“Diggin’ Up Childhood”
Available on Linux, PC, 3DS, Wii U, Mac, PS Vita, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (tested) and Xbox One
If you are a gal or lad from the 80s like me, the very second you launch Shovel Knight, all of your childhood gaming memories will resurface. And believe me when I tell you, it’s a beautiful feeling. I’m thankful to Yacht Club Games for having created this game inspired by the best platformers from the 8-bit era, borrowing elements from different games of the genre while, at the same time, feeling completely fresh.
First, a little insight about the developer:
Yacht Club Games is an independent game developer started in 2013 by a crew of former WayForward employees. Their team is comprised of top talent that has worked on some well-known titles, including Contra 4, A Boy and His Blob, Thor: God of Thunder, Mighty Milky Way, BloodRayne Betrayal, and most recently, Double Dragon Neon. Shovel Knight is their first project as Yacht Club Games, which is by any means, pretty impressive.
Story wise, the game is pretty simple but does a good job at establishing the starting point for our crusade. It tells you the story of the Shovel Knight and his friend, the Shield Knight, with whom he shared lots of adventures. One day, our heroes are separated from each other, as the evil character known as the Enchantress takes over the kingdom with the help of her Order of No Quarter, a group of knights that serve their purpose as the Robot Masters did in the Mega Man games.
Past the introduction, we are placed in the intro stage, where we will get familiar with the mechanics of the game, which are few but more than enough. You move with the D-pad or analog stick, swing thy shovel with a button, jump with another button, and you can perform a down strike while jumping by pressing down on the D-pad. The control scheme resembles a lot to that of Ducktales, which is awesome by any means. Later on we will have access to different sub weapons, all of them accessible via a menu that resembles the one from Castlevania. Once we beat this intro stage, we are thrown to a world map that feels like the one in Mario 3, and features different stages to select from, each one with a Knight to defeat at the end. In addition to these stages, you also have hub towns and other areas in the map. It is in the towns where you get to spend the loot collected while traversing the stages, in order to acquire health and magic upgrades, different types of armors, sub weapons that you may have missed while in a stage and abilities associated to your shovel, like charged attacks and a shockwave attack.
Talking about the loot leads to how the game handles death. Here is where you can tell that Yacht Club Games also draws inspiration from modern mechanics, as the death system resembles to that of the Souls games. If you die, you lose an amount of money that you can collect back if you reach the place of your death. The game also features a checkpoint system with a twist -which I found really cool myself- and lets you amp up the game’s difficulty. Each time you find one of the 5 checkpoints in a stage, you can choose to either leave it as it is or to break it, earning yourself quite the amount of loot but losing that checkpoint for the remainder of the stage. It’s a clever risk-reward system, one that will make you think things twice before rushing toward the enemies.
The level design is really great, featuring all the classic elements a good platformer should have: a water stage, an ice stage, a stage that has elements that alter your movement speed, etc. The only downside within the stages is the prominent palette swap the enemies have. It would have been cool to have a couple more enemies that behave in different ways. On the other side, the Order of No Quarter has an amazing character design, almost making you forget those palette swaps.
Talking about looks, the game looks as sharp as it should within an eight bit framework. All the stages look truly different from each other. Add that to the fact each of them is musicalized by really good retro tunes (albeit they get repetitive due to the stages’ length), and you are all set to spend a couple of hours in the late 80s.
The Playstation version adds an optional boss battle with Kratos from God of War. It’s an awesome detail and beating him will allow you to use the Armor of Chaos, which definitely changes the way you play across the game. Add that to the fact that the game features a New Game+ option and a trophy set that requires a couple of playthroughs, and you have yourselves quite the time to spend with our armored friend.
Oh! And also, these updates will be coming later for free:
- Battle mode featuring the Order of No Quarter
- Challenge Mode
- Gender Swap Mode
- Three Playable Boss Campaigns: King Knight, Plague Knight, and Specter Knight
Should you play it? If you enjoy some good retro platforming, featuring the best elements from some of the greatest games of the 8 bit era, you need to play this game. If not… you also need to play this game, it’s awesome.