Review: Shovel Knight is a game you’ll dig
Platforms: Wii U, 3DS, and PC
There are dozens of projects making the rounds on KickStarter these days, but very few meet the ideal vision that developers initially had in mind. However, with Shovel Knight, Yacht Club Games not only lives up to the hype it produced, but exceeds it – all while keeping things so very simple.
An unlikely hero
In Shovel Knight, you play an unlikely hero who wears a suit of armor, but instead of a conventional sword, he carries around a shovel. While some may not see this as a truly effective weapon, hold your horses. Not only can it dish out damage to enemies as a general melee weapon, but it serves a couple of other purposes as well.
First off, the Shovel Knight can go all Scrooge McDuck and hop on enemies using his shovel like a pogo stick – an ideal course of attack, particularly for those who have forward-facing attacks that could otherwise hurt him. In addition, the Knight can use his shovel to dig up piles of dirt lying in the middle of a stage to reveal extra gems, which he can use to upgrade equipment and buy new goodies in the village. He can also burst through destructible walls when the situation calls for it.
How Yacht Club Games managed to take such simple gameplay and make it feel completely innovative is remarkable, and that's what makes Shovel Knight stand out in the long run. It has the kind of tactics you'd recognize in an 8-bit game, but provides a fresh take that so few developers can really grasp. As a result, you can't help but keep playing, just to see what next challenge lies around the corner. Whether it's jumping on temporary platforms (Mega Man style) or taking on a slew of renegade Knight bosses, this game's got a lot to offer.
Old-school presentation shines
Another aspect that makes Shovel Knight so irresistible is its presentation. It doesn't quite achieve the heights of Limbo and Braid, as it sticks to an art style that's strictly 8-bit, but it manages to look exactly like a title you'd find on the NES. That's a neat trick.
The game features wonderful visuals, complete with scrolling backdrops, inventively designed levels with tons of hidden secrets, and cute little animations for the hero and enemies alike. Watching a charging horse knight foolishly break apart after hitting a wall is consistently hilarious.
In addition, the soundtrack is also filled with 8-bit goodness. It's a memorable collection of tunes that fits right in with the on-screen action. For good measure, you can also stop by the village and hit up the local musician, who's happy to play any tunes you unlock in the game at any time. It's certainly nice to break away from the action and enjoy the music for a while.
There's plenty to scavenge
Shovel Knight is one of those games that provides a lot more content than you may expect, with an open map filled with unlockable components and hidden surprises, depending on how well you play. The more you put into it, the more you actually get out of it – another reward that Yacht Club Games has bestowed upon players.
And it's nice to see a New Game + mode as well. You'll unlock this once you beat the game, encountering new challenges around every corner and a slew of new goodies for your heroic knight. It's a wonderful add-on to a game that provides enough value as it is – putting it in the lead when it comes to must-have games.
Prepare for battle
The only negative I could find about Shovel Knight is that it can be insanely challenging at times – even outside of New Game +. The later levels are particularly harsh, and you'll need to keep on your toes in order to survive.
Thankfully, there are enough checkpoints and auto-saves to keep your progress going, so it's nothing to give up over.
Here are the criteria I consider most important for judging Shovel Knight:
They're strictly 8-bit, but they fit in so well with the NES style that it doesn't really matter.
One of the best retro soundtracks you'll find out there – and it wasn't even made in the NES era.
Addictive, challenging and fun, the game will test your old-school skills in all the right ways.
Replay value: 10/10
New Game + and a slew of hidden goodies make all the difference.
Overall score: 9.5/10
Easily one of the best games of the year, Shovel Knight does the unthinkable. It maintains the style we've come to expect from the NES era of old, and yet somehow provides enough contemporary design and gameplay to make it easily fit into this generation of gaming. You'll absolutely dig it.
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