All of Shovel Knight's bosses are memorable, but Plague Knight stands out to me as my favorite. He has the best music, he has one of the best levels, and he's a shade below The Joker in the crazy department. So what could be more fun than taking on the role of Plague Knight and watching the world burn?
Plague of Shadows, which was released late last week, is essentially a retelling of the original game set in an alternate universe in which the heroes have been defeated and the villains have risen to power. In the midst of this, the always crazy Plague Knight turns on his cohorts and seeks to steal their essence, putting him on a path to face them all in battle. And yes, Shovel Knight is lurking, too.
Plague Knight's story takes him through the same levels and boss encounters as the original Shovel Knight; but in many ways, his adventure is completely different. Plague Knight controls nothing like Shovel Knight, who is akin to a cross between Zelda II's Link and Simon Belmont. Plague Knight has a weak double jump, but his main form of mobility involves using a charged bomb to explode upward - an ability to lets him reach high ledges much sooner than Shovel Knight. When going on the offensive, Plague Knight favors bombs over a more traditional melee weapon, allowing him to attack from a distance.
The net effect is a quest that is in some ways much easier than the original Shovel Knight. Plague Knight's superior mobility allows him to soar over many of the trickier areas, and his bombs make it much easier to whittle down bosses without having to get up close and personal. As the game progresses, he unlocks a number of powerful skills, including the ability to replenish life by damaging foes, the ability to float slowly downward after using a bomb jump, and a variety of fuses and explosive types. It takes a bit to get used to Plague Knight's unique controls, but once you do, you will be surprised how easy the game can be.
The thing is, though, "easier" does not equal "less fun" in this case. Nor is Plague of Shadows a mere mod that replaces Shovel Knight with Plague Knight. Everything has been changed to account for the fact that you are playing as a villain. The first time you try to enter town, you will be turned away because, well, you're crazy. But on the screen to your left there's a secret entrance that will take you to a fantastically realized secret dungeon - a villain's lair if I've ever seen one. It's there that you can upgrade your potions and your magic bar, as well as turn in the musical sheets that you find throughout the world. Later, when you try to approach the Hall of Champions, you will be attacked by the guards, leading to a fantastic bit of vandalism as you blow up both the guards and the art adorning the wall. Touches like these are replete throughout Plague of Shadows, and they go a long way toward refreshing the original adventure.
How on earth is this free?
What's really crazy about this expansion is that it's totally free. It can be unlocked by either finishing the original campaign or entering the code below, which is so perfectly 8-bit.
With Plague of Shadows, Yacht Club Games has once again provided a tremendous amount of great content at a really great price. Given how much Plague of Shadows adds to the original game - not just a very different story but new challenges, too - Yacht Club would be well within their rights to charge $10 for this content. Heck, a lot of publishers would probably charge $20. Just look at Destiny.
For Yacht Club Games, though, Plague of Shadows appears intended not just to engender goodwill (and good press) among those who already own the original game, but to refresh the original game just in time for the holidays. It's not a bad strategy, actually. Lots of games are doing it, including both Destiny and Dragon Age: Inquisition, but you obviously can't beat "totally free" for good value.
A couple months ago, I retroactively named the original Shovel Knight my Game of the Year for 2014, and I happily stand by that assessment. It's one of the best platformers I've ever played - a brilliant mix of nostalgia and new, rather clever ideas with fantastic art and even better music. With the Plague of Shadows DLC, I find myself happily revisiting a game that I already loved.
So if you haven't played Shovel Knight, what the heck are you waiting for? It's available on pretty much every major platform now, having been released for Vita, PS4, and Xbox One earlier this year. And when you're finished with the original adventure, prepare yourself for a treat, because Plague of Shadows is terrific.