A truly great platformer hasn’t come my way in ages. I long forgot about the seemingly ancient fun that was to be had with the NES and its legendary brigade of titles. Titles that not only inspired gaming for the upcoming decades, but brought creativity, great simple gameplay, and stories that you could only dream of being apart of at the time. Shovel Knight brings those feelings back, in full. A 2D platformer made by Yacht Club Games, it has 8-bit graphics, simple A and B controls, and all the things you’d expect of a 1980’s platformer. But that’s not all, Shovel Knight doesn’t just simply take from the classics and copy them, but learns from them. It takes the nostalgia of golden age platformers and sticks it on modern day systems. And it does it damn well.
Right of the bat, you’ll notice Shovel Knight’s amazing graphics. They’re vivid, bright, and just amazing. In the world of games like Crysis 3 and Metro, you’d think there was no room for an 8-bit title to be beautiful. But Shovel Knight takes that statement, and crushes it. It definitely takes homage from Zelda 2 in the graphics department.
Not only are the graphics beautiful, but they are detailed, and seemingly complex. Yacht Club didn’t just slap on some textures and call it a day like they easily could have, it seems as though they really forged the graphics with hammer in hand. Or should I say shovel.
The effects look great as well. Magic attacks are detailed, and lava, water and smoke are also great looking. It just helps to bring the games great looks to a full circle.
Now, the soundtrack. It’s as beautiful as the graphics. Each song revitalizes the feeling of a Zelda or Mario game, but never feels like it’s taking from them. In fact, all of it’s music has never been heard before, and I’m so glad I heard it. Not only that, but you can unlock more music as collectibles, and play it whenever you want. It is just grand, like Christmas morning.
The story is your generic “save the princess” sort of thing, except the princess is your fellow companion “Shield Knight”, she was sealed in a tower during one of your missions together, and your journey is to find her. The only problem is that The Order of No Quarter is back in town, and they are definitely going to stand it your way. They include 8 different “knights”, that you can find at the end of most stages.They will definitely pose a threat, and can be difficult to beat.
The game features 12 stages, not including the bonus stages, unlockable stages, and the new DLC campaign. All the levels are diverse, with your standard underwater levels, lava fire castle levels, grassy plain levels and the whole hoorah. You navigate through these stages on a Super Mario Bros 3 inspired map, which makes level exploration exciting. Stages are challenging and fun. Never too challenging, but always too fun. If that’s even a thing. Each stage takes time and thought to get through, and isn’t just a “see how long I can hold down the right arrow before I have to jump” kind of thing. Most stages feature a boss fight at the end, usually one of the Order of No Quarter. Some examples being Treasure Knight, King Knight and so on. It’s lots of fun, especially because every other knight has a different tactic and means of attacking, so you never know exactly what to expect.
The actual gameplay is great. Being a Shovel Knight, your weapon of choice is your Shovel. But don’t worry, because it’s nowhere near as bad as it seems, since it’s as much of a tool as a weapon. A great idea indeed, you can dig up treasure, gold and other neat stuff. It also allows you to bounce off the tops of your enemies, leading to a new step of level design. It is all, very fun and can be very addictive. You can also purchase unique abilities for your shovel, to truly make it your own.
Being inspired from NES platformers, you have your standard “A to jump and B to attack” sort of setup, and it works well. It’s responsive on all systems reviewed, and even more satisfying when playing with a button configuration truly meant for that kind of gameplay, like the 3DS, or the Wii U’s gamepad. Also notable, the 3DS and Wii U versions allow quick access of the player’s inventory through their respective touchscreens, giving you a more immersive feel, and definitely making them the better systems to experience the game on.
The enemies in Shovel Knight are probably the biggest disappointment of the game. Although some are interesting and challenging, others are meek and not very different from each other. Although this definitely isn’t game-breaking by any means, it can make the game somewhat less interesting at times.
Finding and earning coins can play a big part In Shovel Knight if you want it to, you can buy fancy new armor, relics, health upgrades and other cool stuff. But this is if you want to. Honestly, you could go through the entire main story without buying a single thing. This isn’t a bad thing, as some may want to play it this way. Speaking of money, you lose a big chunk of it whenever you die. So, if you do care about that new shiny gold armor, you better watch yourself.
By the end of the 6 hour main campaign, I was definitely satisfied. Shovel Knight brought nostalgia to a genre that is often neglected today. It’s great.