It’s hard to overstate just how impactful Shovel Knight has been as a series. Not only did the wonderful people over at Yacht Club Games create one of the best 2D platformers of all time, but they went above and beyond and provided free DLC for years after release. Huge reworks of the core formula – gargantuan reimaginings of characters, plot points, and mechanics. So when I heard they were releasing Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon, I was intrigued. Will this bring the same quality?
Ready Your Shovel
There has never been anything quite like Shovel Knight, and honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we never see anything like it again. But the slow ticking of the clock continues, and time marches on. Shovel Knight has received its final DLC which has allowed Yacht Club Games to work on something new – something fresh. It’s still Shovel Knight, but it’s something altogether different.
Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon is, at its core, a falling block puzzle game. Not too dissimilar to the likes of Tetris, Wario’s Woods, or Dr. Eggman’s Mean Bean Machine. You take the reins of the eponymous Shovel Knight and through the subtle art of shovel-thwacking, you must clear wells of enemies before moving on. On the surface, super simple. Scratch it even a bit, and chaos ensues.
Instead of blocks, diseases, or beans, Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon pulls from the vast menagerie of the Shovel Knight universe and uses enemies as blocks. Shovel Knight’s trusty shovel may be mighty, but most enemies are rather tough. Smacking a sinister skeleton into next week will take more than a single swing, and every time you swipe you get socked in return. Not to mention, every single enemy type is unique, forcing you to move, attack, and interact in different ways if you want to overcome them.
More Than Just Your Standard Puzzler
Thankfully the game throws you a bone because let me tell you, there are a lot of enemies to kill and don’t have the largest of health pools. If you kill an enemy, every enemy of that type that is connected via a cardinal direction will also take damage, and possibly die. This is called chaining, and if you want to succeed in Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon, you better be prepared to chain constantly.
Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon never stops once the enemies start falling, but you decide how fast the game plays. Similar to a Roguelike, every time Shovel Knight moves, everything moves in response. The difference is, Shovel Knight is not turn-based. Even when stationary, the game will slowly move threats down the well. You have just the right amount of time to think, but not enough to ever be comfortable. Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon wants you to use your bonce, but throws so much at you that you might struggle to piece the puzzle together in time.
The final piece of the core puzzle is the items that fall from the sky. These can be keys, doors, weapons, or curatives. Opening a secret door may lead to a room full of treasure, or a shop. Picking up a more powerful weapon lets you clear and chain easier – although they do have a limited number of uses. All of this combined – the health management, enemy types, weapons, and speed – all of this make Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon feel fresh even if the genre itself has been done to death.
Play Your Way
If all of this sounds overwhelming for a puzzle game, then you’d be right. Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon is a surprisingly difficult game that doesn’t hold back – if you let it. It also comes with a robust selection of difficulty sliders to customize your experience to your liking. What’s more, most of the difficulty options don’t lock you out of achievements – which is a nice touch. If you want to get really hardcore, you can turn on Roguelike mode, which forces you to complete the entire game in one sitting – which is no easy feat.
Outside of the titular dungeon, Shovel Knight can explore a small hub. This area contains shops, hidden minigames, and a bunch of quirky characters to find and interact with. The better you do during a run, the more money you have to spend, and the more stuff you can buy to help you clear later wells. My one gripe with this is that there aren’t that many unlockables. I was able to clear out the shop in the first hour of play, which was rather anticlimactic.
Shovel Knight may be slapped on the packaging, but Pocket Dungeon lets you unlock and play as other characters from across the Shovelverse. Each character comes with his/her own unique set of abilities, and this just adds more heft to an already weighty game. There is a lot to do, and a lot of ways in which to do it.
Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon drops the retro stylings of its progenitor in exchange for an endearing chibi style that fits the game perfectly. Pocket Dungeon is bright, vibrant, animated, and genuinely gorgeous in all the right ways. This is complemented by a fantastic soundtrack that is reminiscent of the legendary stylings of the original, whilst still feeling new and fresh.
Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon won’t be for everyone. This is not the Shovel Knight you know and love, but to be fair, neither is Shovel Knight at this point. If you like Puzzle games, then you can’t go wrong with Pocket Dungeon. Yacht Club Games have belted out another home run, and I look forward to their next project.
SHOVEL KNIGHT POCKET DUNGEON IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Yacht Club Games for a PlayStation review code for this title.
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Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.