As the years go by, I find my taste in video games changing as I begin to value certain aspects more than others. The exquisite balance of challenge and fairness has always been a factor in some of the greatest games in history, but it’s not something very easy to achieve. When it is found in a game, it’s clear that a lot of love and polishing went into the work. Shovel Knight is the perfect example of a game that won’t mind kicking your ass, but will certainly give you the tools to make sure you see the journey through and be that ultimate hero. It’s a very classic sort of feeling, and it’s the foundation on which video games were set. In that sense, Shovel Knight is a very classic game, inside and out.
A product of a successful Kickstarter campaign, backers of the initial concept will be happy to see that the game they helped make happen is a phenomenal one. It’s very simple. In the style of a retro 8-bit title, you are a knight armed with but a shovel. The game takes some very thorough pointers from classics like Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man, making for a beautiful blend of the two that works so well, and makes Shovel Knight wholly its own game.
Despite being a side-scroller, verticality seems to play a very important role as the Shovel Knight‘s techniques of running, jumping, and bouncing around require some very precise actions. Without the use of lives though, trial-and-error never feels very punishing, and dying over and over again never really feels terribly frustrating. If anything, it only drove me to want to succeed more and more every time, rather than discouraging or exhausting me.
Aside from his shovel, our titular hero may also receive an arsenal of trinkets and tools to assist him on his quest. With a limited number of uses by how much magic the player has accumulated, it’s advised that these items are only used in emergencies. Trying to beat the game without any of these though is not for the faint of heart. Fortunately, if you do want to use the items, you won’t ever feel like you’re cheating at all, whether you’re using the fire wand, very temporary invincibility, a tossable anchor, or any of the others. They’re not unlike the various blasters Mega Man can obtain on his journeys after defeating each boss.
Variety is another aspect of gaming that I have come to crave more than ever, and that’s exactly what you get in Shovel Knight. I was greatly reminded of Super Mario 3D World when I noticed that Shovel Knight never tried the same thing twice. Each level felt vastly unique with its own atmosphere and necessary approach to victory. This keeps you on your toes at all times and encourages players to think creatively when thinking of how to traverse some of the seemingly impossible tasks at hand. You will die, and that’s okay. You’ll have a blast dying.
The world of Shovel Knight is where it takes a greater lean towards your standard RPG elements as you can enter several town areas and spend time speaking to various NPCs that may either help, hinder, or do nothing for you on your journey. The best way to make plenty of money and upgrade your Shovel Knight is to do exactly that, exploring and getting to know the different characters, each often with something hilarious or flat-out bizarre to say. My personal favorite is Croaker, the extremely punny anthropomorphic frog. Look out for him, and tell him I miss him.
Shovel Knight himself boasts a very stereotypical chivalric attitude, and it’s fantastic. The corny dialogue wouldn’t work nearly as well if it weren’t in this 8-bit world where everything is visibly adorable. Instead, when Shovel Knight promises to bring the evildoers to their demise, it comes across as more tongue-in-cheek than anything, and I’m almost certain that’s what the developers were going for. As Shovel Knight tells his foes to prepare for the the justice that will promptly ensue, the subtle humor behind it all really shines. It’s not just any justice. It’s…
The soundtrack is another area where this game went above and beyond my expectations. With every level, there was a unique accompanying track that never got annoying, no matter how many times it looped. The music fleshes out Shovel Knight more than most high-definition billion polygon 1080p games out there. There’s a refinement to every core aspect of this that feels so refreshing and like much more than just a simple throwback to the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System.
The Miiverse implementation of the Wii U version of the game is nice enough as a quick and funny way to sharing thoughts and hints on the game with the online community, especially with the “Yeah!” option for posts is substituted with “Verily!” Just as well, the second screen is also used for quick access to your inventory, and the GamePad’s large screen makes this especially easy to work with. The 3DS version uses this element as well, albeit on a smaller scale. It’s a nice little augment to the standard gameplay, although I mostly just stuck with playing remotely on the GamePad anyway, because I just love it.
With some of the tightest controls and game mechanics I have seen in years, Shovel Knight acquires an excellence that I seldom experience in games nowadays, making this game a class act well worth the $15 price tag whether you get it on Wii U, 3DS, or Steam. With a phenomenal soundtrack to accompany the thoroughly crafted lands and lovely 8-bit visuals, there’s a lot to love and help you become enthralled in this retro-style world. Let it be known though that Shovel Knight doesn’t solely rely on retro nostalgia to help drive the game though. With a core gameplay that is just too solid, Shovel Knight is game that withstands the test of time, both past, present, and future. Suffice to say, I dig it.
[+Rock solid gameplay][+Levels rarely try the same thing twice][+Hearty challenge][+Excellent and often hilarious writing][+Phenomenal soundtrack][+Excellent 8-bit visuals][+Timeless]