Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon Review | Steel Thy Puzzle!

When you come up with a memorable hero, it’s normal to want to put them in as many different situations as possible. It’s an interesting thought to wonder how an adventurer would handle themselves in a murder-mystery setting and so on. The popular hero Shovel Knight has a reputation for epic platforming as well as using his trusty shovel to slay foes and clear piles of dirt. As a change of pace, the folks down at Yacht Club Games decided to put test his digging skills in a different scenario, specifically Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon. Trapped in a series of puzzle rooms with rogue-lite rules, you’ll have to rely on more than just excavation prowess to succeed.

What’s The Dirt On Pocket Dungeon?

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon screenshot 01

As humorous as the idea of a knight who wields a shovel against armies of dangerous warriors and monsters, Shovel Knight is no stronger to interesting and sincere plots. This time around, it seems our hero wasn’t looking for adventure. While resting at a campfire, Shovel Knight receives a mysterious gift which turns out to be a puzzle box. After examining it for a few moments, Shovel Knight is sucked into the world within the box. He is met by Puzzle Knight and Chester who have also become trapped in the box. Tasked with solving the puzzles and recruiting any other trapped minds within, Shovel Knight and friends will need to dig themselves out of this unusually shaped hole. You’ll get the gist within a few minutes before diving into the adventure.

Can You Dig It?

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon screenshot 02

Digging is a simple activity, but you get into it once you get a rhythm going. In terms of Pocket Dungeon, it’s easy to start grooving. Part of what makes it easy is the overall aesthetic. The Shovel Knight universe has a distinct flair to it which can be felt in this new adventure. There are noticeable changes in the animation and artwork which gives it its own feel while still being connected to core games. The characters and enemies all have a new life to them while the items and blocks have received a new coat of polish.

The next thing is a smooth blend between adventuring and puzzling. Each area throws you into a contained space that fills up with blocks, enemies, and hazards that you’ll need to outlast in order to win. You’ll learn quickly that you can’t simply power through every situation as that carelessness will get you killed. It encourages you to strategically balance movement, attacking, sacrifice, and resource gathering. All the enemies and blocks have different properties and time is always moving so it challenges you to be quick and clever.

Then there’s the variety offered by the rogue-lite elements. It’s easy to gather up a number of treasures, items, and comrades, which only incentivizes you to try them all out. There’s a huge roster of characters including old favorites and newcomers. Each character has different stats and unique behavior that you can tailor to different strategies. Every stage you visit hides secrets and bonuses that are only too exciting when you encounter them.

Hitting Bedrock

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon screenshot 03

Perhaps the most disappointing thing that can happen during excavation is when you hit a layer that you simply can’t dig through. Sadly, Pocket Dungeon hit some of those points during gameplay. The first of them is the length of the main adventure. There’s nothing wrong with short and sweet, but the diversity of levels has limits. There are only 10 rooms, and you’ll become familiar with all of them within the first few runs. This kind of reduces the number of surprises you’ll encounter per run.

Then there’s the balance between the characters. While the roster is pretty diverse in terms of appearance and skills, there is a clear difference in appeal. Characters that do more damage with fewer attacks or just have more health just tend to stand out more. You could argue that using some of the riskier characters offers another level of challenge, it doesn’t really change the gameplay since each character experiences the same story. It’s fun to play around with each of them, but you’ll only end up using one or two of them for serious runs.

Finally, there’s a lack of new additions to the Shovel Knight world. Pocket Dungeon certainly adds new lore and characters, but the enemies and blocks are all folks we’ve seen before. Even the bosses were opponents before, but now they’re more limited by puzzle format.

Don’t Wait, Excavate

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon screenshot 04

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon is the new spin-off adventure by Yacht Club Games involving puzzling your way through a rogue-lite world. It looks and sounds great while offering a variety of fast and challenging gameplay. Unfortunately, it can seem pretty short alongside minor character imbalance and a lack of new assets. Even so, the tight controls and lovely blend of action/adventure and puzzles will make you want to shovel it down.

Final Score: 8 / 10