The shovel is a really dynamic hero’s weapon: it can dig up treasure, a well-timed scoop can deflect projectiles, and it helps bring courage in spades. Though really, a shovel-wielding knight doesn’t sounds like a too-reliable hero, but Shovel Knight tells a different story. A hero driven by love who saves a whole kingdom by jumping, scooping, and facing down the other evil knights with just one thing in hand: his trusty blue shovel.
Yacht Club Games’ debut title comes in the form of a classic-styled platformer where one man and one shovel attempt to save the world. It has all of the best aspects of a NES game with some trappings of a modern game trickled on top. It harkens back very lovingly to Mega Manand Zelda II with a beautiful coat of NES 8-bit art sprinkled throughout. The look, the sound, the feel of this two-button game evoke the classics much more closely than any other game that touts itself as a “modern NES game.” The chiptune music, the sheen of the color palette—it all truly feels like a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System in the most carefully crafted and specific way. Clearly, the team here wanted to make a classic come to life in the modern age, and they succeed thoroughly.
The Megaman inspiration comes less subtly, since the game is structured like the Mega Manclassics before it: fight through boss’s level, fight boss. The only difference here is you don’t get the boss’s ability, but the other “knights” in the game definitely reflect the robot masters from Mega Man in style. Fighting through the jewel-encrusted castle to make your way to King Knight, who prances around and attacks you with confetti and a scepter is a good example. Each level ties into the theme of the Boss Knight at its end, and YCG plays with level design here like you would see in a SNES game. Shovel Knight himself doesn’t really change as you play through the game, but say, ice-covered levels will be covered with enemies that take advantage of slipping around the level, or a level sunken underwater will double your jump height and also double the difficulty of the platforming. This is where the real change in feel from level-to-level comes in.
Between levels, you’ll be taking all of the treasure you collect and spending it on things like meal tickets, which increase your max health, or artifacts that lead to side-levels for more treasure and also act as secondary weapons á la Castlevania. Instead of losing a life when you die, you just lose a few bags of treasure, which work similarly to a bloodstain in Dark Souls: you have to pick them up before you die again, or else they’re gone forever. It all feels like classic game design with more modern design instilled into it. Somehow, Shovel Knight feels and plays like a classic game but with the ideas and evolution of modern design implemented into it.
Also, the playing of the game here is key. Shovel Knight has some of the tightest controls and platforming of any action platformer in years. With very light-and-loose games out there, such as Little Big Planet, it’s nice to see a game that has very strict controls and rules and sticks to them no matter what. You’re just jumping and attacking and using those buttons over and over, but the tight controls make every second you’re platforming through the levels feel so satisfying. Any time you bounce across four enemies to your goal you feel oh-so vindicated.
After clearing Shovel Knight’s world map and finishing the game in just under seven hours, you open up challenges and New Game Plus to make the game harder than it already is. As rough as some of the levels are, it never feels unfair and is almost never unforgiving. Shovel Knightdefinitely isn’t afraid to kick your ass though.
Playing Shovel Knight for me is like being a kid again and booting up my SNES. The look, the feel, it all has a kind of magic to it that is incredibly true-to-form. It tells a great story with fun characters, tons of laughs along the way, and more shovel puns than I can bury in this review. It’s an action platformer-blast-from-the-past and is well worth your time.
Shovel Knight was reviewed using a Steam code provided by Yacht Club Games.