Welcome to “At a Glance” where first impressions mean everything!. Ladies, gentlemen and garden equipment wielding warriors, I present to you; Shovel Knight.
I’ve looked at quite a few Kickstarter games over the course of this series, many of which promised a new take on old school experiences. While many people scoff at the idea of Kickstarter being a legitimate way of development, I would argue its a much better system then say, releasing an unfinished game and promising it will be finished later (looking at you Early Access). I bring this up as today’s game in question is a kickstarted title, raising $311,502, four times what they originally asked for. Yes today we are looking at quite possibly the most obvious homage to retro games to come from Kickstarter to date, and that is Shovel Knight, by Yacht Club Games.
Shovel Knight tells the tale of a hero who must travel across the realm to save his partner, Shield Knight, all the while battling the order of no quarter and their nefarious leader, the Enchantress. The game’s narrative is minimal, instead opting for the more old school ways of conveying a story. Cut scenes only appear at the beginning of the game, setting up the story quick so you can get straight into the action. Even though the game does feature more gameplay than narrative, that’s not to say the story isn’t memorable or well written, hell I would say Shovel Knight has some of the funniest writing I’ve heard in a while. Not only is it funny, but the game has some really nicely done emotional moments, including a recurring dream sequence in which Shovel Knight has to catch Shield Knight as she falls, while at the same time fend off enemies. Its a small touch, but it adds nicely to give the game some touching moments.
Where Shovel Knight really excels is its game play, as its quite possibly one the best controlling platformers I have ever played. You play as Shovel Knight, progressing through different stages on a over world map (having a striking resemblance to Super Mario Bros. 3) with each stage ending with a boss. The gameplay is one half Mega Man and one half Duck Tales, as not only does the shovel allow you to dig up treasure and hit enemies, but you can also down stab and bounce on enemies, much like Scrooge Mc Duck does. As you travel through different levels you will find an awful lot of gold, jewels and other treasures. These treasures count as your currency, which you will use in the town to upgrade yourself. You can do this by a number of different ways, from gaining more health or magic points, getting new armor and even new items to help you in stages. Now this wouldn’t be a NES inspired platformer without boss fights, and boy are they a colorful bunch. The game takes the Mega Man approach to bosses, having each their own stage based on their personality. So for example, King Knight is based in a golden castle, while Plague Knight resides in a laboratory. Each of the 8 bosses are as memorable as they are difficult, each with their own history with Shovel Knight. You can also find optional bosses travelling the world map, who will challenge you to fight.
As I mentioned earlier, many successful kickstarted games promise to bring old school game design with a modern flare, and Shovel Knight is no exception. Quite possibly the most interesting addition to the classic Mega Man-esque platforming formula is that of how death is handled. In older titles you would have a number of lives to use and if you run out well then its a game over for you. However, Shovel Knight changes things around, implementing the death mechanic of the recent Souls titles. Whenever you die Shovel Knight doesn’t lose a life, but instead drops a portion of his gold. The trek back to collect the gold is created even more tense as if you die whilst getting back to it, the gold will disappear forever. Never did I expect to have the same feeling whilst playing a platformer as I did whilst playing Dark Souls, but the game uses this mechanic perfectly.
Visually, Shovel Knight looks like a NES game, through and through. In recent years indie platformers have taken to using pixel graphics in their games, causing many people to become somewhat sick of the visual style, and I can understand that, pixel art can either be really good or really bad, luckily though Shovel Knight falls into the latter. The sheer amount of detail and charm in every character animation is outstanding, with each boss having their own unique personality represented down to the finest detail (my personal favorite being Polar Knight). The soundtrack I am happy to report is just as faithful to the classic retro style as the graphics, featuring some phenomenal chip tunes fitting each stage down to the tee.
Shovel Knight is the first game in a while to make me want to play more after the credits rolled, and that usually never happens, hell I rarely even finish games these days. The game just has so much going for it, from its amazing soundtrack to smooth as butter gameplay, the entire way through is fun and captivating. Shovel Knight feels like Yacht Club Games took everything that made the 8 bit NES era great, while bringing enough new features to make it feel fresh. Shovel Knight is a should be a serious contender for a lot of game of the year lists, as it may already be mine. In short, I really dug it.
You can purchase Shovel Knight on Steam, Wii U and 3DS.
You can visit the official site for more info.