Shovel Knight – PC
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Release Date (NA): June 26, 2014
Nerd Rating: 8 out of 10
Reviewed by Jitszu
To be frank, Shovel Knight is not the first time (not even close really) a retro-homage game has been released by an indie developer. In fact, a large number of said developers are solely dedicated to recreating their childhood’s style of games.
Now, it’s been said that these attempts (usually) end up being way too hard to be enjoyable or a shallow game severely lacking in depth with an 8-bit skin. As you can imagine, it’s pretty difficult to hit the sweet spot, the spot where the creators truly grasp what made retro gaming fun, and maybe even put a bit of their own flare on it without ruining the magic. Ladies and gentlemen, Yacht Club Games brings you Shovel Knight!
Regardless of what you seek from your retro gaming experience, Shovel Knight will have something for you. Oh you actually want evidence and facts? Fine.
Firstly, Shovel Knight proudly displays its inspirations, putting them on full display like a trophy (no complaints here). So, the main plot of the game revolves around our protagonist as he travels and goes to battle with eight fellow knights, each with different abilities. Change the word ‘knights’ to ‘reploids’ and you’ve got the plot of Mega Man.
His main weapon (yes his shovel) also doubles as a digging instrument (technically, I guess it doubles as a melee weapon since a shovel’s primary purpose is to dig things up) and even a pogo stick at times. Much like yet another classic, DuckTales.
And that’s not even everything, you can thank Castlevania for the up-button controlled sub-weapons that are found throughout the game, each relating to the boss of the area (Mega Man again). And finally, between navigating through hazardous insta-death spike arenas, dodging magic bullets while pogo-sticking across a ravine of lava, and even defeating a scythe-wielding boss while hardly being able to see yourself, our hero at least gets to rest in town and power-up, interact with citizens, turn in some quest items, and other stuff (yes, just like in Zelda 2.)
If old school references are what you seek, Shovel Knight is the answer to your prayers. It doesn’t smack you over the head with its homages, but each has a purpose, and they fit into the game so flawlessly it doesn’t come across at all like a cry for attention.
With all these references included you might be thinking Shovel Knight is no more than a conglomerate of childhood favorites, but you couldn’t be more wrong. It churns out an equal amount (if not more) to stand out on its own as it does to bring the nostalgia to the table.
The most notable being the lack of the classic “life” mechanic. No 1-up’s for this shovel-wielding adventurer. You get as many deaths as necessary to complete the stage, which means you aren’t forced to replay all of the (incredibly) tricky parts until you want to shatter your controller (or keyboard if you’re lame) against the wall. Yes, that’s right, if a spike placement or boss battle is proving to be a bit tough, you can rest assured knowing you’ll always have a checkpoint around the corner.
Unless of course, you don’t want the checkpoints. Wait, what? Yes, for those who enjoy the classic 8-bit level mastery required for level completion, you can do that. The checkpoints are totally optional. Once ignited, just destroy it, and take some tasty extra treasures for yourself. Good luck hanging on to those though, because with each death, you lose a percentage of your total money that you only have one chance to recover (Dark Souls, anyone?)
And despite it being easy-ish (in comparison to the masochist classics,) Shovel Knight is a very approachable game, and that’s just another of its charms. Those truly seeking a greater challenge can do so by a few means (break checkpoints, hard mode, armor that makes you weaker.) I’ll say it again, definitely worth playing. There are even cheat codes to make the game harder (or easier)! You can’t have a retro game without cheat codes and that’s a fact.
The chiptune background tracks do a great job adding to the feel of the game, though I’ll admit they aren’t exactly memorable. Like, remember when Mega Man games would leave you whistling the rocking theme songs for weeks? You probably won’t get that from Shovel Knight. Though I can only recall about one tune from Shovel Knight, the soundtrack doesn’t detract from the game’s illusion at all.
If you’ve somehow read between every line of this review and have still found a reason to not play Shovel Knight, you’re trying (way) too hard. It’s gorgeous, challenging, and rewarding, and gamers everywhere owe it to themselves to give Shovel Knight a play-through, even if only one (but I seriously doubt you can play just once.) It’s a fantastic game with something for everyone, so go ahead and dig in (see what I did there?) and dish out some “Shovel Justice!” (actual dialogue) you won’t be disappointed.
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