Also On: Wii U, PC
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Retro inspired indie games aren’t exactly new, but there are few that match the quality found in Shovel Knight, releasing this week for Wii U, 3DS, and PC. Developed by Yacht Club Games, and backed via Kickstarter, I can say without a bit of exaggeration that this is one of the best 2D action-platformer games I’ve ever played. Styled after the NES generation, Shovel Knight is packed with challenging level design, fun boss encounters, witty dialogue, and lots of nods to the best franchises in the genre.
Seriously, it’s that good. I found myself constantly impressed throughout the adventure on a number of fronts. The level design in Shovel Knight is themed around the boss Knight’s you’ll encounter, ranging from Castlevania-styled gothic settings, to an aquatically themed stage filled with background gold. There’s a fair number of hazards to avoid, secrets to uncover, and challenging enemies to defeat. Bosses tend to put up a fight, with a series of recognizable patterns that take an encounter or two to learn, but many more to master. But Shovel Knight’s difficulty isn’t unfair, as checkpoints are well placed, and the penalty for death isn’t a limited set of lives but a chunk of the gold you’re currently carrying. That gold loss can even be retrieved, not unlike picking up your souls in the popular From Software series Demon’s/Dark Souls.
While Shovel Knight borrows a color palette that seems to be cribbed from the same NES titles it pays homage to, it manages to use that limited color set beautifully. Animation is solid throughout, both for the lead character and various enemies you’ll encounter. The handful of towns you’ll be able to explore are packed with unique villagers that are often worth speaking with for their dialogue alone. And the music! Easily one of the best retro-inspired soundtracks around, with a surprising number of unique tracks that you can also collect in-game and replay via the town collector you deliver the music to. There’s absolutely nothing in Shovel Knight’s art or music design that I found lacking.
Honestly, there’s not a thing that I can harp on with Shovel Knight. Controls felt great, even if I took some adjusting to the default control scheme (attack and jump buttons assignments felt backwards to me). But controls are also customizable, so that issue is moot. Jumping feels great and precise, I never found myself falling to my death due to any issue with the controls. Enemy hitboxes, and the range at which Shovel Knight attacks feel spot on as well. And the additional relics you can obtain, which provide fireballs, arcing anchors, and other abilities, outfit your overall arsenal quite well. Seriously, it feels as if the developers at Yacht Club Games sat down and really studied what made action-adventure games from the mid-80’s to early-90’s work, and applied all of that knowledge expertly into Shovel Knight.
If you backed the game via Kickstarter, congratulations! You’re essentially a video game hero in my book. Also, you already know this because you’re likely playing Shovel Knight right now. If not, it’s not too late! Definitely drop the $15 on the platform of your choice, as I doubt there’s little difference between the three versions. I played through the 3DS version of the game here, and it had no technical quibbles or issues to speak of. I can see merit in all three platforms, and will likely end up owning Shovel Knight across all three sooner than later. If you have any love or affinity for NES-era gaming, you’ll find Shovel Knight is an experience worth having.