Okay… before we get too far into this, I’m going to ask two questions:
1. Do you remember old school platformers like Castlevania and Mega Man with fondness?
2. Does a little challenge in your games not bother you?
If you answered “Yes!” to both of those questions: stop reading and go buy Shovel Knight! There is no reason for you to continue reading. You’re just wasting time that could be spent playing Shovel Knight.
For those of you who are still here, let’s talk a little bit about Shovel Knight, a successful Kickstarter game by indie studio Yacht Club Games that is available now for the Wii U and the 3DS. It’s an 8-bit style pixel-fest that plays homage to the early days of console platforming. From its Mega Man-esque bosses (Plague Knight, King Knight etc.), to a world map reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3, if you were around in the early days of console gaming, Shovel Knight is going to be a nostalgia overload.
Now, you may be thinking, “okay, Dave… that’s all well and good, but is Shovel Knight worth my time?” In a word, yes. You can tell a lot of love has gone into Yacht Club Games’ freshman release, and I’d call it one of 2014’s must-play games.
Two caveats here:
1. If you’re always looking for the latest & greatest in cutting edge graphics, and games that push the visual envelope, and if you don’t “get” 8-bit… Shovel Knight probably isn’t for you.
2. If a challenging game play experience isn’t your idea of a good time, you will probably be best served by watching someone play Shovel Knight, rather than playing it yourself… if you enjoy that sort of thing.
It’s important to note that while Shovel Knight pays great homage to its predecessors, it isn’t beholden to them. It feels both like an amazing game you somehow missed while growing up, and brand new and fresh at the same time.
Shovel Knight, much like those that came before it, has a paper thin story. Good guys that protect the realm, blah, blah, blah, until an evil baddie messes things up and you need to save the day. There is a ton of secrets in every single level, as well as a wealth of upgrades to be found and purchased in-game, and while Shovel Knight doesn’t quite boast a Battletoads level of difficulty (extremely seasoned 2D platform gamers will probably not find Shovel Knight challenging), there are a number of masochistic “achievement” like feats that can satisfy the toughest customer.
The mechanics are fairly straightforward. You can smack bad guys with your shovel, jump and also use your shovel as a sort of pogo stick to bounce off enemies and the world around you (a mechanic that drives some fiendish jumping puzzles in the game). Variety is introduced via a number of relics that add a different abilities such as shooting a fireball, or becoming transparent / invulnerable for a few moments.
To sum it up, Shovel Knight is a fairly challenging 2D platformer that pays homage to the classic games from early consoles like the NES. If you don’t mind a bit of challenge, and have a soft spot for classic console games, buy it immediately. If the latest and greatest graphics are your thing, it’s probably best if you give it a pass.
All-in-all, I thoroughly enjoyed Shovel Knight, and hopefully this review will help you figure out if you might enjoy it too. Shovel Knight is now available in the Wii U eShop and 3DS eShop (and also on Steam) for $14.99.