Title: Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon
Developer: Vine, Yacht Club Games
Release Date: December 13, 2013
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Have you ever wanted to be a hero despite strength not being your best attribute? Would you rather save the princess by solving puzzles? Well, Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon aims to turn intelligence into brawn with this puzzle roguelike that will keep you wanting more.
Shovel Knight is camping out one night when a box falls from the sky, landing square on his head. Startled, he investigates the mysterious item only to find himself sucked into it. He meets Puzzle Knight, who explains that they need to solve the puzzle box and defeat its master to escape. Now they must work together recruiting any other unfortunate soul who finds themselves in this world.
After the initial story dump, the plot gradually unfolds as the player goes through each game run. Further, it drops bread crumbs of narrative in the middle of runs as you complete specific tasks. This drip-feed of information helps to keep the player invested with each completed run.
The plot is relatively simple to accommodate this storytelling style. This simplicity can make things predictable at times, but the story knows what it is trying to tell and tells it well. As a result, I never once rolled my eyes. Instead, I was along for the ride. Even as I felt a plot twist coming up, it never affected my enjoyment.
The main drawback is that new story content appears after successful runs. So, a player could be waiting quite a while based on their skill level to get further story details. This requirement can make runs feel shallow with every failure. For example, nothing new happened as I learned to play and failed runs. I ran through the same areas, completing puzzles and going through the motions. This problem could easily have been avoided by tying story details to character unlocks, as well as successful runs.
This storytelling style would make every run feel more impactful, letting the hook of what could be going on, drawing the player further into the gameplay. In addition, it gives the player further reason to immerse themselves in this addictingly simple gameplay design.
Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon manages to blend puzzle and roguelike gameplay effectively. The roguelike aspects come in the form of health. Each time you clear a group of enemies, you take damage, take too much, and die, ending your run. In contrast, the puzzle game elements have the player grouping enemies together to clear the board faster.
You are even allowed to set how much between a roguelike and a puzzle game you would like to play. You can either have one life, unlimited lives, or somewhere between the two. This setting ensures that you set your challenges and approach to the game. At first, I thought switching over to a more traditional puzzle title would make it easier. However, I was dead wrong. In some aspects, it gets even harder, as each death has you scramble to recover the board. I kept an eye on my health even here, as death could end a run just as quickly.
Despite this difficulty, I never felt like it was unfair. I could easily see where I made a mistake and how to correct it on my next run. Each run, you will consistently get further than before. Making each run feel good to complete and a failure is just a reason to go back and do better. My biggest complaint is that the boards can get hectic and cluttered. Each enemy does something different that adds a layer of complexity that is appreciated but confusing at times. Couple this with the fact that any move you do forces more enemies on you, and it’s easy to get lost.
This confusion seems to happen the most during bosses, where the complexity can get high. The boss does its mechanics while you try to keep the board clear. Unfortunately, this complexity does little more than bog down the pace of the battle and forces encounters to last too long. This slow down is exasperated compared to normal levels that last a little over a minute.
There is already a versus mode where you and a friend have separate boards with the goal to make the other player fill their board. This multiplayer mode would have worked better for boss encounters while still keeping the challenge. As it stands now, the boss fights feel like they take up too much time while standard boards try to churn you out of them as fast as possible.
Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon has enough content to keep players interested, whether they are puzzle aficionados or roguelike veterans. Unfortunately, the game suffers from over-complication of simple concepts but manages to stick the landing with addicting gameplay and a refreshingly simple story.
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