Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon ticks all sorts of boxes. It is absolutely a puzzle game. You need to deal with falling “blocks” in a timely fashion. It also feels like an action-RPG. You need to consider your health, your equipment, and the amount of damage you’ll take. Roguelike elements come up too, due to being kicked back to camp when you die and opportunities to unlock relics for future runs. The result is an immensely satisfying game anyone could enjoy.
Things kick off in Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon with Shovel Knight on a new adventure. He finds himself in the Pocket Dungeon after touching a strange cube. After digging his way past enemies and blockades, he joins up with others trapped there. To escape, you’ll need to get through multiple areas and face other knights to eventually reach and defeat the Puzzle Dungeon Master.
Like other puzzle games with falling “blocks,” success comes from eliminating them in Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon. However, different ones are handled in different ways. Enemies start out as stationary foes. They deal damage to your knight when you hit them. Hitting one deals damage to it and all identical ones adjacent to it. The same goes for items like blocks or potions. This can allow you to clear larger areas more swiftly (and rack up more gems.) However, as you proceed, you’ll come across enemies with gimmicks. They might become temporarily invincible, deal more damage, or move. Your goal is to survive long enough for the door to appear. You then grab a key, head out, and move on.
Fortunately, you can get stronger. Sometimes finding a key to a chest will give you a piece of equipment. You might find an entrance to a shop, where you can buy a relic to use for that run. Perhaps you’ll turn up in a room where clearing it of foes gets you a big reward. Maybe you’ll happen upon a shrine that needs three keys to open. This means you would have the luxury of letting more enemies chain up. That means more points and higher scores. It helps you be a bit riskier, which increases your potential rewards.
Every few areas, you’ll come across a level that will involve a boss fight once you find your way “out.” You’ll know it’s coming. There will be a “map” at the top of the puzzle screen, showing the skull representing it. This will be another knight. These can show up randomly, and on subsequent runs you might face a different boss than before. (Even if you didn’t clear the prior one.) Defeating that special foe adds them to the hub. Unlock Shovel Knight, who is your standard, all-around hero, these extra allies each possess a gimmick. For example, Specter Knight gains health after defeating enemies, but loses health if you hit a potion.
So what happens when you die? If you have enough gems, you could quick restart. If not, well you head back to the hub. (Provided you set an infinite stock of lives or have lives left.) Like many roguelikes, there are antifrustration features there. You can purchase relics in the shop. This means they could show up on future runs. You can talk with Tipp for tips about enemies. Percy has a cannon. If you pay the fee to unlock an area, you can then pay an additional fee to bypass other levels and fast travel to that level. (Most helpful if you’re playing areas in order. You determine if you do so or if they’re random in the options.) You can bump into other knights you’ve unlocked to play as them. Before you swap, you see exactly what their special skill is. You can also get cosmetic changes from the Style Pile.
But what’s important is how well Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon works. Initially, areas like the Plains and Pridemoor Keep are fairly simple. (If those sound familiar, it is because spaces are based on Shovel Knight locations.) The enemies are rather basic, though the Goldarmor will show up there with shields to block you from attacking them from the same direction twice. But the further you go, the more dastardly opponents become. Tadvolts occasionally might shock you when attacked. Fairies get more dangerous if your health is low. Electrodents get electrified and move! They keep you on your toes and make you think about your approach. You can’t haphazardly rush through puzzles. The same goes for bosses. You might not face the same twice in a row. It’s good to go through subsequent runs, rather than fast travel to where you left off.
It also offers some supplemental modes that can be quite fun. There’s a VS mode available. This lets you face a player locally or the CPU. Here you go through enemies and screens as usual. However, eliminating chains sends blocks with enemies to your opponent. Your goal is to bury them before they do the same to you. All while also managing your health and staying alive. There is also a Daily run. This gives you one shot to perform as well as you can.
Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon is a game that manages to feel both carefree and thoughtful. It is easy to run through each level. You know time is at a premium. You have an idea of what your characters can do. But at the same time, success comes from planning ahead. Being careful and biding your time can be critical. Given that you can be in and out of an area in minutes, it keeps things from getting stale. But that swiftness makes repeated runs even more inviting as you search for answers and secrets.
Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon will come to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on December 13, 2021.