By Evan Norris 16th Dec 2019 | 2,399 views
The video game industry has a long history of borrowing characters from established series and placing them in unlikely genres. Sometimes, as with a title like Super Mario Kart, the result is great. Other times—here's looking at you, Sonic the Fighters—the result is something you'd rather forget. Shovel Knight Showdown, a 2D fighting game starring the heroes and villains of the Shovel Knight franchise, falls somewhere in the middle. It won't change the landscape of gaming like Mario Kart, but it's a decent fighter acceptable to both competitive and solo players.
When a secret ritual goes wrong in the Tower of Fate, a magical mirror cracks, summoning characters from the Shovel Knight universe into the same space where they must fight in a range of gladiatorial contests. To escape this new reality of never-ending battle, heroes and villains alike must discover the source of the distortion and set things right.
Shovel Knight Showdown is a mascot platform-fighting game, in the same family as Super Smash Bros. and Brawlout. Up to four players locally can play across several 2D maps with platforms, hazards, and optional items. There are several modes, focused either on racking up the most kills, surviving the longest, or collecting the most gems before time runs out. The game allows you to customize CPU bots, items, stock, sudden death, and several other factors. It's exactly what you'd expect from this type of game, minus online multiplayer options.
What you might not expect is a fun little story mode. Set up like Classic Mode from Super Smash Bros., it follows a hero or villain across a series of stages, each with specific rules and combatants. Although every story follows the same basic trajectory, each character gets a couple of unique scenes and a specific rival. For Shovel Knight, it's Shield Knight, for example; for King Knight, it's Specter Knight. With a hectic target mini-game and a final boss battle that plays to the series' strengths, story mode is arguably superior to the multiplayer offering—strange as that sounds.
The reason for this is simple: based on the movesets and mechanics of an action-platformer, Shovel Knight Showdown is simply not prepared to be a balanced or competitive fighting game. Offensive and defensive options are limited, combatants are unequally-powered in battle, and due to stiff controls and cramped stages there's a clumsy, chaotic quality to the action onscreen. Shovel Knight Showdown is fine for some friendly bouts with mates—particularly if they're fans of developer Yacht Club Games—but it lacks the tactical depth and mechanical finesse to be a great mascot brawler.
Those issues notwithstanding, Showdown includes lots of rewards in the form of unlockable content. You'll start with a handful of stages and only eight characters, but as you play multiplayer and story mode you'll uncover many more. There are 20 characters in total, all torn from the Shovel Knight saga, and unlockable stages based on Pridemoor Keep, Lich Yard, and Birder Bluffs to name a few. The game keeps track of all potential unlocks in the Feats menu; here you can check the victory conditions for each. Win a stock match of three or more without losing a single life and you'll find the Sky Deck stage as your reward. As Shovel Knight, win a match with a reflected projectile to earn a new palette set.
Shovel Knight Showdown looks, sounds, and performs admirably, featuring the same 8-bit pixels and Jake Kaufman musical stylings that have defined the series for half a decade. With recycled sprites and remixed tunes, however, it's more of a greatest hits album than a brand new LP.
Although it doesn't live up to the high standard set by the premiere Shovel Knight game and its single player expansions, Shovel Knight Showdown is a fine multiplayer brawler. With CPU bots and a diverting story mode, it's viable as a solo experience. Thanks to over a dozen characters, several customization options, and multiple stages inspired by franchise locales, it's a decent party game offering. Just don't expect a deep, balanced, or strategic fighting experience.