In Recall, we like to look back at the games that made us laugh, cringe, cry and love what it means to be a gamer. Let’s start with a game that’s still going strong, and no doubt will be around in some way or form for a long time…
Shovel Knight is a 2-D platformer game set in a fantasy realm. A result of a successful kickstarter campaign back in 2013, Shovel Knight is a “love letter” to classic 8-bit style games, and it incorporates both art styles and game play mechanics from Nintendo and Super Nintendo-era titles.
Much like classic adventure stories, Shovel Knight radiates the feeling of an epic quest. While it sticks to many traditional story themes such as heroic knight and evil witches, many of Shovel Knights characters and events break away from stereotypical fantasy stories. Shovel Knight doubts himself and is constantly plagued by nightmares where he struggles to save Shield Knight. He also doesn’t use the traditional sword to fight his enemies: he uses a shovel. He also uses a diverse of irregular relics including a dagger which lets him fly as well as a “throwing” anchor. As the player progresses the story, details are revealed about the Enchantress, Shovel Knight‘s rival Black Knight, and other travelers which offer interest twists and turns.
As the Shovel Knight, you start off with two basic attacks: a basic melee strike and a downward shovel strike that can be used after jumping or falling. For almost the entire game, I found myself using the downward strike constantly on small enemies, large enemies, and bosses alike. There are some opponents that do have shields or the ability to block that downward strike, but it becomes the primary attack for most encounters.
Despite the strength of this move, Shovel Knight does have an incredible amount of other ways to get through the game. You’ll be able to collect treasures dotted around the landscape, which can be spent on ability, armor, health, and mana upgrades as well as a slew of relics. These relics not only help Shovel Knight to survive and attack, but they also help him to traverse dangerous or otherwise unreachable areas. From a wand that lets you shoot fireballs to a pendant that turns the player into a momentarily incorporeal, damage-proof being, the experience can be tailored to your own play style.
Remember how people complained about Mighty No. 9 earlier in the year? Well, if you haven’t given Shovel Knight a shot yet, you’ll find some thematically similar elements to the original blue bomber himself, specifically in final bosses. Enemies like the Treasure Knight and King Knight fit thematically in their underwater or castle levels and have a unique set of abilities to match. While many of these knights can be beaten with the basics, the variety of attacks and abilities they have can be countered by different relics. There are also a variety travellers on the over world map which are exclusively boss fights and have no levels through which to romp. These travellers, while not necessary to the main story, offer some of the most challenging fights in the game and add to the feeling of quality that Shovel Knight exudes from its starting cinematic.
Levels are also filled with Castlevania-style hidden rooms and moving platforms. There’s changing levels that include navigating with wind gusts and challenging obstacles. And the Knights in the Order of No Quarter are all impressive and distinct. Some knights manipulate terrain, some try to barrel you over with charging attacks, and others peacock while confetti blows from trumpets. Again, the idea of a “shovel” knight seems silly, but the developers create a compelling character with unique opponents to face.
The visuals are an amazing callback to the 2D, 8-bit era. In fact, everything in the game is a work of art. Shovel Knight nails the style, with detailed scrolling backgrounds, fun animations for all of the characters, an overall colourful world. This game simply looks and feels like it was made by loving, NES-era master developers, a team that clearly grew up through the early Nintendo/Sega era.
Much like the visuals, the music and sounds in Shovel Knight are also styled after traditional 8-bit games. Background music can range from crisp and melodic to thrumming and ominous depending on the situation. Sound effects are satisfying and match the on-screen action. In total, the game has more than 40 music tracks. The audio for the game is just one more layer of quality on top of an incredibly rich, vibrant game.
There’s a strong replay value to the entire experience, from a harder level difficulty unlocked upon completion, the Plague of Shadows campaign which developers Yacht Club added in a few months after the initial launch, and better still, even after all this time there’s still more to come…
Shovel Knight is, without a doubt, an incredible game. It took inspiration from a pile of classics, added in new ideas,and gifted players with a substantial amount of content. It is sure to be a classic in and of its own right. Shovel Knight is more than just nostalgia, and it’s more than a retro-style indie game. It’s easily the best 2-D platformer I’ve ever played and I don’t remember the last time I had so much fun playing a game throughout its entirety. I would recommend Shovel Knight to anyone and everyone, and luckily it’s available on just about every modern platform including 3DS and PC.
Have you played Shovel Knight? What did you think, or are you still playing? Let us know in the comments down below.
Tyler Davis a gaming writer and contributor to PN2. Go say hi on Twitter @TDavis179