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August 2022

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Yacht Club Games (EU), Vine (US)
Release Date: Dec. 13, 2021


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PC Review - 'Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon'

by Cody Medellin on July 14, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Delve with Shovel Knight into the depths of the Pocket Dungeon on an action-packed puzzle adventure mashup like none other!

The original Shovel Knight came out in 2014, but it has been kept in the public eye for so long with a plethora of DLC campaigns. The DLC explored other characters in the universe and fulfilled Kickstarter stretch goals. Another thing that has kept the character in people's minds is his constant appearance in other indie titles of varying genres, whether it's in a cameo or as a playable character. The main game and related DLC finally wrapped up, so Yacht Games has seen fit to put the character into a new game of their own with Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon, a game that is more spin-off than actual sequel.

The story starts off with Shovel Knight taking a break from his adventuring when a present appears right in front of him. Curious, he opens it up to find a puzzle box. Before he can react, the puzzle box sucks Shovel Knight into its own dimension, where the titular hero is rescued by a duo of heroes who also got stuck in the box. With no other options available, Shovel Knight and his newfound companions make it their mission to travel throughout the puzzle box world and see if they can solve it in order to get back to the real world.

The game is more of an action/puzzle hybrid rather than what you'd typically expect for the genre. The experience is set in an 8x8 grid, and you control Shovel Knight on the field in the four cardinal directions while other things start to fall. Some of those include regular and iron blocks, potions, and enemies to name a few. They fall slowly or quickly, depending on whether you're moving, your task is to destroy enemies and survive long enough until the exit appears and you get a key to unlock said door. Enemies hit you the same time that you attack them, except when you deliver a killing blow while destroying, potions refill any of the health you lost.

The puzzle element comes from the fact that Pocket Dungeon obeys the rules of contact for both enemies and items. So long as enemies of the same type are touching one another in the four cardinal directions, damaging one damages the rest of the group and killing one does the same thing. Thankfully, enemies of the same type that are touching each other don't get their attack damage amplified on you. The same goes for items, as destroying bunches of them at one time gets their effects amplified on you.

Mixed in with the action/puzzle base are roguelike elements. Death means you have to restart your journey from the very first level, no matter how far you get. Your camp has a store where you can buy items and powers for them to have a greater chance of appearing in the battlefield. Those items are only present for that run, and some of the chests you encounter can even give you the chance to go to the store to get more stuff. While there is no leveling in the game, dying means that you get to keep your cash, so there is some progress to be had.

All of this comes together to create a frantic experience. You have a constant dance where you're alternating between killing enemies and getting potions while also making sure you get a clear path to both, so you don't paint yourself in a corner. You're strategizing as you plan on the fly and try to manipulate the board so that the most powerful enemies get grouped together and you can deliver a massive killer blow. Treasure chests tend to make you rush to them in hopes for something good, and the same goes for any keys and exit doors. Special items, like larger enemies and bombs, can cause you to temporarily panic. Death is going to be a constant thing you'll encounter, but like any good roguelike, there's enough here to keep you coming back for just one more run in hopes that everything will go in your favor.

Pocket Dungeon can be absolutely brutal, but there are options to make things easier. The default setup ends the run once you die, but you can have the run end when the level fills up with items and enemies. Dying from enemies remains detrimental, as the time between death and respawning leaves plenty of room for empty spaces to fill in, but at least you still have a chance to turn things around if you get lucky. If you don't mind losing out on Achievements, you can also tweak your attack and defense parameters to have a better shot at seeing the ending.

The joy of a successful run is slightly overshadowed by the fact that you don't just get to play as Shovel Knight. Like the main game after some time, you can unlock several different knights, and that can drastically change your strategies. Spectre Knight can die from potions but gets health by killing enemies. Tinker Knight can make a powerful new suit if they find metal in the field to use. The differences are significant and give legs to the quest mode, as you can't wait to check out the new abilities that each knight provides.

The different knights create a very lengthy campaign, but the game offers up more than that to keep you busy. There is a Daily Challenge, complete with its own leaderboard, but the initial run had better be good because you only have one shot before you're locked out until the next day. There's also a versus mode that's quite good; you try to outlast your opponent while sending out garbage blocks to them so they can die quicker. The nature of the game makes versus mode not so ideal for newcomers, as deaths occur way too quickly, but for those who have gotten acclimated to the puzzle mechanics, it's an experience that rivals some of the better competitive puzzle games.

The presentation is just as fantastic as the original. The music is filled with the same familiar tracks as the first title, but the fidelity has been amplified, almost like a 16-bit remix in a way. The graphics take on a super deformed look that is charming but looks like it would've fit in if this were a Super NES game. There's more color depth for both the characters and the backgrounds. It's pretty clean and worth showing off as an example of good-looking art.

Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon relishes in the idea of punishing you. The roguelike nature and quick action puzzle elements can feel overwhelming, and it'll feel like a miracle when you beat the game for the first time. The solid mechanics are enough to keep you coming back, and the bevy of unlockable characters makes this similar enough to the original Shovel Knight in that the content will seem endless. For fans of unusual puzzles and Shovel Knight, Pocket Dungeon is perfect for you.

Score: 8.5/10

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