Yacht Club Games has been tinkering with a multiplayer battle mode for years, and now Shovel Knight Showdown is finally here. It’s not going to dethrone Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and it may not dethrone whatever your other favorite multiplayer battle games on Switch are either. It’s also not really fun to play alone. But despite all that, it can still be a pretty entertaining addition to your party game lineup.
Many ways to play with a basic formula
The premise of Shovel Knight Showdown is that the villainous Enchantress’s magic mirror is tampered with, sending everybody into another world to duke it out. That’s about as complex as the narrative gets, which is for the best. There are in total 20 characters and 29 stages, and the game comes with Battle, Story, Practice, and Targets modes.
There are a wide range of modifiers for battles, such as having hazards rain from the sky, enabling one-hit KOs, or deactivating stage obstacles. There are also lots of modifiers borrowed from Super Smash Bros., like being able to micromanage item spawn rates, slow and fast modes, and a mode for huge characters. Experimenting with settings adds a lot of exciting new flavor to matches.
Despite that great variability, there are only two core Battle modes in Shovel Knight Showdown: Showdown and Treasure Clash. Showdown is a normal fight, either timed or with stock lives like in Smash. Treasure Clash is about collecting a required amount of gems that spawn on screen. Both modes support four players and bots.
Story mode is a typical, Smash-like adventure through nine-ish levels of Showdowns and Treasure Clashes with different conditions, like team battles or having to defeat 20 enemies with 1 HP each. The types of battles fought vary only slightly according to the character you choose, and it starts to feel like a monotonous grind to replay it with the many different characters. You can however play it co-op for a more lively time, and Story mode comes with three difficulties.
Practice mode is self-explanatory but well-designed, allowing you to quickly swap to another character in mid-battle and reset what you want the bot opponent to do. Targets mode consists of various targets cycling on and off screen on rails, and you want to break as many as you can in the time allotted for a high score. Personally, I found it pretty forgettable, feeling like a weak way to riff off old Smash games, but it becomes a mandatory stage during Story mode.
Combat and conflict in Shovel Knight Showdown
The 20 characters in Shovel Knight Showdown basically all act as they do in the main series, albeit nerfed in some cases with smaller move sets. Aside from a parry move, most characters only have around three abilities, which are easy to execute but might leave you hungry for more options. Character balancing is a bit wonky in places too. Shovel Knight might possibly be the weakest character, whereas Specter Knight seems ludicrously overpowered, able to float, climb walls, throw a projectile, and do fast aerial lock-on attacks that require no aiming. Still, overall, almost all characters do feel unique to use, encouraging experimentation.
The 29 stages offer a mixed bag of basic and trap-laden levels. Lava and bottomless pits spell instant death, but the most unique obstacle was in a stage where a crowd of people rushes across the bottom of the screen. They hurt you if they touch you, but they can also push you off the edge of the screen with them, instantly killing you in the funniest possible way. Levels furthermore come in different sizes to accommodate the desired pace of a battle, and a small few even feature automatic screen scrolling (again like in Smash). However, I can’t say I was really impressed overall with the stage selection. There weren’t any particular stages that my group and I ever felt a burning desire to replay on loop. Fewer stages with more memorable design would have been preferable.
Shovel Knight Showdown comes with some design quirks in general. Chiefly, a character that is blinking (either from taking damage or coming back to life after death) cannot collect gems, which is a bit frustrating. Plus, if a recently revived character starts moving while still blinking, they are immediately open to taking damage again; there is no invulnerability.
Far and away though, the most disappointing aspect of Shovel Knight Showdown is the bot AI. It’s a mess. Bots on even the highest difficulty will randomly commit suicide. They also will frequently ignore the human players, just kind of camping in one area and waiting for you to do something. And most annoyingly of all, when a bot dies and comes back, it will always wait for its entire period of invincibility to expire before rejoining the fight. In a one-on-one fight, especially in Story mode, this can be a giant waste of time. Screwy AI is a major factor that makes single player not very fun.
Cheating is recommended in Shovel Knight Showdown
Only a handful of characters and stages are available at the beginning; the rest (plus new costumes and palette changes) must be unlocked. This can be done through grinding Story mode with different characters or just playing tons of multiplayer. But if you would rather play the complete game with your friends right now, Yacht Club Games offers cheat codes to unlock everything — both on a temporary or permanent basis. I highly recommend using the temporary cheat code, especially with how tedious Story mode is.
Ultimately, Shovel Knight Showdown feels a lot like a Shovel Knight-branded Smash Bros., except with more restrictions and an emphasis on treasure collection. The characters are simultaneously varied yet limited in ability, the stages bountiful yet forgettable, and the battles extremely modifiable yet narrow in objective. Sloppy AI renders single player a chore as well. Nonetheless, when you have four players (and maybe a cheat code) handy, this is still a frenetic, action-packed party game that will have you yelling at each other in a good way for hours at a time.
While you’re here, check out our review of Shovel Knight: King of Cards too!
A review code was provided by the publisher.