These 4 indie games pay homage to Mario in the strangest way

Shovel Knight

More of a tribute to all classics of the "bit" era of gaming rather than focusing on one title (though one could argue Mega Man is favored), Yacht Club Games took the best gameplay bits (I'm gross) from the greatest of these games and applied them to Shovel Knight with elegance and grace.

Its gameplay, bosses, and level designs are inspired by Mega Man. Its charming world map, with its roving parts, limited non-linearity, and inconveniently sealed-off segments will be recognizable to anyone who has played Mario 3.

Its combat contains a significant dash of Duck Tales. Its hub towns, inventory and money systems — as well as its cast of NPCs to interact with — represent a hybrid between Zelda II and Faxanadu, while its sub-weapon system is an ode to Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden. The real beauty of Shovel Knight isn't that it's a clearly worded love letter to the storied NES era; it's that it drew inspiration from nothing but great NES games.

- Shovel Knight Review by Colin Moriarty

Though the game combines mechanics from various classic NES titles while featuring a primary format derivative of Mega Man, the driving force behind Shovel Knight's endeavors is, once again, saving the princess — or, in this case, Shield Knight. Each night, our hero becomes increasingly consumed by his quest — his dreams encumbering him with guilt over what the player assumes is her untimely demise.

However, we later find out that Shield Knight is not deceased, but corrupted by the power of the Enchantress, and that Shovel Knight has been pursuing the Knights of No Quarter to rescue his fellow Knight. Therefore, he is in a way fighting to rescue the "princess."

And rescue her he does... for a moment. Immediately after liberating Shield Knight, both she and Shovel Knight are faced with an even greater obstacle; one which can only be overcome by working together. 

This somewhat trumps the Mario/Princess paradigm, seeing as Shovel Knight not only depends on Shield Knight's assistance (and vice versa), but is also saved by this "princess" when she sacrifices herself to defeat the Enchantress and give Shovel Knight a chance to flee. In this light, Shovel Knight serves as a more progressive take on the Mario/Princess paradigm, one which favors a more gender-neutral interpretation (also slightly reminiscent of the ending sequence to Zelda: Ocarina of Time).

As far as the "princess is in another castle" requisite goes... call it a stretch, but I feel the Shield Knight sacrifice sequence could serve as a somewhat extreme reinterpretation of this model. Shovel Knight fought the entire No Quarter (twice), freed Shield Knight from her possession, then defeated the Enchantress, only to lose the one he cared for most all over again.

Whatever woeful grief you went through when Toad first gave you his unceremonious apology, I'd say Shovel Knight's got you beat.

Published Oct. 24th 2015

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