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Shovel Knight is a 2D, side scrolling, platform game which has roots in many of the NES’s greatest titles. Aspects of Duck Tales, Mega Man, Super Mario 3, and Castlevania are not difficult to spot. As much as its roots are firmly implanted in the classics, it still does branch out and create its own magic.
The plot of Shovel Knight goes a little something like this. Shovel Knight and his partner Shield Knight are two legendary adventurers. While questing through the Tower of Fate disastrous events take place that cause Shield Knight to be sealed in the tower. Distraught, Shovel Knight goes into seclusion. In his absence the Enchantress and her Order of No Quarter grasp control of the land. The tower unseals and Shovel Knight takes up arms to save Shield Knight.
Visually Shovel Knight is amazing. The beautifully polished 8 bit graphics are colorful and vibrant with a great deal of contrast between the background and foreground. Musically it is a masterpiece. One of the shining stars of this game is the music. Jake Kaufman composed most of the chip tune melodies. The music in the game is very reminiscent of something you would find in the Mega Man series, and why shouldn’t it be? Mega Man composer Manami Matsumae composed several tracks for the game.
The controls for Shovel Knight threw me off at first. The jump button felt like it should be the attack button and vice versa but I got used to it after a while. If you have a problem with the buttons you can reconfigure them under options. The knights movement throughout the game is very fluid and his jumping ability and handling is great. The shovel that is wielded in the game can be used to hit enemies, dig through dirt, and dig up treasure. Taking a page from Duck Tales, the shovel can also be used to pogo on enemies and objects. One of my critiques about the game would be that the shovel as a weapon does not provide enough angular strikes. If an enemy is coming at you diagonally from the sky you cannot swing your shovel upward to hit them as easily as say, Simon Belmont’s whip could.
The game does have an old-school level of difficulty. If you are prone to game rage be careful because this game can really push your buttons. I died several times on the first level, yes the first level people and it only gets harder as you journey on. The levels in this game are challenging as are the bosses. You may have to fight a boss more than a couple of times to learn their pattern and devise a successful strategy to defeat them. While the game is difficult, the programmers haven’t completely left you without help. Each level does have multiple check points. So if you do die (and you will over and over again) you can start right back at the last check point. Now with these check points you do have the option to use the checkpoint or you can break it for treasure. If you do decide to break it, it will not save your place in the level. Another thing that eases the difficulty is that you have infinite lives. So every time you die you just start back at the last check point. You don’t have to play through areas that you already cleared because of a game over.
The levels are thoughtfully designed and flow together very well. Like Mega Man, every stage and boss is themed. Each level has many hidden walls and side routes to travel to gain extra treasure and items. The map that you traverse between levels on is reminiscent of Mario Brothers 3, complete with enemy stages that move around and block your path. Towns are situated in between stages in Shovel Knight. In these towns you can purchase things that allow you to expand your health bar or carry more magic. Special items and attack upgrades are also being peddled. The weapon upgrades include the flare wand which allows Shovel Knight to shoot spheres of fire across the screen at distant enemies and the dust knuckles which are able to punch through sand, rock, and ice, to name a few.
Shovel Knight is the first game released by Yacht Club Games and was developed using funding gained on Kickstarter. The original goal was $75,000 but when all was said and done Yacht club games had received $311,502 towards development. Receiving this amount of money allowed Yacht Club to produce added features to the game which will be available for free and released throughout 2014.
Shovel Knight is a game that would have cost fifty bucks in 1990 but only costs fifteen dollars today. It is a stunning amalgamation of old-school graphics and design with a new-school twist. This is a game that builds even higher on the strong foundations of great games released in years past. Shovel Knight is a new adventure game that will really take you back.