Title: Shovel Knight: King of Cards
Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) PC, PS4 and Xbox One
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Release date: Out now
tl;dr: Shovel Knight. But this time you fight the controls.
Price: $10 / £9
Family Focus: Click here for more information.

Shovel Knight: King of Cards is a prequel to the main Shovel Knight game as it tells the story of the King Knight as he throws his proverbial hat in the tournament for the popular card game Joustus; with the three presiding Joustus Judges offering a great treasure and the title of “King of Cards” to the winner. However, our protagonist’s main goal in entering this tournament is to be recognized as a true king and gain his own kingdom.

Shovel Knight: King of Cards is a 2D platformer just like the game that started it all. You go from point A to point B by navigating treacherous areas and obstacles all the while taking out enemies on your way to the end of the level which brings me to the game’s main problem.

Whereas the previous Shovel Knight content featured a more independent attack mechanic, Yacht Club Games changed things up a bit with Kings of Cards. Instead of having a typical attack button along with the jump, your main attack is dashing. That causes a problem because trying to attack enemies near ledges can result in you bouncing down a hole to your death. The other main annoyance of this is that it’s basically required to platform and progress through level. So if you haven’t mastered the jump/dash/bounce mechanic, you’ll find yourself insanely frustrated.

The more you progress, the more things become overly complicated for a simple 2D platformer. Not only do you need to master the jump/dash combo, but certain levels will require you to bounce around street lamps à la The Messenger in order to reach the next area. And obviously, the key to progressing is timing. If you screw up or mistime your jump, you either have to start over or fall to your death. The Messenger did this right because you were a fast-paced, small ninja. Being a bigger, slower king makes it feel clunky and cumbersome.

There’s also a nifty little card game called Joustus. Throughout your adventure, you’ll come across various challengers which you’ll need to beat in order to become Joustus champion. The game features over 120 unique cards to collect. Cards are represented by familiar faces of the Shovel Knight universe, both good and bad. You can purchase abilities for the card game or even cheat cards to tip the balance in your favour.

If you manage to overcome and tolerate the less than user-friendly controls, you’ll once again find a bevvy of things to with a surprisingly long story mode for what is viewed as a simple expansion and a handful of feats, or achievements if you will, to unlock as you go through the game.

The completionists will also have a field day with this one as they can explore every inch of every level in order to find treasure, heirlooms, armors, and new abilities.

Yacht Club Games’ formula for the long support Shovel Knight game doesn’t change. Features a great looking 8-bit aesthetic; it could have been straight out of the NES era. Its visuals are sure to please returning players along with newcomers as well. On the sound side of things, Jake Kaufman is back at the helm to craft a fun 8-bit soundtrack that rounds out the game’s support from the developers.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved Shovel Knight. It was a fun, challenging and an interesting game, but Shovel Knight: King of Cards is easily the worst expansion of the series. I loved Shovel Knight Showdown even though it felt like a lite version of Smash Bros, but here with the frustrating jump/dash mechanic, it ensures players have a frustrating experience. Unless you’re a die hard Shovel Knight fan, this is a hard pass.

The Good

  • Decent amount of content
  • More Shovel Knight is always a good thing

The Bad

  • Frustrating control mechanic

Family Focus

Shovel Knight: King of Cards is rated E for Everyone and PEGI7 due to the presence of mild fantasy violence and use of alcohol for some reason.

This review is based on a review copy of the game provided by the developer