Shovel Knight is a game by Yacht Club Games and is their first title. The game was announced on March 17th of 2013 alongside a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $75,000. Later that same month, they reached their initial goal and continued to garner over $300,000. I can tell you with absolute confidence that every single backer who donated money to get this game made was money well spent. I will break down what is great about this game but I must tell you early on in this review that it is very hard to find fault in this game. This is one of the best experiences I’ve had playing a game in a long time and there are many reasons why.
The gameplay is very simple, you are Shovel Knight, a knight with a sharpened shovel. Shovel Knight and Shield Knight were adventuring across the land when they decided to explore the Tower of Fate. A dark magic fell upon them and when Shovel Knight awakened, Shield Knight was gone. Shovel Knight gives up adventuring and goes into seclusion. During his absence, The Entrantress rises to power and upon hearing that she has unsealed the Tower of Fate, he picks up his shovel to defeat her and The Order of No Quarter. You use the shovel to kill enemies and dig up treasure. However, this is where your skill is needed because not all enemies will just stand there and take a hit, you must watch and learn patterns before you strike. The moves you can do are shovel slash and a downward strike similar to the pogo cane in Ducktales for the NES. Shovel Knight has a set speed and cannot pass certain obstacles simply by jumping, so you will need to learn how to use these 2 moves in order to advance.
The penalty for dying is you must go back to the previous checkpoint and some of your gold is lost, but you can recover it by heading back to where you died. This mechanic is great because not only does it show the player where and how they died, but also when getting back to where they were, it allows the player to stop, assess how they died and how to get past the obstacle. Speaking of checkpoints, on the Yacht Club Games website, checkpoints are spoken of as a taboo subject. I can see why, a lot of classic NES games were primarily tough because they had no checkpoints and many people want that in games that are inspired by those classics. However not all classics had this very harsh punishment, a lot of games had great checkpoint systems and made the games fun and forgiving.
In Shovel Knight, Checkpoints are shown as orbs that once passed, light up with a gem or gold inside. Now here is the brilliance of this, you can break the orbs and collect the gold inside, but lose the checkpoint in the process. This is what gives the purists the harsh experience they desire but also gives the guys like me, a more casual run of the game...so to speak. How you choose to approach the checkpoints changes the difficulty of the game enough that I cannot ignore its absolute genius.
Im not the strongest on level design but I do like it when a game teaches you something new in a safe environment before throwing you into the thick of it. This game does this with every level, including the later much harder levels. The visual aspect to each level is incredibly unique to the last. They all have a beautiful back drop while not being in the way of anything you must pay attention to. Every sprite is a veritable pleasure to look at, including the most annoying enemies. The music in each level is a chiptune that just makes me stop and listen. There was no time during the game that wasn’t enjoying the music. My personal favorite song is the one played during the King Knight stage. You can listen to the soundtrack Here. There are 9 main bosses you must face on your journey and each of them is so much fun to fight because they have a very unique style in both visual design and fight style.
One of the first things you see on screen is an overworld map. This is where you get to choose where you will go. The map opens up more and more after you’ve beaten the bosses in each section of the map. On the overworld map, events will appear, some are a gold collecting level, some are a enemy skill level, while 3 very specific ones are boss fights against quite difficult characters. This not only adds length to the game but these fights are a blast. The gold I have been talking about in this review is used to upgrade Shovel Knight’s health, magic, shovel and armor, also purchase helpful items. This is why dying and losing your gold is a big punishment. There are a few short skill based levels designed around a new ability to play with and these will reward you with more gold.
I have talked about what makes this game so great to me, charming, quirky, challenging, funny, beautiful. I have had a very hard finding things that are bad about this game and I honestly don’t think there is. So i’m going to do something I don’t normally do in my reviews and give this game a perfect score. 10 outta 10.
Do you agree with my review? What do you think of the game? What is your favorite track? Let us know in the comments below, on our Facebook fan page, or on our twitter @MissionStartP
Thanks For Reading
-Gregg Dietz (@ChubRockGeek)