Control the agile Specter Knight in a prequel to 2014’s popular indie hit Shovel Knight, that was released on about as many platforms as the original Doom. Kidding aside, Shovel Knight was a revered game and for good reason. The series is seeing two releases on Switch at launch, one being the $25 Treasure Trove which is the most complete version of Shovel Knight available as it includes the original game and Specter of Torment (and more). Specter of Torment (SoT) is available as a standalone release for $10, and it’s only available on Switch right now (with a release on many other platforms next month).
SoT is actually my first foray into Yacht Club Games’ popular series and I could pretty instantly see the appeal to the game and quietly kicked myself for not playing it sooner. I felt the same way when I finally played Axiom Verge when it came to Wii U. Anyway, the Knight series is appealing to young and old gamers alike, thanks in no small part to the modern, progressive 8 bit design. The graphics look old school, the music and sounds are old school, even the gameplay is, but, with some modern refinements. Difficulty is stout, that’s for sure, but it’s fair and more forgiving than most games from years gone by.
I played SoT with the Switch docked almost the entire time, playing with the bundled joycon controllers. For a 2D platform, especially a tough one like the Knight series, the controls have to be responsive. Fortunately, I have had no issues at all in that respect. Controls are simple and accessible; press Y to attack, B to jump, A for your Curio (special attack) abilities, it’s straight-forward as you would expect. In-game mechanics vary some from Shovel Knight in that Specter Knight is well, more ninja-like, in as far as he can briefly walk up the sides of most walls and also has the Slash Dash maneuver. For wall-climbing, I quickly realized the key is trust and patience, and not to rush jumping. Simply jump right at a wall and Specter Knight will stick to it, allowing you to walk up a few steps before hopping off. This is useful in many ways, from reaching new visible areas to discovering hidden areas to a ‘retreat and attack’ strategy for bosses. Similarly, the Slash Dash is used to reach areas and also for attacking. When you jump next to an object, be it an enemy or lantern posts and other objects, a ‘gash’ line will appear, which is a diagonal line. The direction of this line when interpreted from left-to-right indicates which direction Specter will go if you jump and use the gash. This mechanic is used early and often, and brings an interesting level of depth to platforming and combat. Sometimes you have to quickly chain several Slash Dashes, which can be challenging and requires good timing.
SoT has a good story that is traditional and well told. The Enchantress tasks her servant, Specter Knight, with assembling a group of eight knights in order to form a powerful team, that would become the Order of No Quarter as seen in Shovel Knight. As he gathers these members, Specter Knight’s own humanity is supposed to be restored, providing him ample motivation. The Tower of Fate acts as your lobby or home base in between missions, with NPCs that you can trade items with, like Red who gives you opportunities to get new Curios if you bring him enough Red Skulls, and Missy who can summon a Wisp Chest if you her pay her enough in return. Wisp chests are vital because they increase your HP meter, known as your Will, or your Darkness meter, which indicates how much Curio you can use.
Ultimately, there is very little bad to say about SoT. It’s an excellent 2D action platformer with some good RPG elements, and its balanced difficulty lets genre hacks like me struggle through while more seasoned players can still expect a good, but not overly difficult challenge. To be honest, some of the early bosses proved harrowing for me, but I liked that I could try going after the different knights out of order, find checkpoints, and have a lot of opportunities to continue at those checkpoints, too. Much like the old games its inspired by, it’s a tough, but short, and arguably more memorable than many of those older games. Additionally, with New Game+ support for more nooks and crannies to explore, as well as Feats and Challenges, there’s a solid value here for $10. The only better value would be to get SoT via the Treasure Trove release instead.