Specter of Torment (Switch)
If there’s anything that retro gaming has taught me, it’s that the games of the past will always have more soul.
This was definitely the case with the Nintendo Switch edition of Shovel Knight’s second DLC campaign: Specter of Torment. Although Plague of Shadows was the first supplemental content to be published after the original game’s release, I decided to play Specter of Torment first. Why would I do that, you might ask, when it makes far more sense chronologically to finish Plague Knight’s campaign first?
I did it because I enjoyed Specter of Torment more than Shovel Knight and Plague of Shadows combined.
Specter Knight gazes off into the distance as his journey begins.
Specter of Torment is one of those rare prequels that is actually better than any other title in the series. Let that thought sink in for a moment (you can even let it marinate in a rich, brainy stew if you want). When was the last time that a prequel ended up being better than every other title that came after it? This certainly wasn’t the case with Star Wars Episodes I-III, nor was it true of Prometheus or Alien: Covenant.
So why then would Specter of Torment be the exception to this trend? Like I said, because it was far more enjoyable than both Shovel Knight and Plague of Shadows combined. Now don’t get me wrong: Shovel Knight brought back a lot of good memories for me as I was playing it. Long nights sitting in front of my TV playing Mega Man 2 are the first images that popped into my mind as I scaled the Tower of Fate and did battle with the Order of No Quarter.
Specter of Torment is one of those rare prequels that is actually better than any other title in the series.
When the ending credits rolled I felt like a little kid again. The sense of accomplishment that I felt was genuine, and I couldn’t wait to see what the DLC campaigns had in store. Plague Knight never really interested me that much, so through process of elimination I decided to play Specter Knight’s campaign instead.
In short, I was not disappointed.
If Shovel Knight is like an intimate love letter addressed to Mega Man, then Specter of Torment is a roaring ballad dedicated to Ninja Gaiden. From the very beginning, I could tell that Specter Knight’s campaign was radically different than the one centered on Shovel Knight. As you jump around the introductory stage, you quickly find out that Specter Knight controls much differently than Shovel Knight…and this fact only makes his campaign that much better.
Ninja Gaiden-style wall jumping abounds in Specter of Torment.
It made the stages that followed that much easier to traverse, and at times I even felt like I had an unfair advantage against the game’s numerous bosses and mini-bosses. Since Specter Knight’s campaign is still technically a Shovel Knight game, however, the overall challenge remained present up until the very end.
Speaking of which, in terms of the campaign’s plot I won’t go into any specific details here. Specter of Torment assumes from a storytelling perspective that players have already completed Shovel Knight’s campaign. Although Plague of Shadows runs concurrently alongside Shovel Knight, it differs from Specter of Torment in that it doesn’t reveal any crucial or spoiler-worthy plot points.
If Shovel Knight is like an intimate love letter addressed to Mega Man, then Specter of Torment is a roaring ballad dedicated to Ninja Gaiden.
I will admit though: Specter Knight’s plot only made me appreciate Shovel Knight’s campaign that much more. It deepens what the player already knows about the world and mythology of the Shovel Knight games, and if anything it paints Specter Knight as more of a tragic anti-hero and less of a two-dimensional villain.
Overall, I have to say that out of the three campaigns included with Shovel Knight, Specter of Torment was the most enjoyable to play and also the most memorable to watch. So much so, in fact, that I actually played the campaign again after I finally got around to completing Plague of Shadows.
I could easily see myself playing the game a third time if I was so inclined, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I said that about a game…let alone a game’s prequel.
In terms of its plot, Specter of Torment is very deep for a sidescrolling game.
Closing thoughts: Specter of Torment is one of those rare prequels that outshines every other campaign in the Shovel Knight series. Although the game’s mechanics are a radical departure from both Shovel Knight and Plague of Shadows, this fact only makes it that much more enjoyable to play. In addition, Specter of Torment’s plot deepens the original mythology of Shovel Knight and if anything it paints the main character in broad strokes as a tragic anti-hero (and not merely a two-dimensional villain).