Can You Dig It?
At face value Shovel Knight may seem like a love letter to a simpler time in video games, but it is much more than that. As a gamer who was born during the heyday of the N64 and PS1 I have always found it hard to play games that predate that generation because of their unforgiving nature and obtuse level design. Shovel Knight takes the appearance of an 8-bit era game however and makes it feel welcoming to players of all ages.
The gameplay mechanics are simple at first; you can jump, dig/attack, and perform a jump attack midair on your enemies. I was comfortable with the controls immediately because of their simplicity and ease of use. As the game gets into the nitty-gritty more options become available to the player. Shovel Knight has access to numerous powers and weapons, akin to Mega-Man, that expand the possibilities of gameplay. The best part about these weapons, or “relics” as they’re called, is that they are all optional to acquire. Some you can buy from a vendor in the hub town and others you find within each level. However, you do not need any of these relics to complete the game; they just make things easier.
Aside from the relics, Shovel Knight has much more to teach the player. As you progress throughout the lairs of each enemy Knight you start to come across stronger enemies with more complex, or varying attack patterns. Keep in mind these foes are just grunts. There are bosses as well. Each boss, a Knight who is a member of “The Order of No Quarter”, has their own unique fighting style that can take some serious effort to learn how to fight. Enemies may take some time to overcome but it never feels like the game is being cruel to the player. With a nice mix of platforming thrown in, and optional checkpoints scattered throughout those levels, Shovel Knight has the best difficulty for casual and hardcore gamers alike.
Now if you are someone who is not a fan of pixel art in video games then Shovel Knight certainly will not appeal to you. These classic games hold up just as well as the day they were released and Shovel Knight will do the same years from now. The game hearkens back to the 8-bit era of graphics in games and then pushes the limit of expectations. I am referring specifically to the mini-bosses and bosses. The characters and creatures looked so intricate and it was not hard for me to imagine these characters in a 3D world. Battle animations were smooth and quick, never suffering any drops in frame rate, regardless of how many enemies were on screen. That’s part of the joy of choosing an older aesthetic for the game; with modern technology you can make battles far more hectic without suffering any technical hiccups. Shovel Knight’s visuals are a great blast from the past that are nostalgic, while still feeling fresh and expressing all the uniqueness the game has to show off.
Shovel Knight’s soundtrack blew away all of my expectations. Each track fits the scene it accompanies so well and sets the tone for the epic adventure you are embarking on. When I found myself dying repeatedly at the same spot I could never give up because the music was that of a determined knight on his quest. There were plenty of times I would find myself just listening to the music and not moving in the game. I am not the type of person to typically play with headphones either, but I wanted to enjoy the soundtrack to its fullest extent. I can’t say that any tracks were particularly catchy or that one stuck out more than any others, but I found myself enjoying all the music as I played.
Shovel Knight is an old-school game through and through all the way down to the archaic story. There certainly is not much depth to it, but honestly it does not matter. It took me a solid eight hours to plow through the campaign (side levels and extra bosses included) and I preferred the simple story for something of that length. I was entertained by the dialogue between Shovel Knight and each foe; it added a light-hearted humor that gave the characters personality. I wish these moments had been expanded upon throughout each level as a whole. I felt like each Knight I faced was a one note character, and while I appreciated the dialogue they were given, I can’t help but feel that if they were given more screen time they would have given the world they inhabit more character. The story, simple as it may be, genuinely surprised me at the twist with the final boss (no spoilers here) and the ending was so cute that it warmed my heart to satisfaction.
From start to finish Shovel Knight kept me entertained and impressed with its interesting level design, unique characters, and exciting gameplay. Shovel Knight’s campaign is just the beginning of this quest. Upon completing the campaign you unlock a plethora of bonus content. There is new game plus, a challenge mode for the levels, and the option to replay the campaign as one of the villains (titled as Plague of Shadows). Shovel Knight will keep the consumer busy for a while considering that the developer still has two more DLC updates planned. There are two more campaigns for villains expected to roll out and new modes accompanying those expansions as well. So, for $14.99 I think Shovel Knight might be the best value I have ever seen for a video game. After purchasing it, on sale at that, I felt like I owed so much more to the developer Yacht Club Games. With there now being a physical version of the game and an Amiibo available for purchase I am highly considering supporting the game as much as I can. I cannot personally recommend Shovel Knight enough.