Published on January 8th, 2015 | by Dougie Wythe0
Shovel Knight Review
Shovel Knight is living proof that good can come from Kickstarted Indie Developers. Yacht Club Games may be a little known name, but with their debut title, they’re sure to grow into a fan favourite and one to watch out for. Shovel Knight is an NES style retro-revival action platformer. No idea what all that means? Just think back to the old school days of Mega Man, Castlevania or Ducktales on the NES. From the looks to the style to the soundtrack and of course to the challenge, Shovel Knight shows that new games can have the old school feel and still be brilliant to this day. With its fluid and tight gameplay, genuine challenges and beautiful art style, I can guarantee that Shovel Knight is an instant classic and a must have for anyone.
The story tells a tale of legendary heroes Shovel Knight and Shield Knight, arm in arm on their venture for adventure and treasures. Until the Cursed Tower mysteriously takes Shield Knight away, leaving Shovel Knight in a depression and the evil Order of No Quarter to start ruling the land. Now it’s time for you to wield your mighty shovel, find your possible love interest Shield Knight and restore peace to the land. Whilst ‘save the kingdom’ may not be anything special, the dialog shines when conversing with towns people, members of the order of no quarter and roaming bosses. You slowly learn the history and background of the world, of Shovel Knight’s history with Black Knight or other villains. Or if it doesn’t interest you, you can always enter “WSWWAEAW” as your name when starting a new game to have certain words changed to Butt. You go get them, Butt Butt!
Much like how world 1-1 of Super Mario Bros, Shovel Knight teaches you perfectly how to play without any real commands. One button to jump, one to attack and a Dpad to move. Just through progressions and the obstacles thrown in your direction, you know exactly how to play the game. Once you get the hang of everything, hitting things with your shovel and platforming feels very satisfying, especially against tough bosses or traversing a tricky section. This again, harkens back to the NES days of ‘learn through playing’, and it’s executed beautifully to give you a real sense of accomplishment. If you do fall and die, I can thankfully say that Shovel Knight has no lives. Instead, you lose a portion of the treasures you’ve accumulated. They’ll now hover above your death spot waiting for you to collect them back. Much like Dark Soul’s bloodstains and retrieval to gain your souls back. When you finally reach the safe haven of a check point you have two choices. Carry on and if you die, respawn at the checkpoint. Or, you can destroy it to earn more money, but lose that respawn point. A high risk, high reward option. These systems encourage you to learn from your mistakes and punishes those who try to rush and get frustrated.
Each level is brimming with personality and challenging level design. Each stage has something new and interesting to throw at you. Propeller Knight has a more vertical stage, meaning less bottomless pits, but rather you’re going to fall down to a previous section for your punishment. So perfect your jumps and timings and you’ll be prepared for when there are bottomless pits. Treasure Knight‘s stage is flooded, so you jump a lot higher and introduces crumbling bubble platforms. Use these to your advantage or you’ll be doomed to lose all your hard earned gold. Can’t figure out the puzzle to progress? Stop, think and assess your surroundings. All the tools you need to progress are right in front of you and it’s your job as a player to use what you’ve learnt to progress. This is especially true for the later sections, which require you to get through complex and challenging obstacles. Chances are, you’ll know what to do straight away. The game is amazing at teaching you how to play, what to do and it makes it all feel incredibly fulfilling. Overcoming a tricky platforming section by learning from your mistakes and adapting to your surroundings feel so gratifying, as you’ve overcome the game, so long as you’re attentive and don’t rage quit
Dying from these new gimmicks never feels cheap or confusing. They’re always taught to you in a controlled and safe manner, so you can observe, recognise and learn the stage’s obstacles. If you die from electric jellyfish suspended over a bottomless pit, chances are you didn’t pay attention to when they were going to light up and rushed the jump. Slid off the edge on Polar Knight’s stage? Next time be more wary over whether you’re stood on snow or ice. Yaght Club Games have done an amazing job of giving the player complete control of Shovel Knight’s movement. His success and failure resides solely in your ability to learn, adapt and not give up from any mistakes, as it’s solely the player’s fault for death.
Gameplay aside, the music for Shovel Knight is absolutely amazing. Each stage and boss encounter has a different track, sounding like it was ripped straight from the NES’s 8-bit processer. Catchy, exciting and befitting what’s happening on screen, just like a good soundrack should. With thanks to Jake Kaufman for giving us excellent tracks such as ‘Strike the Earth.’ as well as two contributions from Manami Matsumae, the composer of the original Mega Man title. Her contribution of the amazing track “Flying Machine” is superb, I recommend giving it a listen. The best part of this is that the entire track list is completely free to download, or pay what you want, on Jake Kaufman’s Bandcamp.
Shovel Knight rightfully establishes its own style and place. What’s truly amazing is that the Knight would be suited both today and 20 years ago and beloved by both generations. Either way, I consider it a classic. It’s safe to say that Shovel Knight is my personal game of 2014. There’s not a single flaw I can think of or find with it. Yacht Club Games have earned a special place in my heart with Shovel Knight. I only hope that their premier title isn’t their magnum opus. I’m eagerly awaiting news of their next title, kickstarter or not, because I have the utmost faith in their projects. Here’s to a splendid game and to their next title crushing all expectations and dropping more jaws than Shovel Knight already has. I cannot recommend it highly enough, whether it’s on WiiU, 3DS, Steam or even to Playstaion Consoles in the near future , with free DLC later this year, this certainly is a title not to be missed.