What is Shovel Knight? Well, it was a Kickstarter campaign put forward on March 14, 2013 by a team calling themselves Yacht Club Games. It promised to be a pixelated platformer, using chiptune music, pixel things, and a philosophy calling back to the golden days of the NES. Now, I wasn’t really around during that heyday, so I had no nostalgic ties to this game. But it looked pretty good, and Dtoid pointed the game out to me to it so I decided to back it. And damn am I happy that I decided to do so, because it’s one of the finest games I have ever played.
Art Style and Music
I have played this game on PC and Vita, and personally I find it to look better on a smaller OLED screen, as well as finding it to control better on Vita. The game is bright and colorful, and the pixel art style is charming as hell. There’s lots of small details even with a more limited amount of graphical capacity to work with and the game has a really good looking aesthetic. Each area is an excellent reflection of the boss, with lots of background details catching the eye and fluid animations making this game stand among the best. The music is fantastic as well, with lots of fun tunes, and varied tunes to boot. Here’s a good example, that being Strike the Earth:
It’s full of nice music like that, and it just contributes to the charm of the game. Its well composed, and worth a listen to see if its your thing.
As noted before I have played this on PC and then vita, and found the Vita to perform better in the control department, but you can mostly chalk that up to personal opinion and preference. The game is a side-scrolling platformer, where you can use a shovel-your primary weapon-to pogo on enemies. Those of you who remember Ducktales the video game may find that mechanic similar, as it is, to my understanding a deliberate homage. It’s quite enjoyable to jump on enemies, bounce to secret treasures and use it to navigate during boss fights. You can also pick up varied items that perform different functions, though they must be purchased from a vendor in the field. These items require magic, and throughout the game you must upgrade your health and magic to keep dealing with the reasonable-though high reaching-difficulty curve. Throughout the game, you can switch between armor sets that fit your play style, and run into random encounters with odd characters-and one, very angry bald character if you grab a Sony version-to add more boss fights to the mix.
Additionally as the game goes on, you will collect gold and gems that allow you to upgrade your moves, buy items and armor, and increase health and magic. However, there’s a bit of a twist.
Because this game isn’t just inspired by old NES games, it’s also inspired by that modern classic, Dark Souls. Throughout a level you will run into checkpoints, which will revive you should you die. But if you do die, you will have to a portion of your money, and if you die before getting it back then it’s gone forever. If you are a masochist, you can destroy the checkpoints to earn money-though the more you use one, the less you earn-but generally I found no real need to do so. It’s a neat mechanic, and it’s one that keeps the game moving, rather than forcing you to restart the level from the beginning and incentivizing not screwing up. Other than all that, the game generally controls pretty tight, and the platforming is rock solid. That said, the beginning control scheme-wherein pressing up activates an item-is baffling compared to the alternate, and I would recommend swapping over to the alternate as soon as possible.
The story set-up is simple, but it gets the job done. Basically you play as shovel knight, a knight who has given up adventuring after losing his ally shield knight in a mysterious tower. But evil has spread from the tower years later, and you must fight against the Knights of no quarter, reach the tower and defeat the enchantress. It’s a simple story, but it’s pretty endearing and it feels like its aware of itself and the history of games like it, making it something interesting to continue on with. Add to that the distinction it holds for having one of my favorite endings of any game I have played, and you have yourselves a winner. There’s also lots of interesting characters, side diversions and side quests that provide interesting looks into the world and lead to more fun stuff to play around with.
So there it is, my thoughts on this game. Honestly I really enjoyed it, and I’m glad to see my Kickstarter backing was well placed, given the quality of the product. If you get the chance, I would recommend giving it a shot as it’s a great game that is definitely worth your time. It’s a well written love letter to a bygone age, a fun experience even if you don’t overflow with nostalgia and given that they still have content to provide, I look forward to seeing what these guys have coming up next.
(Originally written 7/30/15)