Shovel Knight was a game that I kept hearing about over and over on Youtube, social media, everywhere, and it seemed like it was pretty much unanimously loved. With 8-bit-ish graphics that mimic the NES with a few extra things like parallax scrolling and a slightly bigger color palette, it looked like a really cool throwback to the days of classic Megaman, Super Mario Bros., and The Legend of Zelda II: Link’s Adventure. I never really got to play it until the Xbox One version came out because I’ve never really used the online features of my 3DS, and it wasn’t available on the Xbox 360, so I just never got to play it. If I could shake the hand of everyone at Yacht Club Games, I would, for making such an amazing game and bringing it to damn near every video game console imaginable. It’s like I discovered something that I needed for so long, with the drought of good Megaman games and retro-style platformers with NES-level difficulty (although you have infinite lives, so there’s that).
Shovel Knight, although heavily inspired by NES-style artwork, and it does follow that very well, blends a few slightly more recent features that put it just a peg above actual NES games. The color palette is slightly larger than what you’d find on a real NES cartridge, and thus, adds that extra bit of shading and flair to make the artwork seriously pop. Boss knights and sub-bosses are extremely animated and are all made to perfectly represent whatever their power is and go hand-in-hand with their stages very well. One of my favorite stages was the stage for Plague Knight, who uses the power of alchemy and potions against you, along with his superior agility to hop around and throw exploding vials at you. His stage is a huge laboratory, full of huge boiling vials of color-changing potions, all kinds of experiments that attack you, and goopy clones of shovel knight that try to run into you.
Also, almost everything explodes, so you have to keep in mind the platforms that you stand on, to make sure that they don’t suddenly disappear and let you fall into the void that is the bottom of the screen. The thing that makes the art in the game so damn good is that every stage is not just cosmetically complimented by it, but it works together with it. Mole Knight’s level takes place inside lava-filled caves, and there’s these blob enemies that you see in earlier levels that reappear here. They might seems the same, but if they touch any of the lava that drips from the ceiling, they burst into flames, meaning that you can no longer attack them by bouncing on them, or you’ll get hurt by the fire. Every level changes mechanics that you thought you knew and it keeps every level fresh, it just feels so damn rewarding to make it through the end of any given stage without dying or getting hit too many times.
The music in Shovel Knight, let me tell you, is like the perfect blend of music from multiple games from the late 80’s and early 90’s. Taking cues from the likes of Megaman and Contra, the music for every stage perfectly fits, and the music from the intro stage, “Strike The Earth”, is now engrained in my brain as one of the most memorable tunes from any videogame that I’ve ever played. The music in this game is just that damn good. There isn’t a single bad tune on the whole soundtrack, and if it ever gets a vinyl release, you can be damn sure that I’ll be the first one in line to buy in and mount that beauty up on my wall. The full soundtrack boasts around 50 full tracks, from levels to towns, to the world map, to the boss themes, and roaming enemy themes, if you wanna check it out for yourself, click here! It is my sincerest hope that should there ever be a sequel to Shovel Knight, that everyone that made the first game possible reprises their original role, and that we can have another amazing soundtrack like the first game had, because it truly is something to behold.
Alright, so enough gushing about how cool it looks and sounds, how does Shovel Knight play? Remember how much you loved platformers like the Classic Megaman series and (maybe) The Legend of Zelda II: Link’s Adventure? Remember how tight the controls were, and how responsive the game was to your every touch, and how you really felt like everything was in your control? Shovel Knight somehow is even better than that, it has perfectly brought in the precision, made it better, and really left the challenge of the game up to the player’s skill. This means that you can’t call bullshit when you miss a jump, or when you accidentally run off a ledge without jumping, or get hit by a projectile and lose your trajectory mid-jump. Everything really feels like it’s completely within your control, and that when you come to a new screen, it’s up to you to figure out how to go about challenging it. You’ll acquire tons of sub-weapons and items throughout your journey, such as a rod that shoots fireballs, throwing anchors (very similar to the ax from the original Castlevania), and a war horn that clears the screen of enemies. These are actually used in a very similar fashion to the old-school Castlevania items, by pressing up and attack at the same time, and each item uses a different amount of magic.
The main difference, is that once you have an item, you have it forever now! You don’t have to worry about picking up the right thing to get through a certain point or to beat a boss more easily (because bosses are usually easier if you just use your shovel). There are some bonus stages that you can visit that will focus on one item in particular and test your ability to use it correctly to get the most reward for using it, which is pretty cool!
As I said a while ago, there are no lives in Shovel Knight, instead, when you die, taking note from the Dark Souls series, you lose a chunk of your current money, and it splits into three flying sacks of gold where you die. As long as you go back and pick them up, you’re fine, however, if you die before you get them, and new bags spawn, the old bags (and your hard-earned money) are gone forever. This seems like a pretty fair way to get players to try to get their money back, but sometimes the money bags get stuck in places that you can’t get to unless you just jump into a pit or bed of spikes and kill yourself again anyway. So, most of the time, the risk-reward system is good, but every once in a while, it’s just a little bit cheap and really punishes you for dying in a rough spot. When you have enough gold, however, you’ve got plenty of things that you can spend it on, such as health and magic upgrades, extra items to help you, and armor/shovel upgrades. You could also drop 8,000 gold on a set of gold armor that actually does absolutely nothing besides leave a sparkle trail behind you and make you flip when you jump. It’s the most expensive item and it does literally nothing besides make you look kind of cool, but that’s the kind of charm and humor that sets Shovel Knight aside from it’s inspiration material on the NES.
The thing about Shovel Knight that really makes it so special are the little things, yes, the game is great, and looks awesome and sounds wonderful, but it’s the little things that fill the spaces between that just make it so special. You can talk to all of the townsfolk in the towns, and they’re all kinds of weird and strange people, such as the grumpy toad in one town that you have to continuously tell bad puns to to try and make him smile. There’s another toad that you can talk to that’s the totally opposite, he’ll chat your ear off with bad jokes all day, and if you listen to all of his jokes, you actually get a small reward, which is pretty cool!
All of the dialogue from all of the characters is pretty goofy and funny for the most part, as well, bad guys and good guys alike, with shovel-puns and knight humor abound. Every encounter in the game is sure to give you a good chuckle, or get you pumped to fight whatever boss you have to face in that stage, but they always seem to know the right thing to say to set the mood. Small things like secret passages hidden in marked walls, or hidden wall chickens litter every stage, and it’s always kind of a small victory to be swiping away at something and accidentally unveil a delicious wall chicken. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t eat it, but being the manly man of manliness that Shovel Knight is, he’s gotta get his protein to fight the forces of evil, right?
There’s so many things I could list specifically about Shovel Knight that make it so awesome, but then this article would be way too long, and I’d be sitting here writing this for many months between work, school, and that thing I have on occasion called “life”. I know, it seems silly, and to be honest, I’d much rather sit here and gush about Shovel Knight than have to deal with humanity, but I don’t think you’d want to read too much of me just babbling. So please, if you haven’t played Shovel Knight yet, and you’re considering it, you should absolutely play it, it’s on Steam, 3DS, Wii U, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, just about every console you could possibly own, so there’s no excuse to not try it! It’s more than worth the small amount of money that you’ll pay for it, and it’s replayable multiple times over. The titular hero will soon become one of your favorite videogame characters, if he isn’t already, he’s so damn cute but also badass and deadly, and I suddenly realize why so many people wanted him to be in the latest Smash Bros. I thought it was just an overhyped indie game, but seriously, it deserves all of the hype it gets, if not more, do yourself a favor and play it now if you haven’t, and if you have played it, then, hey, why not play it again?
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