Review: Shovel Knight

Developer: Yacht Club Games | Year: 2014 | List Price: $14.99 | Buy from Steam

Shovel KnightI first heard about this game earlier this year and thought nothing of it. But Shovel Knight has received so much hype since its release that despite the fact that I reject platformers by principle, I simply had to buy it. Touted by some as the best modern retro style game, and by others more as the best 2D platformer, I wondered what the kerfuffle was all about. Now, having completed the entire adventure front to back, I have to say that I was not in the least bit disappointed.

I’ll start by talking about my history with platformers. It’s not that I didn’t play many, but that the ones I’ve played haven’t impressed me all that much. One of the first games I ever owned was Spyro Orange for the GBA, which was a sub-par game and a terrible platformer (although I didn’t know this back then and played the heck out of it). After a couple more crappy platformers, the next platformer of note I acquired was the GBA port of Yoshi’s Island, which was actually excellent but hard, and I never got very far. The first platformer I legitimately loved was New Super Mario Bros. for the DS, but I never finished it (I got to about World 5 before the D-pad on my DS Lite started acting up). Finally, my brother got Kirby Super Star Ultra, and while I played it a bit, it never really caught my interest either, getting a bit stale after a while.

So it’s obvious that I don’t much like platformers. I got Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3 on the 3DS Virtual Console to see if I’ve changed my mind recently, and those are cool because of their history, but also hard and therefore repetitive. Like I said above though, I read somewhere that Shovel Knight combined the best of NES (i.e. Metroid, Zelda II, Mega Man, Castlevania, Super Mario Bros. 3) and that if anything could convince a non-platforming gamer, it’d be this.

The very first thing I noticed about Shovel Knight is that it possesses a certain charisma. You’ll try to press A to select stuff, but soon figure out that B is the ‘Confirm’ button. The graphics emulate the NES era, but the game is in widescreen and has a crispness and vividity of colour that could never have existed in the 80’s. And that’s the thing, because even though it pulls so many things from so many different games, Shovel Knight would very much like you to know that it is a completely new animal.

The premise is simple. You’re a knight that fights using only a shovel, meaning you actually have only two attacks: a horizontal stab and a downward pogo thingy. Don’t worry if you crave more variety, however, because there are numerous relics to collect including a fireball, a fishing rod, and a locket that makes you invincible for a couple of seconds. Another great thing about Shovel Knight, then, is that you can play the way you like and still win the game. Every boss can be beaten using only the shovel, though I enjoyed using the fireball too. (In fact, I beat every boss including the final with pretty much only that, since I didn’t know how to use the other relics efficiently.)

Balance is another of the game’s high points. You can decide not only in what manner you’ll win the game, but also how difficult you want the game to be. When you die, you lose 1/4 of your valuable gold and respawn at a checkpoint, but if you want extra difficulty you can destroy these checkpoints permanently for some extra gold. Personally I kept them all intact, because I found the game difficult enough. Given my inexperience with platformers and my general lack of hand-eye coordination, I died a total of 377 times!

Anyway, on to the review!

Design: 10/10 This game is a brilliant premise executed excellently. It takes all the elements that made old-school games enjoyable while still being accessible and fun today. Each of the 10+ stages is absolutely unique and has its own feel with well thought out obstacles. The story is simple but somehow still very memorable, especially the ending.

Graphics: 10/10 I love retro NES games and I love their graphics, but there’s no denying that limitations came with that medium, such as flicker and awkward simplified text. Shovel Knight emulates this style but still manages to look relevant, due to its crisp, smooth animation and bright colours.

Sound: 10/10 The music, created on NES hardware, is an 8-bit masterpiece. Many tracks were still stuck in my head hours after putting my 3DS down. Every stage has its own theme, and the tunes never get tiring.

Gameplay: 10/10 Nothing to complain about here. The platforming is excellent, the boss fights are epic and demanding, and the controls are extremely responsive. The game is also difficult but not unfair, and you’ll be satisfied when you get past a diabolical obstacle because you know that it was your skill that enabled you to prevail.

Value: 9/10 The game has replay value, with a New Game Plus option and achievements to collect. I also didn’t find it too short either, since I made it a point to find as many secrets as possible and ground money for all the relics (not to mention I died a lot). However, $15 (I got it for $16 here in Canada, not sure if that’s just our eShop though) may be a bit steep, since there’s only about a dozen main stages plus  a couple shorter ones. At my (extremely) leisurely pace, I beat Shovel Knight in just under 14 hours, but an experienced player could easily beat it in less than 5 on a first playthrough.

Total: 49/50 (A+)

List Price: $14.99 | Buy from Steam

Basically, buy this game. It’s great and you’ll play it for hours. If you’ve played old-school platforming games, you’ll enjoy all the allusions the developers incorporated into the gameplay. If you’re a rookie like me, this might open you up to the genre. The NES Metroid game will be on sale on the Virtual Consle on 18 September as part of Nintendo’s Super Smashing Sale, and I plan to try that out as well as Mega Man II.

Have you played Shovel Knight? What did you think? Tell us in the comments! Also, be sure read the rest of our video game reviews here, as well as see how well Shovel Knight stacks up against all the other games I’ve played here (hint: it’s pretty high!).

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