While I missed out on traveling to Seattle for PAX West, I did get an awesome gesture by being given access to the King of Cards demo that was being played there. It’s the pleasure of the newest experiences in gaming from the comfort of my home!
Due to my absolute love of all things retro and pixelated, Shovel Knight was a stand-out hit for me when it came out on just about every console imaginable. I ended up snagging it on the Wii U a while back, mostly to use the amiibo support for sweet co-op action, but Yacht Club Games continues to pull me back with their free expansions. I played quite a bit of Plague Knight’s story and the beginning to Specter Knight, but have yet to finish either. However, seeing the new amiibo announcement and getting to try out King of Cards has rekindled my love for all things shovelry!
King of Cards stars (obviously) King Knight, who is likely one of the first major bosses bested in the original game. King Knight’s level is what was shown as the original demo following the Kickstarter and he’s always been a riot to watch in battle. Grandiose movements, aristocratic speech patterns, King Knight embodies all things monarchy. Getting to play as him makes a lot of sense and, for those who have been hopping platforms as long as I have, he feels pretty familiar.
King Knight has more horizontal movement options than his brethren. Using a shoulder smash, the royal gentleman actually feels a ton like Wario, at least in Wario’s platformer series. King Knight is heavier than Shovel Knight, probably due to his extravagant armor and cloak, making his movements feel more deliberate. The shoulder rush is his main form of attack, however, one can smack against enemies and objects and get a bit of verticality with a twirl of flair.
Levels are built around this bounce, which can take a bit of getting used to. I found myself correcting the trajectory just a bit forward each time, as King Knight naturally flows away from what he strikes. It’s nothing I found aggravating, just different, and adjusting took a bit of time. Mastering this technique though can lead to a chain of bounces, which can be incredibly satisfying to pull off. Needless to say, I can’t wait to see speedruns of this particular expansion.
Hitting against something else while in mid-air gives the player an extra upward bounce. This creates a flow of bashing, jumping, and then bashing again, only to jump higher. Stringing this simple movement together can create some devastating combos and beating a boss perfectly is worth sounding a thousand trumpets for!
I did find there to be a slight increase in difficulty for this demo; I fell into many a pit, mostly due to still learning King Knight’s unique traversal. Not only that, but boss fights always resulted in a down-to-the-wire struggle. I probably spent ten or fifteen lives taking on that king dude; he was pretty tough. The fight was awesome though, due to it taking place in what would later be King Knight’s keep, complete with the fire-breathing gryphon.
Musically, the same 8-bit mastery returns in full-force. Shovel Knight is filled with memorable tunes and fun diddies. Maybe this is due in part to me having such nostalgia for these kind of things, but I like to think that the music is just well-composed. This continues in full-force for King of Cards.
In addition to the incredible platforming we’ve come to expect from anything related to Shovel Knight, players will also be able to play a collectible card game inside the game. This little mini-game, even in my short time with it, is incredibly addictive in nature and simple to understand. It reminds me of a more streamlined version of Tetra Master, the popular card game featured in the masterpiece that is Final Fantasy IX.
Players can even win the opponent’s card after the battle, but losing only results in lost gold. This is a great way to do things; I was the one who ran out of viable cards in FFIX from losing too much. It definitely has layers of strategy that are fun to explore and I can’t wait to see how it develops as the game progresses in the final version.
The gameplay is tight, the character is endearing, the music is excellent, everything about King of Cards oozes retro-inspired quality. I cannot stress enough how much respect I have for Yacht Club Games with their abundance of free content well after release. They took their Kickstarter promises seriously and this has paid off for their first game, a game that left a mark on the world forever.
Really, the only complaint I have so far with King Knight is that it is the last expansion Shovel Knight is getting that we know of. Does this mean a sequel isn’t far off? What other sorts of experience will Yacht Club Games craft next? All I know is that the future is bright for this company.
For more information on King of Cards, check out the official website. An early build was shared for the purpose of preview.