Retro-influenced 2D platformers are a common subset of indie games these days. A chiptune soundtrack, and 8-bit graphics try to capture the old feel of classics from the past, but sometimes, a lot of these games just feel uninspired and generic. However, every now and then, there is a gem. And Yacht Club Games’s Shovel Knight? It’s a diamond in the rough.
In Shovel Knight, you play as the title character, who is, obviously, a knight who fights with a shovel. He and his friend, Shield Knight, are fellow adventurers who journey to the Tower of Fate. The two fall to the power of dark magic. When Shovel Knight wakes up later on, the tower is sealed and Shield Knight is nowhere to be found. This begins Shovel Knight’s quest to find his old friend and defeat the Enchantress who rules the land.
Shovel Knight is a 2D platformer that takes place in a fantasy land. As the player, you go through levels that house an evil knight. Each level has a power-up you get during it and ends in a boss battle. Like Mega Man, you can select the order in which you play these levels, but you only have two or three you can choose from at a time, so it’s more like a branching path. However, unlike Mega Man, these path are interrupted by villages. Similar to Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link, the game also has random enemies to fight that will appear on the world map. It’s a nice break from the usual levels.
Throughout the levels, you will gather treasure which is used in the villages to upgrade your armor, health, magic, and buy items. This lets you feel the progression of your character in the game as your ability to play increases as well. It’s a good example of how this game uses retro-inspired mechanics with a modern developer’s mindset.
The game plays like a combination of Castlevania and Ducktales. To fight with, you have a shovel that hits enemies near you, magic abilities to hit enemies far away, and a down thrust that you can use while in the air. The most unusual of these is the down thrust, which hasn’t appeared in many games besides Ducktales. This allows you to pogo jump and stay in the air while bouncing off the surface below you. It adds a lot to the platforming by forcing you to make hard jumps that aren’t possible without the shovel. The game is generally hard, and you have to be careful with every move to avoid dying (which makes you drop your treasure to retrieve when you retry the level).
As mentioned before, the levels are reminiscent of Mega Man in that each one has its own mechanic (or mechanics) that fit a theme. For example, Treasure Knight’s stage takes place underwater, which gives the platforming physics a totally different feel. Mole Knight’s stage forces you to dig through many blocks of dirt. And then, around the middle of the level, you’ll get a power-up which is often used with even more mechanics in the levels. Each level has a boss battle at the finish where you fight the knight whose stage it is. It’s a classic formula, but it’s executed just as well as the games that did it first.
Shovel Knight has 8-bit graphics, but its sprites and backgrounds are incredibly detailed. The art is done in a simple style but is executed perfectly. Each level looks vastly different from the others. Overall, the art just fits the game extraordinarily well.
The chiptune music in this game is amazing as well. Each song is memorable and goes with the theme of the level. Tinker Knight’s stage has a song that sounds mechanical with short notes. The heroic-sounding main theme is memorable and is repeated at various points throughout the game. This is one of the best game soundtracks in years, and makes Shovel Knight feel even more like the games that inspired it.
In terms of 3DS features, Shovel Knight makes good use of the 3D effect. The foreground really separates from the background, and it looks sharp. It generally makes it easier to tell where you are on the screen. The game also has Streetpass support, but we unfortunately weren’t able to try this out for the review.
All in all, Shovel Knight is a great game that feels like it came from the NES generation. It’s great for anyone who loves platformers, retro games, or beating monsters with shovels. Developers like Yacht Club deserve your money for making a game like this.