Over the course of five years and five campaigns, the Shovel Knight series has introduced players to a variety of heroes and villains in their main versions. Shovel Knight Showdown flips through the Super Smash Bros. playbook, gathers those familiar faces in one place, and lets you be beaten in platform-based battles. While simple controls simplify the learning curve for a good party game, you quickly get a complete overview of this package.
Shovel Knight Showdown puts you in a phase of platforms and tasks in which you either exhaust your opponents’ lives or collect a set number of gems that appear randomly. While most stadiums are static, some scroll automatically as you fight. These levels create the right amount of chaos and use the emphasis on the platform for the Shovel Knight series. Certain stadiums also harbor dangers, such as the Troupple King, which sends out waves of minions, or a bridge over a trap that players can turn on and off to keep you busy in an exciting way.
With such a robust collection of characters from across the Shovel Knight universe, the list of playable fighters adds an extra dash of variety to the experience. Each character has their own primary attack, special attack (often a projectile) and parry, and many have unique movement traits, charge attacks, or fall attacks. It is worth experimenting with the fighters; I quickly left Shovel Knight’s more general moveset behind, in favor of the swift diagonal movements and wall cracks of the Specter Knight or the Belmont-inspired whip attacks by the tanker Baz. The compact arsenal of moves ensures an accessible experience, but also limits the creativity and depth of the individual characters. While my strategies evolved the more I played, I felt like I was breaking away with characters much faster than in other fighting games.
Just like in the mainline platform series, jumping and attacking feel great. However, Showdown’s limited game types make the experience out of date. Collecting precious stones as your main goal is fun only for so long. I prefer the rules for exhaustion of life in Showdown, but even then you can only fully exhaust your life at five o’clock. You can experience these matches with up to four players in battle mode or in single player story mode, but it’s the same action with little breaks for text-heavy cutscenes or a targeted mini-game.
The story culminates in a two-part boss fight that is the same for every character, but that begins with a gem-gathering section before you experience a more traditional boss fight experience. Once you’ve reached the endgame against a giant sentient mirror, it’s an intense but fun fight in which you’ll have to dodge projectiles when climbing on moving platforms and hitting the weak point. But just like the goal of collecting gems, after a few times it felt like I was just going through the movements.
Make no mistake despite the single player option: Shovel Knight Showdown is best played in multiplayer. Playing through matches with your friends and various settings increases the stakes and is much more exciting than just fighting against the predictable mistakes. Choosing from a list of cheats will also help you customize the action to your liking. Fast run and high jump provide a more intense experience as the fighters fly across the screen while the hurricane gives the games gusts of wind. These modifiers can remove the monotony of repetition, but do not fully cure it.
In addition to gemstones, objects such as bombs, character-repellent magnets and energy-laden foods also appear in most matches. While gems are always a priority, these assists can give you an important competitive edge, especially if you get one of the annoying assist creatures that fly around and harass your opponents. These items are hit or missed on the battlefield, from effective or entertaining to irrelevant or annoying. Thankfully, you can turn off the items individually or all at once.
While Shovel Knight Showdown doesn’t impress with the list of modes, it does offer you plenty of ways to unlock characters, stages, and skins. I always loved seeing that I unlocked something new, but it wasn’t enough to motivate me for the umpteenth time to go through history or fight for gems again.
Shovel Knight Showdown is great for short sessions with friends or a few runs through story mode, but simple movesets and repetitions limit the fun. You can have some fun with shovel knights here, but don’t expect to hit gold.