ReviewBen Butzow (pestulio07)
A rising trend over the past half decade has been the utilization of old school graphics to recreate the “glory days” of gaming. The biggest and earliest example of this was a little game called Minecraft. The combination of 8-bit graphics and modern game play spawned countless clones, and inspired indie developers everywhere to get on the 8-bit bandwagon.
Fast forward to June 2014 and the release of the highly anticipated Kickstarter project Shovel Knight. Created by rookie studio Yacht Club Games, the game draws inspiration from 8-bit side scrolling classics like Mega Man, Super Mario 3, Metroid, and Ducktales, while simultaneously creating something entirely unique. The result is a critically adored 2D adventure that, since it’s initial Wii U/3DS/PC release, has been ported to PS3, PS4, PSVita, and Xbox One. (Note: This review is based on the 3DS version)
The story begins with the adventures of Shovel Knight and his partner Shield Knight. Things quickly go awry as Shield Knight is taken hostage by an evil and mysterious power. Distraught by the loss of his friend, Shovel Knight goes into a life of quiet solitude. This doesn’t last long however, as he’s called into action in order to defeat the nefarious “Order of No Quarter” and rescue his beloved Shield Knight.
Players navigate Shovel Knight through twelve harrowing stages, while acquiring new skills, and finding hidden treasures that can be used to purchase new armor and equipment. Along with the normal full-length levels, players can access optional content such as three bonus stages, three extra bosses, and several towns in which to shop. Additionally, the Playstation versions include a boss fight with Kratos, and the Xbox One version has a full level where Shovel Knight meets the Battletoads. Several DLC packs have been announced, and due to the success of the initial Kickstarter project, all will be free. Top all of this with the addition of a New Game Plus mode, which ups the difficulty, and 45 feats (achievements/trophies) to conquer, and this game is absolutely bursting with content.
The game play itself is crisp, fair, and rewarding. As the player progresses, more skills and items are at their disposal, which reward players by making boss fights easier, while at the same time not being required to win. In that way, the boss fights feel reminiscent of early Mega Man games. These items also unlock certain bonus levels, encouraging players to collect every new item they can. The items can be a challenge on their own to acquire, but Yacht Club Games have thought about that as well. Struggling players can buy these items with in-game money if they’re too difficult to reach, giving a good sense of difficulty balance.
Unlike the original NES/SNES games that it takes inspiration from, Shovel Knight doesn’t punish players with Game Overs, or password screens. The risk comes from the game’s currency system. Throughout his adventure, Shovel Knight accrues large sums of money which are used to purchase items. Whenever the player dies, however, they lose a chunk of their money, appearing in the spot of their latest death in the form of three floating bags. This becomes risky in some areas, where you must balance your greed against your ability to recover the gold. After purchasing everything in the game, this becomes a trivial concern, but until that point, this is a very real fear instilled in the player, and a great challenge to keep the player coming back for more.
Shovel Knight is a relatively short game, with my slow, casual play through clocking in at roughly 8 hours. The action doesn’t stop there, though. The game’s feats are meant to challenge players to master the game. One feat requires the player to not die throughout the entire story mode. Another calls for game completion within 90 minutes. While these feats do not actually unlock anything in-game, it hearkens back to games like the early Resident Evils, where half the challenge is not the initial play through, but rather the total mastery of the game.
Surprisingly, if you’ve truly mastered the game, you’re not done yet! Shovel Knight includes over 300 cheat codes, which do anything from making Shovel Knight giant, to replacing random words in the game’s dialogue with “butt.” While this may seem odd, let it never be said that Yacht Club Games didn’t want you to have fun with this game.
At the price of $15, Shovel Knight offers more content than many full price retail games of the past few years. The style, charm, story, game play, and accessible yet challenging difficulty mix beautifully to create an engaging experience that rewards players for full completion, but still delivers a robust and complete game to the casual player.