combining your pool of health and magic into one ever depleting gauge whilst also disabling the use of your healing magic. It’s a challenge only the brave should even attempt.

Whether played docked or on the Switch’s 720p screen, Specter of Torment looks fantastic. Colours are vibrant, the image is sharp and performance is rock solid. It may be aping 8-bit game visuals but it has got a great deal of flair and character that makes it feel very modern. Specter of Torment‘s audio is simply sublime too, pumping you up and spurring you on through each of its glorious levels.

Put simply, Specter of Torment is absolutely brilliant. It’s a slice of classic platforming action that puts a smile on your face from beginning to end thanks to its engaging gameplay and pleasant presentation. If you’ve bought a Nintendo Switch and fancy a tighter, more immediate experience than the sprawling Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Specter of Torment is the game you need.

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment is available on Nintendo Switch and will be coming to other platforms later this spring.
Editor in Chief // An avid gamer since discovering the wonders of the Acorn Electron in the '80s, Rich has nearly played more games than he's had hot dinners. Not one to put all his eggs in one basket, Rich is happy to play games of all genres, but he particularly enjoys racing games and anything that's full of non-stop action, especially if it includes a good dose of humour, horror or crudeness!