A shovel, the tool of gardeners and grave-diggers. How many times have you thought that my shovel would make for a great weapon in the instance my friend is transformed into an evil sorceress and I have to save her. I would like to make a guess at, never. Yacht Club Games obviously thinks very differently. Shovel Knight takes you on a retro inspired romp through a pixel powered adventure full of amazing visuals and heart pounding pitfalls. Shovel Knight is possibly one of the best indie games I have ever played.
The Tale of Shovel Knight
Shovel Knight introduces you to your protagonist, the simply named Shovel Knight. Your closest friend and partner in adventuring, the Shield Knight, is trapped in the Tower of Fate and this depresses the great Shovel Knight. So much so that you run and hide in solitude for quite some time. Fortunately the Tower of Fate finally opens up but only after an evil Enchantress and her equally evil Order of No Quarter have brought havoc to the lands. Of course you get to save the day and attempt to save the Shield Knight from her prison. The story of Shovel Knight is actually rather vague and required me watching the intro cinematic a few times before completely understanding what was happening. This becomes even more confusing once you begin to play the game. The story almost seemed like it was an afterthought to the game. Once you complete everything the story does finally come together, but in a way that almost seems like a child meandering through the woods but no matter what direction was traveled, the child would end up home safe. I can’t fault Shovel Knight too much for this simply because it did not affect anything about the actual game. You still follow the same linear path, and you still reach the same goals.
Have We Played This Before?
Picking up the controls and starting the game, the only thing I could think was “this is a new MegaMan game”. It really acts and feels like the blue bomber in a suit of armor, carrying a shovel. It is very apparent where Yacht Club Games was pulling inspiration from. You do get a very strong sense of the MegaMan platforming element, the MegaMan boss fights, and the ramping difficulty that Capcom loved to splatter us with back in the day. You are also blessed with very light role-playing mechanics like leveling up your health and mana through purchases at the Gastronomer or the Magicist. You even have the option to purchase new magic abilities, attack upgrades, as well as new suits of armor with perks. Shovel Knight takes all of the best elements of the games that made us fall in love with the NES and makes them so simple and satisfying at the same time. We are given this beautiful little package that just makes so much sense that you can’t help but love it.
Jumping the Gap
Going through each stage will consist of a few very simple mechanics. You will kill enemies for jewels and other goodies, you will jump on platforms and try not to fall in big holes, and you will dig up piles of dirt with your trusty shovel looking for even more jewels. The overall goal is simplistic and we all know what to do. We have all played out these scenarios at one point or another. Shovel Knight makes us feel safe. We are familiar with everything we are seeing but the things we are seeing are also so new and exciting. It’s like a warm blanket and a hot cup of soup. You love the feeling and you can’t help but want more. Venturing out on your travels in search of the Tower of Fate and the Shield Knight, you will find yourself working through the stereotypical levels. Do each of these stages have a theme? Why of course they do. Does the final boss use abilities that relate it back to the stage? Absolutely they do, and they are done so well. With bosses like the Mole Knight and the Treasure Knight they aren’t cheesy excuses to have a boss in an underwater stage or a lava stage. They actually make sense why they are the overlord for that specific area. So much thought actually went into the construction, design, and enemy selection for each stage it almost shames other games for being overly lazy. As you play through each stage you WILL notice the change in difficulty. There is no tutorial at the beginning of the game, there is no real hand holding going on. Instead you start on very simple levels. Each becoming progressively more difficult than the next. The stages are not insanely difficult, but they will test your skills. To help with this, you are not given lives or continues, just your precious money. Each time you die, the Shovel Knight will drop a good portion of his loot in floating money bags. If you are unable to retrieve these bags on your next run through the stage, your winnings are gone forever. This adds a level of risk to those merciless jumps and over exploring of the levels.
The Best Indie Game You Will Ever Play
Shovel Knight is not a ridiculously long game. the average person can most likely go from point A to point B in about 4-5 hours. There are many hidden treasures and unlockables to keep you going back through trying to locate every last jewel and secret. Even with the simplistic nature of Shovel Knight, you don’t feel like one playthrough is quite enough. The game just doesn’t seem to get boring. With all of the beautiful pixel art, challenging gameplay, and unlockables Shovel Knight should keep you smiling for hours to come.
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