Shovel Knight may not be a playable character in Super Smash Bros Ultimate, but he doesn’t need to be – he has his OWN multiplayer-focused party brawler to be a part of. Shovel Knight Showdown takes the classic party brawler formula established in titles like Smash Bros and adds a Shovel Knight twist to it, with a rich selection of characters and stages from the franchise coming together to make for a fun battling experience. Well… unless you’re playing against the AI, that is.
Shovel Knight Showdown sees players battling across a variety of 2D stages as characters from the Shovel Knight franchise. The controls are easy to get to grips with thanks to the simple nature of the mechanics and the fact that each character only has a handful of moves, whilst the rules of showdowns typically boil down to collecting a specific amount of gems in-battle or being the last Knight standing. There’s a Story mode to play through with each character, unlockables to earn, and a killer multiplayer experience that’s easy to lose hours with.
Players are spoilt for choice when it comes to characters, with twenty familiar faces showing up with a move set based upon those found in the main games. You can expect to take the likes of Shovel Knight, Plague Knight, Shield Knight, Black Knight and King Knight into battle, and with plenty to unlock throughout the game, you’re always given someone new to play with. It’s great to have a lot of characters to use, but there could be a little bit of imbalance in places with how good they are – some characters have much more varied move sets that are particularly effective on certain levels for example, whilst some just feel a little weak overall. Playing around with them all is definitely a lot of fun though and once you find your favourites it’s great to beat down your opponents with them.
There are plenty of stages to battle across too, with twenty-nine available in total that are based upon locales from the main series as well as a few all-new environments. They each vary in size, hazards, and unique features, so, much like the characters, they all offer something different that really spices up the gameplay. Shovel Knight Showdown certainly isn’t lacking in content, that’s for sure.
There are a few different ways to play Shovel Knight Showdown outside of the Story, with Battle allowing you to set up showdowns with friends or the AI with varied rule sets in place. They’re the sort of rules you’d expect to find in a title like this with things like weapons and win circumstances easy to play around with, whilst you can also activate cheats to spice up the gameplay too. Whilst you can battle against the AI on multiple difficulties in these showdowns though, you’ll probably want to stick to multiplayer.
Why? Because Shovel Knight Showdown’s enemy AI is so poor. It’s incredibly easy to defeat your opponents (even on the hardest difficulty), whilst a lot of the time they simply won’t react to your presence or might even just kill themselves in the environment for no real reason. Whilst games like Super Smash Bros Ultimate have managed to make showdowns with bots feel epic, they were so disappointing here that I didn’t really want to play the game without having any friends with me to battle against. It’s a shame too because the Story mode is decent and offers plenty of unlockables – battling your way to earn them just feels so unrewarding thanks to the dumb AI, though.
Ultimately, the best experience you’ll have with Shovel Knight Showdown is in the multiplayer. The variety of stages and characters make for some sweet battles, whilst the simple mechanics of the game make it easy for just about anyone to jump in and play. I was quite fortunate to be able to play the game with a group of friends who were all fans of the Shovel Knight franchise, so being able to lead some of its most iconic characters into battle and pulling off their familiar moves just felt really, REALLY awesome. Shovel Knight Showdown is definitely a love letter to franchise fans with the amount of throwbacks it features, but it also just so happens to be a whole lot of fun to play with buddies too.
Shovel Knight Showdown is a great multiplayer battler that both fans of the franchise and complete newbies will enjoy, but playing it alone just felt a little disappointing. I’m hoping the enemy AI can be fixed with a patch in the near future, because honestly, it makes what is otherwise an entertaining and exciting experience feel mighty dull to play.
Despite this, it’s hard not to appreciate what Yacht Club Games have done here. Shovel Knight Showdown is full to the brim with charming high-quality content that will keep gamers hooked in for a long time – well… as long as they’ve got some friends to play with. If you’re planning on playing alone, you can take two points off the score below; if you’re planning on playing with friends, add two instead.
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC