Shovel Knight: King of Cards

A game expansion for Shovel Knight by Yacht Club Games, originally released in 2019.
In 2019, Yacht Club Games released their final DLC expansion for Shovel Knight, entitled King of Cards. The game stars King Knight as its lead character, who appeared as one of the bosses in the original game, as a knight who foolishly pretended at being a king. In this prequel, a popular new card game called Joustus is taking the world by storm, resulting in a kingdom-spanning tournament. Three kings have been selected as judges of the tournament, and anyone who is able to defeat these judges will be awarded a great treasure and be dubbed King of Cards… which is of great appeal to a knight who has dreams of being a king.

Like many action games feature card playing as a core aspect of gameplay, doing so is entirely optional, although playing cards helps you to earn medals that unlock powerups and other items that may be used during the action segments. That said, medals are also spread throughout the action-based levels, usually placed in out-of-the-way or hidden areas. Even the Joustus judges are defeated in traditional combat, and these play out as boss encounters.

King Knight has a bit of inertia when starting or stopping a run, which makes movements within tight quarters a bit slippery. He has a 1.25x variable jump and he is able to perform an attack called a shoulder bash. This lets him boost forward for a short distance either on the ground or in the air, allowing him to damage enemies, break blocks, and extend his jump to cross gaps. He can only attack to the left or right, but when he lands a shoulder bash, he pops up into the air and performs a pirouette. While pirouetting, he damages enemies and breaks blocks below him, and this is frequently used to mount platforms. Bashing walls is further encouraged by the fact that they often have gems embedded into them which pop out when struck.

As with the other playable characters, King Knight’s particular moveset means that players are forced to tackle environments and overcome obstacles very differently. There are also certain surfaces – usually appearing as soft surfaces, such as moss-covered walls – that prevent King Knight from bouncing upward and pirouetting. There are also surfaces that prevent him from jumping, requiring players to think strategically about how to navigate the environment. Unlike Shovel Knight, who can dig downward at will, the player must look for enemies or obstacles to bash in order start a pirouette, and this is also required in order to dig up treasure piles.

It’s only possible to perform a shoulder bash once in the air, unless you manage to follow up with a pirouette that strikes an enemy or a destructible block, which then allows you to perform another shoulder bash while in midair. This is occasionally used as an advanced technique to bounce off of multiple enemies to stay aloft. These techniques are often required to reach out-of-the-way medals or to find alternate exits, which lead to new branches on the world map.

The world is divided into regular levels, powerup-specific challenge areas, and safe areas filled with Joustus-playing NPC’s, and at any time, you may return to your airship to buy items and speak with NPC's that you've encountered on your journey. Sometimes a patrolling enemy appears on the map, and passing over the enemy results in a boss encounter. Overall, levels are much shorter for King Knight than the other playable characters, but there are more of them.

Powerup-based challenge areas are optional but they appear frequently and break up the pace of the experience. In each of these areas, an NPC offers to trade medals for a specific powerup, while providing a bit of detail about what it does beforehand. Once purchased, a doorway opens, challenging the player to get through a short level using only this new powerup, and the player’s shoulder bash move is disabled. Successfully reaching the end of the challenge allows the player to retain the powerup for use in standard levels, and the NPC offers congratulations and returns to the airship with the player.

Powerups may be used infinitely within the challenge levels, as statues constantly refill the player’s vigor meter. In regular levels, however, this meter is drained with each powerup use, and some powerups drain more of the meter than others. This requires the player to be more mindful of how and when he uses his powerups, as the only way to refill the meter is by finding vigor potions.

Some powerups can have significant impact on gameplay, and these include bomb carrying rats that can destroy distant targets, the ability to dash in a straight line until you hit something, and the ability to wrap yourself in a bubble that can be manually popped, allowing you to perform another shoulder bash… which can be a lifesaver in some of the tougher platforming sequences. There are also a few permanent powerups that may be purchased, allowing you to do things like heal once per level or use your pirouette to pull gems toward you.

King Knight begins the game with four hearts in his health meter, and these are lost in 1-heart increments. Health and vigor may be increased permanently by purchasing pies from King Knight's mother. Many enemies that require multiple hits to defeat – including bosses – will drop a heart when landing several hits in quick succession, allowing players to play aggressively to restore some health. As in the other modes, players occasionally encounter silver platters with apples that restore a bit of health, or turkeys that restore health back to full.

Bosses are comprised of many of the same characters that the player has faced multiple times before, with some fun interactions between King Knight and the other “star” characters. Completing boss and miniboss encounters represents some of the tougher challenges since these enemies have lengthy life bars and require very specific strategies to defeat, especially given King Knight's limited moveset. For instance, one boss requires that the player dodge out of the way of swords that are imbedded in the floor, and then shoulder bash into a sword to pop into the air, pirouette off the top of the sword (which destroys it) to get up to where the boss is, and then perform another shoulder bash to cause damage.

You earn a Joustus deck early on by defeating Specter Knight in combat, after which you may challenge other Joustus players to a game, earning new cards for victories – and losing them for defeats – and special cards may also be found via environmental exploration. The game of Joustus plays out on a grid, and the goal of each game is to collect the gems at the center of the table while preventing your opponent from doing the same.

Each card in your deck – which are themed after enemies and NPC’s – has one or more arrows facing in four cardinal directions. These arrows indicate the direction that a card can move. This allows you to push your own cards onto gems to collect them (you cannot place cards directly onto gems), or to push opponent cards away. However, if the adjacent card has an opposing arrow, it cannot be pushed from that side. Players may place cards in adjacent squares or between pairs of cards, and once all of the squares in the center of the table are filled, the game ends.

Weaker one-arrow cards are available in infinite supply while special cards may have two or more arrows. Later in the game, you earn new card types, such as double arrows that can push cards with opposing single arrows (but not opposing double arrows). Other cards allow you to do things like destroying opponent cards or transforming them into your own. You may also purchase cheats, allowing you to do things like playing three cards in one move, turning opponent cards into your own, or transforming your opponent’s hand into weaker cards.

King Knight’s quest retains the goofy humor that the game is known for, and it dives deeper into the story of one of the quirkier bosses from the original game. King Knight has something of a Don Quixote complex, seeing his actions as a quest for glory that will end in his shining victory and a true crown, but he has a lot of personality deficiencies and blind spots, and these end up making him a more endearing character. For instance, the bulk of King Knight’s “servants” are actually rats, and groups of rats can power a propeller to pull him out of the level at the end, or transport him to hidden rooms.

King of Cards is an expansion for Shovel Knight by Yacht Club Games. Our full coverage of the game and its expansions may be found here.