In the final expansion to Yacht Club Games' critically acclaimed Shovel Knight, players will finally step into the shoes of King Knight as he embarks on a quest to be a mighty king (so enemies beware!) in King of Cards.
Pridemoor has yet to see a king with quite the knack for flair, but the Gilded Goon aspires to be the main event like no king was before (brushing up on looking down while building up his score) in this new prequel story—and this is a facet of King Knight's character that is reflected quite clearly and charmingly in his gameplay.
The PAX West demo was split between an Easy Mode at the Plains of Passage, a Medium Mode within Pridemoor Keep, and the new strategic card game mode unique to King of Cards. I only had so much time with the demo, so I went with the main course to see how King Knight controls compared to the three Knights from the previous campaigns.
The most radical change that took me by surprise came from the atypical level structuring in this particular campaign. This time around, each main area is split apart into more piecemeal segments to make up their own separate worlds, where King Knight either makes it to treasure or fends off one of the ruling monarchs; with the game's pacing chopped up to allow for shorter and more numerous stages, the game feel even more like Super Mario Bros. 3 in this particular light. I felt this could also allow for a more engaging playthrough for some, especially on handheld devices like the Nintendo 3DS or the home console-hybrid Switch, where you can play bits of King of Cards at a time and still make a lot of progress during lulls over the course of the day.
Back to King Knight himself, this decadent dandy is all about style, grandeur, and theatrics, and his personality really shines in his own animations, from how he carries himself to how he pirouettes in the air. His desire for gold and conquest isn't too unlike Wario either, and he even borrows the shoulder bash technique from Mario's archrival as part of his moveset—you can choose to collide into enemies, or ram into a wall to go twirling into the air. That twirl is also most effective in unearthing gems and bouncing off of baddies, but maneuvering yourself might take some getting used to as King Knight travels fast when airbound, which can lead to some unfortunate deaths. Once a few extra hearts are accrued, however, bottomless pits would at most be a nuisance as helicopter-rats can pull you out in a bind.
I haven't had the opportunity to try out the strategic card game, but from what I can gather, it's more of a bonus game that you can choose to unwind with between stages (also somewhat reminiscent of the old Toad houses). The goal is to knock your future subjects' cards off the grid so you can secure the gem, and thus score yourself some extra gold.
It should go without saying that strange women living in towers of fate distributing evil magic is no basis for a system of government, but it will still be interesting to see how King Knight's rise to power plays out once Shovel Knight: King of Cards launches in 2018. The expansion will cost $9.99 as its own separate game, but it will be included as a free update to owners of the original Treasure Trove collection.