Shovel Knight is one of the best games I’ve played so far this year. In fact, it’s one of my favorite games that has been released in recent memory. In my honest opinion, it’s the best game to come out so far in 2014. It does have some staunch competition coming in this 2nd half of the year, though.
Shovel Knight is an 8-bit inspired platform medley of Mega Man, Ducktales, a little bit of Zelda 2 and Castlevania, with a sprinkle of Super Mario Bros. 3. On top of all of this, however, it manages to produce some exciting and unique features not seen in any of the aforementioned games. This game is pure fun, sounds fantastic, and has some really great tunes and some beautiful artwork. Shovel Knight was developed by Yacht Club Games; whom are based out of California. The game was funded by a very successful Kickstarter campaign. The minimum goal was 75k, and Shovel Knight went on to raise over 300k before the conclusion of the Kickstarter Campaign.
Shovel Knight has two goals in this game: To defeat the evil Enchantress, and get some answers about his lost beloved companion, Shield Knight. However, throughout his quest, he is met by staunch resistance in the form of the Enchantress’s henchmen (and Shovel Knight’s mortal foes) The Order of No Quarter. These other quirky Knights attempt to block Shovel Knight’s passage to the Enchantress, and it is up to you to guide Shovel Knight to victory. Can you dig it?
The gameplay is mostly reminiscent of platformeresque Mega Man, but then you have to add in a shovel. Why a shovel? Well, Why not? Besides being his namesake, the shovel is the Shovel Knight’s main weapon. The shovel behaves similarliry to Scrooge McDuck’s walking cane pogo stick, or Link’s downward stab in Zelda 2. Likewise, this enables the Shovel Knight to damage enemies as well as maneuver around objects. The shovel also comes in handy for digging up treasure and destroying barriers impeding the Shovel Knight’s path. The treasure and gold is super useful along the journey, allowing the Shovel Knight to purchase helpful relics, and upgrades for his armor and shovel. The overworld map is also a great touch, and allows the player to choose a unique path while progressing through the game; it even has some enemies/bonus levels that appear in a Super Mario Bros. 3 fashion. All the different Knights from the Order of No Quarter are awesome too, the boss fights feel great and each boss must be tackled in a different fashion
Shovel Knight looks great. The 8-bit graphics are beautiful and would be right at home on the NES, and even uses some of the same tricks that many NES games utilized. For instance, in some boss fights in Mega Man, to give the later boss battles some more urgency, the bosses were actually drawn as the backgrounds. Shovel Knight pays homage to this in some of the later battles. Shovel Knight also makes use of Parallax Scrolling, a technique which creates an illusion of space by moving the background images slower than the foreground’s speed. Overall the colors are crisp, clean and aesthetically pleasing. The Pixel work is really something, the animations for everything you see is very smooth, it’s really a work of art.
The Shovel Knight original soundtrack is something really special. Each level and area has it’s own theme, and each tune is superb. Jake Kaufman scores most of the tracks, while Manami Matsumae contributed two tracks. Manami is most well-known for scoring the original Mega Man OST, and Jake is known for Retro City Rampage and Ducktales: Remastered, among dozens of other games. In addition to the hypnotizing soundtrack, the other sound effects work is spot on; everything sounds great and is very immersive. I love the subtle touches like the Black Knight’s laugh, it definitely reminds me of Kefka. That being said, the OST is available on Bandcamp as a pay what you want release, I highly recommend going over there to check it out! I often find myself humming the tunes from this game throughout my day.
After you initially complete the game, Shovel Knight offers a New Game + mode, where enemy attacks cause twice the amount of damage, there aren’t nearly as many checkpoints, and items to gain back health in the levels themselves has been drastically reduced. The New Game + mode in addition to the numerous challenging achievements to be had in this game give it a really good reply value.
If this game seems like something you would even slightly be interested in, I urge you to go out and pick it up now, you won’t regret it!