MIXED BAG. PRESENTS
SHOVEL KNIGHT REVIEW!
Developer: Yacht Club Games
System: PC, Wii-U, 3DS
Genre: Action, Platformer
Shovel Knight's kickstarter campaign back in March 2013 and seeing the demo on Game Grumps and other Let's Play channels got me really hyped. Unfortunately, I was still unemployed at the time and couldn't really justify scrounging up money for a Kickstarter game that I wasn't exactly sure would live up to the hype. The funny thing about kickstarter campaigns? They don't have to really deliver a quality product. The product can often be delayed and/or not meet the expectations of the backers. It is a risky affair. In fact, Shovel Knight was delayed. And yet...
"Long ago, the lands were untamed and roamed by legendary adventurers! Of all heroes, none shone brighter than Shovel Knight and Shield Knight. But their travels together ended at the Tower of Fate; when a cursed amulet wrought a terrible magic. When Shovel Knight awoke, the Tower was sealed, and Shield Knight was gone. His spirit broken, a grieving Shovel Knight went into a life of solitude.
Now, the Tower is unsealed and a new adventure is about to begin..." (Shovel Knight, 2014)
Now, that we've got that out of the way, let's dig into the meat and potatoes of the game!
Shovel Knight is a game designed to look and sound like an 8-bit classic. At first glass, most people would probably mistake it for an NES or SNES title. That's the point. And yet the game design takes these parameters and tweaks them with a richer pallet of color, animation, and sound than would've been possible in the 8-bit era. Yacht Club could've taken the easy way out and simply made the game an unpolished 8-bit clone, but instead they took the 8-bit era into HD definition. If this is the future of homage games, then I'm in.
Before we talk about the game's sound, let's look at an example of the game's use of character design and how they combine character into level design:
The level and boss fight room designs are evocative of their classic game inspirations, but clearly take advantage of modern hardware. Just look at the rich layers of color in the King Knight boss room-- in the foreground we have a theme of yellow and red that compliment boss knight regal decor, in the next layer we have green walls with just the right color code to both compliment the foreground colors and allow Shovel Knight to stand out and, lastly, behind that is a background with purple skies (since we're in the Enchantress's tainted lands) that gives the whole scene a rich depth. You can see how the details of this stage fit King Knight's royal personality, from the garish gold bricks and chandeliers (not shown) to the red and gold banners to having an opulent throne in his boss fight room.
HERE. Pay what you want) for yourself if you don't believe me. Strike the Earth is one of my favorite tunes from the game. But really, if you want proof of the soundtrack's pedigree, you should know that it has two songs by classic game composer, Manami Matsumae. You may recognize her from working on the soundtracks for game's like the original Mega Man.
Even the mini-map is flawless. I declare flawless victory. (I wonder how this review is gonna turn out? The suspense is killer but bear with me. I have some more neat stuff to talk about!)
Let's start by talking about the game play by talking about level design, again, but this time from a gameplay perspective. Let's start by talking about the first level...
World 1-1 doesn't have to tell you the controls or give a complicated tutorial. And neither does Shovel Knight. In fact, the only time you'll ever need specific instruction comes when you pick up new magic artifacts but, even then, they just give you a one-line explanation of what the item is supposed to do. This is the height of simple game design and it is clear that they took a lot of key points from World 1-1. Honestly, more game designers should try that approach (including at Nintendo because, if you've played Skyward Sword, you know what I mean).
Shovel Knight's gameplay can be split into three types: platforming, mini-boss fights, and boss fights. Let's look at each element individually and the talk about the game's death and economy mechanics.
One of the most endearing qualities of Shovel Knight is that you can decide how to take on each level and can choose to make the game more challenging by using fewer or no relics than are available to beat the game.
The bulk of Shovel Knight's challenge comes in reaching the bosses, since instadeath is possible through pits and spikes, and the game's unique forms of reward and punishing risky gameplay and mistakes.
Luckily, you never feel cheated in Shovel Knight. The game's controls are so tight that every death is your own fault. This ultimately makes the game fun and challenging.
My only complaint? The game is short. Then again, most NES games were quite short and Shovel Knight has enough replayability to warrant a $15. The game doesn't overstay its welcome and leaves the player wanting more (a sequel or DLC would be nice).
Still, the game can be completed in about five hours or less. So, those of you expecting to get ridiculous amounts of gameplay out of your buck, should be weary.
PROS VS. CONS
+ The story is a simple homage to the games it emulates but it makes up the difference with a few twists and some memorable characters.
+ The sound and graphic design is both evocations of the games they emulate and evolutions on the genre of retro games. The soundtrack is classic.
+ The level design is some of the best... OF ALL TIME!
+ The platforming is challenging, combat is satisfying, and the controls are superbly tight.
+ The boss fights are easy, but memorable challenges you'll want to play again and again. Everyone has a favorite boss knight.
+/- The game is short but
So, if you've come this far in the review, you'll realize that I've fallen in love with Shovel Knight.
When I first saw the game, it reminded me of the Mega Man games I had just fallen in love with the year before (thanks to Game Grumps) and I was interested to see how the kickstarter played out. I bookmarked the game in mind as something to keep an eye out for in the coming year. As the game came closer to release, the hype seemed to build amongst game reviewers and retro gamers alike and I was a little concerned about whether it would live up to the hype. After all, a fifteen dollar price tag seems like a lot and I had heard it was short. Still, with a little encouragement from a friend who wanted to try it out, I broke down and bought it on the Wii-U since I love playing games on the game pad.
And I love playing Shovel Knight.
Every element is so well executed that I'm going to go on a limb here and say that, not only does it stand shoulder to shoulder (shovel to shovel) with the classics like Mega Man and Castlevania but, in many ways, surpasses and improves the game elements that those franchises innovated over twenty years ago.
Shovel Knight isn't just a game that copies classics. Shovel Knight is a classic.