Bringing us back to the mid-80’s of gaming, Shovel Knight features an emphasis on retro 8-bit graphics as you control a knight who wields a shovel for a weapon. Retro hallmarks such as Mega Man and Super Mario Bros. are obvious inspirations for this solid platformer, which has our hero overcoming enemies as well as boss characters at the end of each level. Dialogue between the hero and his or her opponent is something that I greatly enjoy in video games, and before each boss battle, Shovel Knight and that level’s boss engage in conversation before their grand battle.
The inclusion of a hub world where Shovel Knight goes to upgrade his life bar and magic meter is a good one, as it gives the player even more exploration to do outside of boss levels. Conversing with NPC’s and collecting music notes for the local bard offers rewards that may not seem immediately apparent but are extremely satisfying and useful for future battles.
As evidenced by his official title, Shovel Knight’s weapon of choice is a shovel. Along the journey, he will find more weapons to accompany his shovel, such as a flame torch or power gloves. Many of these weapons offer various uses in combat, but their implementation in platforming is a bit unexplored. This is what I call the ‘Zelda Effect.’ In many Legend of Zelda titles, there are a bevy of weapons and items to collect, almost to a fault due to each one’s limited usage. This causes an overabundance of items that the player may only use for limited periods of time, making these items have a lesser value than the rest. Shovel Knight suffers from a similar problem, causing a few of the items to be useful only in specially designed stages for that particular item. This may also be due to the clunky nature of equipping the items. Because the only attacks Shovel Knight has are mapped to two buttons, whenever you want to switch his special attack to a different weapon, a pop-up menu has to be opened up, where you select the item you next would like to use. From there, it is available in-game, rather similar to the way classic Mega Man titles handle weapon usage. While this system works fine in terms of combat, it does not allow for item variety within the platforming of each level. Oftentimes I found that particular areas cater to a single item, causing all others to be useless for the duration of that level. I feel that this could have been remedied by mapping the platforming-centric items to shoulder buttons or other unused keys, and keeping potions and other combat-centric items within the pop-up menu. This would create a smooth feeling and one that did not interrupt combat and exploration nearly as often.
[NOTE: I’ve been informed by Yacht Club Games (creators of Shovel Knight) that they HAVE put out a patch which maps abilities to the shoulder buttons or extra keys for quick use. I must have not played the game since that patch, or somehow missed its implementation. Regardless, I’m glad to see this change added! Rather than retype this entire paragraph, I’ll leave this notice.]
Basic combat in Shovel Knight is very well executed. The downward thrust of Shovel Knight’s weapon as he plunges down upon foes from above offers exciting combat and platforming opportunities, I think most notably featured in the propeller knight stage. This trick is used to bounce atop enemies, destroying them as well as providing our hero with a path to proceed onward.
At the end of the day, Shovel Knight is a blast to play, with solid platforming and exciting ways to take down foes. Enemies that are encountered along the way include the Black Knight, Tinker Knight, Plague Knight, and many more, my personal favorite being King Knight. If you are a fan of retro platformers such as Mega Man, Castlevania, or Mario Bros, you owe it to yourself to lend some time to Shovel Knight. The chip tune soundtrack by Jake Kaufman deserves a mention, as it is absolutely AWESOME. Seriously, I bought the whole soundtrack and put it on my phone. When you begin listening to a game’s soundtrack outside of playing that game, you know it deserves praise. With satisfying game play to boot, Shovel Knight is worth every second spent with it.
Worth Playing? = YES