Prime Your Potions!

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Title screen for Plague of Shadows

Shovel Knight fans itching for more need not look far; Plague of Shadows, Yacht Club Games’ first DLC Expansion for their 8-bit platformer, has been out for a while and it’s a blast.

You now play as the diabolical Plague Knight, the alchemist of The Order of No Quarter and boss of the Explodatorium stage in Shovel Knight’s campaign. He’s on a quest to create the ultimate potion. To do so, he must gather the essences his colleagues in The Order as well as Shovel Knight’s

You can now select Plague Knight as your character.

The first thing you’ll notice is how different the game feels. Though you have to go through the same stages, instead of the straightforward ‘jump-and-attack’ pattern of Shovel Knight, you’re given arching throwing bombs and the Bomb Burst, a move that makes you jump higher and farther while damaging enemies around you. This makes attacking and jumping harder to control as you’ll need to be in the proper distance to hit enemies. Also, one mistake with the bomb burst and you’re likely to fall to your doom while a well-timed one can save your life.

The Bomb Burst can make or break your jump.

Other differences include health and magic. Plague Knight can use Health Tonics which you can either buy or find scattered around stages. Using one will increase your maximum health by one. However, when you die, you lose the tonic’s effects so it’s a good idea to stock up on these. Your maximum health also increases every time you beat a stage.

In place of magic, Plague Knight has an energy bar that gets depleted every time you use an arcana, which functions as a sub-weapon similar to Shovel Knight’s relics. But unlike Shovel Knight’s magic, the energy bar refills by itself.

The bosses are the same (except for the Explodatorium stage, where you’ll fight Shovel Knight instead, and the final boss) but the way Plague Knight plays mean you’ll have to rethink your strategies. Planning your attack’s trajectory and making good use of your arcana is crucial.

Prepare to re-strategize when fighting the bosses again.

Like the original, you can also collect music sheets to hear the game’s soundtrack. In addition, you can also collect Cipher Coins. These are spent for weapon upgrades. There are four types: Powders, Casings, Fuses and Bomb Bursts.

Powders define the way your bomb explodes. Each has different properties like emitting flames upon bursting or causing rapid explosions. Casings dictate the way your bomb travels to the target. There’s one that floats, another that orbits around you and even one that comes back after being thrown, like a boomerang.

Fuses dictate how and when your bombs blow up. You can have them blow up on contact or let them sit there for a while before exploding. Bomb Bursts add properties to your bomb burst jumps. You can add a Bullet Burst that fires a projectile after you jump (useful for faraway enemies) or make yourself float on the way down, allowing more control with your descent.

These upgrades make Plague Knight a more customizable and complex character and it fits very well with his personality. While he’s not as physically strong as Shovel Knight, he has a brilliant and cunning mind. This forces him to find ways to compensate for his limits.

This is the beauty of this expansion; with all the customization options available to you, you are forced to think like Plague Knight. You need to mix and match different powders, fuses, casings and bomb bursts to suit your play style. And if your present combination does not work well against certain stages and bosses, you’ll be forced to try other upgrades and figure out which works best in different situations.

New to the expansion is the Challenge Mode, where you play as Shovel Knight through various difficult levels that involve either the use of a relic, or a more challenging fight against a certain boss. Finishing Plague Knight’s story unlocks challenges for him as well. These are not only fun breaks from the main game, but also greatly adds replay value. The feats are back as well, with Plague Knight having his own set to accomplish.

Being an expansion, it sports the same 8-bit look. The music, while still done in the same chiptune style, has a brand new soundtrack for Plague Knight’s campaign and it sounds just as great. These new songs also set a different tone for his story.

This expansion also builds on the original game by showing you the world from Plague Knight’s perspective. You learn more about him through his interactions with the villagers, his colleagues in the Order and Shovel Knight. He’s no longer that boss who threw bottles at you. He’s a very developed character with his own flaws and redeeming qualities.

So is Plague of Shadows better or worse than Shovel Knight? Honestly, it’s incomparable because it plays less like an expansion and more like an entirely new game. Sure, you fight the same bosses but the drastic change in how your character controls, combined with all the options for upgrades, guarantees an entirely new experience. If you enjoyed Shovel Knight, Plague of Shadows is very much worth a try.

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