I wish I could insert the sound effect that goes along with this pose.
Shovel Knight is, simply put, an entertaining breath of nostalgic air. Imagine, if you can, an 8-bit retro game inspired by the likes of some of our favorite NES platformers; Megaman and Super Mario Bros. 3 were two titles from my gaming past that I kept experiencing deja vu moments for while playing Shovel Knight. I never played Duck Tales, but the Shovel pogo-ing is unmistakable.
I’m happy to report that Shovel Knight is more than just a sum of its parts. On its own merit, it is a wonderfully crafted adventure, in which you can feel the dedication and love pouring out of its development. Yacht Club Games didn’t stop at just creating an 8-bit platformer to get NES gamers like myself to buy it. They went above and beyond to create a genuinely great game that stands on its own two feet. They could have just settled on 8-bit graphics and music. Yet every screen has amazing color contrast and texture work, and every song is a catchy beat you’ll be humming long after you’ve turned the game off.
Hard to believe he sleeps with that helmet on.
Shovel Knight truly is a game that would challenge anyone who doesn’t think 8-bit graphics can be aesthetically pleasing.
The world map is presented as a near clone to Super Mario Bros. 3, with progression locked until you defeat certain bosses. There are two villages you can visit to speak with NPCs and purchase upgrades, and the side-scrolling is reminiscent of LoZ 2. Health upgrades can be obtained by turning in meal tickets, while your magic capacity, weapon and armor upgrades are purchased with good old fashioned gold. I wasn’t entirely crazy about having to return to town to change armor (each armor has different features and changes Shovel Knight’s appearance). Magic in Shovel Knight is really using secondary items called relics. Each relic will use a certain amount of magic, and when your magic is out you’re stuck unless you pick up an item to fill it. The more you upgrade your magic, the more you can use without needing to refill it. And there are a lot of different relics to collect for how short this game is.
Yeah, this guy is a dick.
The stages themselves take the Megaman approach; 8 bosses to defeat and all! Clear a certain Knight’s stage and defeat the Knight. Unlike Megaman, defeating a Knight does not grant you with an “I Win” button to use against the next boss. In this game, you don’t get crazy weaknesses to exploit, giving more trial and error to boss fights that surpasses Megaman’s “Okay, time to find the boss weak to fire! Gee, can’t imagine who it could be!”
Instead, we get checkpoints! Checkpoints abound! One great aspect about Shovel Knight is that you can decide to make the game more difficult, therefore more faithful to some of your favorite NES games if you so choose. Checkpoints are splattered throughout each stage. If you die, you lose a handful of gold that you can retrieve by picking it up again. If you’re feeling ballsy, you can DESTROY your checkpoints for a decent wad of gold, meaning you must start even further back (or at the beginning) of the stage. I’m not the sort of person to partake in difficulty challenges nowadays, but I give the developers a nod for coming up with a clever compromise between old school difficulty and the current gaming trends of abundant checkpoints.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may have noticed that here at Hardly Hobbies, we love it when a game pokes fun at itself. Shovel Knight’s dialogue is filled with humorous puns and pokes at the cheesy, poorly-translated games of yore. SK takes it’s medieval theme and runs with it, creating hilarious dialogue that will help you unwind after getting worked up over the boss that killed you five times in a row.
And you will die. Shovel Knight isn’t insanely difficult, but it does have a handful of stages that rely on practice and memorization, particularly with shovel pogo-ing. Thanks to not having a set amount of lives, and (usually) generous checkpoints, I didn’t experience any of the rage I get when playing old school games.
Now that Shovel Knight is being ported to systems outside of the 3DS and Wii U, I’m hoping it will receive a lot more support. It’s a fantastic game, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys 2D platformers. And shovels.