Shovel Knight is a charming indie platformer developed by Yacht Club Games. It brings that classic old school Nintendo feeling back all over again, and I don’t just mean stylistically. Pretty much everything about this game embodies the NES era and it feels just as polished. Shovel Knight is available for 3DS, Wii U, PC, Mac, and Linux. The version I played was on the Wii U. Debating on whether or not you should download this game? Let’s dig in (I apologize for that pun).
The story centers around Shovel Knight, a knight who wields…well, a shovel. One day when he and his fellow adventurer Shield Knight explored the Tower of Fate, they stumble upon a cursed amulet. When Shovel Knight woke up, the tower was sealed, and Shield Knight was nowhere to be found. While grieving his loss, Shovel Knight gives up adventuring and lives in solitude. Eventually, the Enchantress rises to power, and breaks the seal on the Tower of Fate. Shovel Knight hears of this news, and sets off to the Tower of Fate to rescue his beloved Shield Knight. However, eight knights who call themselves “The Order of No Quarter” lay in his way. They work for the Enchantress, and Shovel Knight must defeat them all to set things right. This is where our journey begins.
As you can probably tell by the name “The Order of No Quarter”, this game is relatively self aware. The story is more or less your typical damsel in distress kind of thing. It’s simple, but solidly executed.
The gameplay in Shovel Knight is fleshed out and tight, and pays homage to a number of classic NES titles. It works like a standard platformer would. Run, jump, and try to get through the level without dying, pretty self explanatory. As stated before, Shovel Knight uses a shovel to attack enemies. There’s a standard attack that hits enemies:
Or digs up treasure
There’s also a pogo attack reminiscent of the DuckTales game:
Players can use the pogo attack to bounce off enemies and surfaces as well.
On the top left side of the screen, you will see your gold, equipped item, magic, and life.
Every piece of treasure will count as a certain amount of gold. Gold is needed to buy items, increase maximum health/magic, and more. As the game progresses, different items will either be given to the player, or bought. Investing in certain items is a very good idea, as they will lead to even more treasure in bonus stages, as well as make certain parts of the game significantly easier. Only one item can be equipped at a time, and each item uses a certain amount of magic. In the life bar, each red bullet counts for two hits. The life bar can be increased by exchanging a meal ticket at the village.
The village is essentially the central hub where players can increase their maximum magic/health, stock up on items, and give music sheets to the bard, seen standing next to Shovel Knight in the picture above. Music sheets are scattered throughout the game, and once they are given to the bard, he will offer 500 gold for each and will be able to play any song that you have acquired.
The overworld map is designed similarly to the Super Mario games. The map will spread out as the player progresses and players can select where they wish to go.
Traveling enemies will sometimes show up and block certain paths on the map, leading to a bonus stage or secret boss. This part in particular is a lot like the Hammer Bros. or Goombas appearing on the map in Mario.
Each level is divided up by checkpoints where the player will re-spawn once they die. Some levels have more checkpoints than others. These checkpoints can also be hit and broken. Once broken, treasure will fall out. This sounds nice, but there is a catch. If the player chooses to get the treasure out of the checkpoint, it will no longer act as a checkpoint. Once the player dies, they will be sent all the way back to the previous checkpoint instead. Not only does this act as a risk the players can take, but it can also cause one to up the stakes while playing. If a really hardcore player wants the pressure on, the can break all the checkpoints.
Every time Shovel Knight dies, flying bags of the player’s gold are left behind. After the player re-spawns at the closest checkpoint, the bags of gold will still be flying around where the player died. While the game is somewhat generous with the fact that players can get back the gold they lost, sometimes these bags are in unobtainable places. Also, if the player dies again before collecting all the bags, they will be lost forever and new bags will take it’s place. So don’t get too careless, or you’ll soon find your currency running thin.
This game clearly takes a lot from Mega Man as well. The physics are heavy and very precise. One small slip up and death will be all that awaits. The bosses are also reminiscent of the blue bomber. Each boss has a different theme about them. There’s Specter Knight, a grim reaper fought in a graveyard, Propeller Knight, fought in an airship, and King Knight, fought in a castle, just to name a few.
Later on in the game, the player will be able to get different types of armor, each with their own effect, as well as upgrades to the shovel blade. I won’t spoil them for you, but only a couple of them ended up being useful. Most however, weren’t actually practical or helpful.
If you’re a completionist, this game has plenty of achievements called “Feats” that you can try your hand at. There are 45 in total.
Overall, the gameplay is very well done. It isn’t buggy or sloppy in the slightest. It’s just as polished as any classic NES game. It’s certainly challenging like one. People who did not grow up with classic Nintendo games are bound to have trouble with it. Even I found myself making mistakes and wanting to throw the controller in rage. While it is hard, it’s the good kind of hard. It isn’t like Flappy Bird where it’s frustrating because the game wasn’t made properly. It’s a fair kind of challenging. If you died, it’s because you messed up, or you didn’t get what you were supposed to do. That being said, it’s not quite as hard as Mega Man, but it’s substantially harder than Mario. Veteran gamers are probably going to feel more at home than casuals. Also, there are tons of secrets and easter eggs everywhere, so keep your eyes peeled.
Not much needs to be said about the visuals. Obviously it’s going for the 8 bit look and it does it well. It goes without saying that it isn’t 100 percent true to the original NES, since it’s 2014 and a bit more can be done. Some of the animations seem somewhat like pixelated cartoons more so than just normal sprites. This definitely helps the game come to life even more. All in all, the aesthetic accomplished what it set out to.
Once again, the sound in the game captures the 8 bit spirit. The sound is designed to make landing hits and digging up treasure that much more satisfying.
The music is incredible. These catchy chiptune jams get stuck in your head with ease, and are composed brilliantly. The beautiful music was created primarily by Jake Kaufman (Contra 4, DuckTales: Remastered, Red Faction: Guerilla) with a couple contributions by Manami Matsumae (Mega Man). The 48 track soundtrack can be downloaded either for free, or at your own price here. I highly recommend you check out these great arrangements.
Shovel Knight is quite the game. It’s loveable, fleshed out, and memorable. It’s like Castlevania, Mega Man, Mario, and DuckTales rolled into a ball and molded into its own unique creation. This love letter to Nintendo players is well worth the $15.00. I can’t wait to see what Yacht Club Games brings to the table next, and I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for a Shovel Knight sequel in the future. If I had only one thing to complain about, it would be the underwhelming power-ups, but this microscopic gripe is far overshadowed by how amazing the game is overall. If you couldn’t tell already, I strongly suggest you pick up this game.