Liam Collins ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Style: 1 player
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Consoles: 3DS, Wii U, PC
Release: June 26, 2014
Shovel Knight is a shining triumph for classic gaming. In a sweeping game of both action and adventure, players don the armor of Shovel Knight. The eponymous hero, though short in stature, is faced with a new perilous adventure. With the reappearance of the Tower of Fate, the horned knight in blue wields his shovel blade in order to save his lost beloved, Shield Knight. However, both terrible obstacles and a cadre of villainous foes stand to clash with our hero. As the knights of The Order of No Quarter subjugate the land, and the Enchantress sits loftily in her tower, it is up to Shovel Knight to slash mercilessly and dig tirelessly. Such is the code of Shovelry.
Developed and published by Yacht Club Games, Shovel Knight is an epic draws upon classic inspirations of the NES era, such as Mega Man, Duck Tales, Castlevania, Super Mario Bros. 3,and Zelda II, all the while possessing enough creativity and originality to demand its own respect as a 2D platformer. The fast paced play that made those games classics still excites. All the while, Yacht Club Games’ modern touches to the formula are able to cater to today’s audiences, without sacrificing the Dark Souls-esque difficulty that veterans delight in.
Shovel Knight concedes very little to players. With no tutorials to hand, players quickly become accustomed to the trial-and-error nature of Shovel Knight, like so many games from the NES-era. Yacht Club Games’ brilliant checkpoint system is to thank for this. Each level has a varied number of checkpoints within them, catching fire whenever Shovel Knight passes by. However, these checkpoints are not invulnerable. With just a few horizontal swings of your shovel blade checkpoints will explode and release the treasure hidden within them. If a player should later fall in battle they will go back to the checkpoint they lit before the one shattered.
Shovel Knight’s drops a large percentage of his accumulated treasure upon death, so players have to be careful. Though one may retrieve their gold after respawning, a second death will warrant its disappearance. Sure, destroying a checkpoint and getting to the next doesn’t seem like a problem when you’re playing. But on the off chance that you could get nicked by a one-hit-kill spike, or miss a jump, right after breaking a level’s final checkpoint, it’s not always a smart move. Even so, the flexible checkpoint system allows for players to decide how they want to play. Some may enjoy the challenge and decide to destroy every single checkpoint, increasing both the game’s difficulty and the player’s gold count. Or, one might complete a section of a level that they found tough and decide to leave a checkpoint intact, ensuring the player that they will not have to replay that section should they perish. Though certain aspects of gameplay can seem repetitious, Shovel Knight proves to be accommodating for all sorts of players even if the going get’s tough.
With so many odds stacked against him, Shovel Knight is well equipped in his endeavor. With a menagerie of magic items and armors Shovel Knight has many options to choose from when facing new challenges. The shovel blade, however, shines above the rest. As the hero’s weapon of choice it quickly dispatches foes with its horizontal slash, while also being handy for tunneling through various obstacles. Shovel Knight’s jumping downward thrust is another great tool at removing barriers and damaging enemies while giving our hero a pogo-like boost that can be utilized to get around objects or enter hidden areas.
Unlike many of the classics, Shovel Knight’s modern additions allow for players to uncover mounds of soil and deep treasure scattered about levels, open up hidden paths, and find secrets, including some of the game’s many magic relics.These 11 unique items are obtained through the course of Shovel Knight’s adventure and the majority can either be bought or found in stages where the knights of The Order of No Quarter lay claim. Each relic has different uses that add another layer to the game. From offensive to defensive capabilities, and even uses outside of combat, every relic makes a difference. But they also cost a varying amount of magic to use. Managing and utilizing one’s relic use adds new possibilities to how player’s overcome challenges.
Throughout the game players will also be amassing a hefty amount of gold. Dropped by enemies, hidden in ore deposits, and found in secret areas, gold is a resource you can never have enough of. The element of risk and reward when it comes to attaining gold is all too alluring. With gold a new world of options opens. But, without sure-footing and skill, players may face losing more than they bargained for. Remember, when Shovel Knight falls he loses gold that could have been used to purchase missed relics, health upgrades, magic upgrades, and even shovel or armor upgrades. And these make all the difference.
Shovel Knight also manages to squeeze in some notable online play options for the 3DS and Wii U. Yacht Club Games has currently implemented a “race against the clock” mini game where players are to collect bits of treasure on a far map as fast as possible in the 3DS. The Wii U version incorporates Miiverse with its “Digger’s Diary”, which is a lightweight and passive system which includes the ability for players to set messages for others that can be seen on the gamepad. Though these are fun additions to the different platforms, the developers are also currently creating a four-player battle mode for local play. Players will be able to duke it out with four friends and play mini games like: cash collecting (where you fight for treasure that appears in the level), racing (where all players race to the end of a stage), and last man standing (where only one knight comes out on top). Players also can look forward to three playable boss knights that were funded in the Kickstarter campaign.
Achievements, called “feats,” also serve as another part of Shovel Knight. However, completing the list of 45 is no small feat. With challenges like beating the game without relics, without dying, and finishing the game within an hour and 30 minutes, Shovel Knight provides challenges to those looking to extend their playtime.
Shovel Knight is a visual marvel. It is a true labor of love attesting to Yacht Club Games’ drive to immerse players in Shovel Knight’s 8-bit world. Each themed stage is painstakingly created and singular from the rest, each incorporating different elements (from waterfalls to flowing lava) that catch the eye. Even the world map, reminiscent to that of Super Mario Bros. 3, is a marvel with it’s roving events and limited non-linearity. Furthermore, each background is designed beautifully and with the Nintendo 3DS staple function (the auto-stereoscopic 3D effect) both characters and backdrops pop with the added depth.
Yacht Club Games’ character design is, without question, top-notch, while its animation is smooth and pleasing to the eye. Every character is cleverly crafted and has a strong personality. The game’s eight boss knights are perfect example of this, unique in both design and animation. From the array of dialogue to the uniqueness of the characters, Shovel Knight offers an irresistible charm. Characters like Mary Sweets (a maiden who continually compliments you), Croaker (one of the townsfolk dedicated solely to puns), and his greatness the Troupple King (a half trout, half apple ruler that assists you) are all endearing and hilarious. Even the UI is presented in a delightfully old-school manner, with nine save files showing your complete progress coupled with all items and upgrades that one has acquired.
Shovel Knight is only deepened by the game’s magnificent audio presentation. Like the chiptune masterpieces of old, the music of Shovel Knight is as memorable and captivating as the art, being diverse throughout. Jake “Virt” Kaufman’s awesome soundtrack, coupled with additional songs composed by Manami Matsumae, is a powerful collection of compositions that fit the atmosphere of each stage flawlessly.
Above all of Shovel Knight’s old-school nostalgia and classic action is a story. Yacht Club Games succeeded in bringing players a game that draws you in. The story of Shovel Knight and Shield Knight was masterful. Though it was minimalistic, Shovel Knight manages to convey to it’s players, in an emotional and tacit way, the breadth of Shovel King and Shield Knight’s relationship. When the credits roll one can’t help but feel full.
With phenomenal gameplay, an incredible 8-bit design, vivid sound design, and a charm that will never fade, Shovel Knight is an unforgettable indie experience. The idea of a knight wielding a shovel is groundbreaking and Shovel Knight is nostalgia just the way you remember it.
Overall Grade: A