Shovel Knight: Showdown (Switch) Review
A confession, before I get into this review: I, until after starting this review, had never played a moment of any Shovel Knight game. Around the original game’s release, I burnt myself out on 2D platformers – the Wii U was in full swing with nearly every first-party Nintendo game being a platformer of some description. I was aware of what Shovel Knight brought to the table through – a great, earnestly presented retro aesthetic, clever level design, and a great sense of humour. I’m happy to say that Shovel Knight: Showdown keeps all that intact, but I also have to tell you that there is definitely a reason I went and played the original Shovel Knight not long into playing it.
The easiest way to get across what Showdown brings to the table is that it’s Super Smash Bros: Shovel Knight edition. There’s one thing you’ll be doing, and that’s picking a character from a franchise all-star roster to fight one to three other characters. You have the option for a local multiplayer battle either against CPUs or your friends, a static-bot practice mode, or a gauntlet style story mode that differs slightly for each character. There are lots of stages and characters to unlock for your on-demand battles, and there’s numerous different battle modes, items and options to keep things fresh. And, I do not exaggerate, that is it. We’re not talking Super Smash Bros: Ultimate in terms of content here – this is a straightforward fighting game that’s not beating around the bush.
Let’s break it down a little, starting with the story mode. You’ll pick a character and after a setup about an attempt to trap The Enchantress in a magic mirror going wrong and trapping various knights (there is no context for this, so I assume it makes sense to those who’ve played all the previous entries) you’re fired into 8 consecutive battles with varying rules against various characters, culminating in a three-part boss battle which is almost the same for every character. This takes about 20 minutes, with no saving, although strangely there seems to be no option to exit either, so be sure you’ve got the time. It’s a good way to take a character through various situations and learn their moveset – there’s no tutorial to speak of. This was what prompted me to go back and play the original game, as while I was able to finish my first story attempt, I felt like I had little grasp over what the character could do. Bringing in a Shovel Knight veteran for a multiplayer game, he told me that the controls were very similar to the platformers – Shovel Knight’s signature shovel bounce attack isn’t bound to any button but is rather activated by pressing down when jumping, which was a trick I hadn’t worked out just by fighting and wasn’t listed in the pause menu move list. Playing the platformer for a little bit gave me a much better idea of character mechanics and I found my performance significantly improving after this, and I started having a lot more fun.
So, a quick rundown of the controls: there’s nothing particularly advanced or complex here. Each character has a standard attack bound to Y (and cloned to A), a jump on B and a ranged attack on X. Variations occur in movement speed and passive abilities, like Specter Knight’s double jump and wall climb, plus his floaty jump and air slash, or Mona’s charge-dependent potion attack and momentum-cancelling standard attack. All this combines to a pretty surprising amount of depth, and while I’ve only played a few hours of multiplayer fights I am far from feeling like I’ve even come close to mastering a single character in all situations. Things feel fairly balanced to me as a fighting game casual, but I’d be interested to find out what a match at a high level is like, as there are definitely characters with seemingly wider and more powerful movesets than their competition. Which leaves us to talk about the actual fights themselves! The standard mode has you collecting gems that appear at intervals around the stage, while fending off your opponents. Should you take 3 – 4 hits and lose all your health, you’ll die and drop a gem. The first player to a specific number of gems – or the player who holds the most at the time limit – wins the game. Alongside this, there’s a stock mode with a set number of lives, a mode which makes everyone tiny, permanently flying fairies with only one attack (which is actually just a dash), and various other wacky party variants. You can jump into the options menu and change nearly everything about the upcoming match, and even have it randomly generated for you. It’s got great variety and as a party game, great potential.
You will, however, only really get use of this as a party game – there’s no online features. At all. It makes sense, as an indie game with a more niche appeal and a lower budget, but it’s a crying shame as playing against CPUs just doesn’t provide the same thrill as real players. In my Killer Queen Black review, I decried the fact that game didn’t have a true offline multiplayer option, as couch games on the TV are so important for a single screen multiplayer game. This goes right back the other direction – pummeling your friends when they’re there is great, but there need to be options! Zero online connectivity is without a doubt this title’s biggest flaw and likely the reason it will struggle to be a mainstay in many collections.
Despite some hefty potential, Shovel Knight: Showdown doesn’t quite make it. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, and there’s some great ideas, but anyone who hasn’t played a Shovel Knight game is going to find themselves quickly alienated in a party situation. So, if you and your friends are up to date with your royally appointed warriors, you… probably already own this game, since it’s free with Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove. If you’re not, consider yourself warned, although to be honest this is good enough to likely still have some fun. Shame there’s no online, though.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
+ True Shovel Knight style
+ Great options for custom matches
+ Deep but accessible mechanics
- No online, full stop
- Fighter balance feels shaky
- Unfriendly to Shovel Knight newcomers