Thursday, October 16, 2014

I Can Dig It - Shovel Knight Review

Score: 9 / 10
Shovel Knight
Wii U - PC - 3DS
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Release Date: June 26th, 2014

  • Nolstagic feel of a classic NES title
  • Classic challenge and atmosphere
  • Simple, enjoyable platforming and combat
  • Grocery list of feats to accomplish and collectibles
  • New Game+ adds little variation
  • Powerups make take a big of the challenge away

In the age of high end renderings, stunning cinematics, and complex gameplay; I still find myself enjoying an 8-bit adventure. An escape to a simpler time when two buttons and a directional pad were all you had at your disposal. Shovel Knight is an obvious testament to this, a nostalgic trip to when games were a simple, challenging, and rewarding experience. With its stellar presentation and ease to pick up and play, Shovel Knight is a game that felt like an NES title that I missed out on in my childhood.

Shovel Knight is the noble, valiant, and chivalrous hero you would come to expect. His companion, Shield Knight disappears after a dark magic overtakes them in the Tower of Fate, and Shovel Knight awakens to find the tower shielded. Distraught from his loss, he isolates himself, allowing The Order of No Quarter to overtake the land, led by the evil Enchantress. While the game is self aware with its satirical jab in naming its places and organizations, the story that plays out has a surprising impact. Shovel Knight feels like this broken hero trying to regain his purpose, with interludes of vain attempts to catch his falling companion while fighting off enemies, each time awakening to a dwindling campfire as he pushes on to the next level. It is a game that comes full circle in the end, but keeps you hopeful for Shovel Knight's redemption.

The brilliance of Shovel Knight is its ability to borrow elements of all the great NES titles and mash them together into a single game. You have eight unique bosses akin to Mega Man, a slew of items to use akin to Castlevania, hidden items and collectables akin to Metroid, etc. The sound design, the visual appeal, the overall feel of Shovel Knight is a nostalgic trip through an 8-bit world. The chiptune soundtrack melds perfectly with the world, and the cheesy dialogue compliments the quirky nature of the game. You are, afterall, a knight fighting with a shovel. It is a game that never takes itself too seriously, and the charming presentation and cast of characters manages to keep that alive.

The actual brunt of the game combines platforming and combat through a series of levels, ultimately culminating in a boss encounter. Each world provides its own unique challenge, be it the silhouetted run through the graveyard or running along the spinning gears and cogs of a clockwork tower; each area has personality. A common element through all of them is the challenge, as Shovel Knight is a game you get better at as you play but the initial run through will be fraught with deaths. Much akin to Dark Souls, you learn from each death, and the well placed checkpoints will assist you in getting through each trial without making you start from the very beginning too often.

Completionists are rewarded for exploring every nook and cranny of a space, and despite the linear nature of the levels there are many hidden rewards that await those who persist in finding everything.Walls that are revealed through a subtle block placement or treasure chests that appear after defeating all the enemies in an area are a few of the methods used to hide away the many items and treasures featured in the game. The gems collected in each level can be used in the village to upgrade your shovel for new features, or purchase armor that has various effects from doubling magic to reducing incoming damage taken. This armor choice gives a slight level of customization to how you play, increasing magic usage if you are keen on using Relics. A few random encounters along the world map and extra levels focusing on certain Relic abilities will offer paths off the main quest to gain even more loot.

Just a shovel and the ability to jump can only get you so far, as such Shovel Knight can equip a multitude of different tools to help him along his way. Relics, or commonly known as sub-weapons, can be obtained by purchasing them from the village or finding them hidden away. Every time you use a relic it takes a chunk of magic depending on its use, and there are quite a few at your disposal. The war horn can hurt enemies in a large area, the Chaos Sphere bounces around and clears out a room, and Dust Knuckles help in punching through blocks to traverse large gaps. The most useful of all of these was the Phase Locket, which renders you invulnerable for a period of time. While this costs a decent amount, it did tend to make the game fairly simple in its ability to negate incoming damage.

Shovel Knight is one of those arcade titles that is easy to pick up and play, and one you want to see through to the end. There are a ton of Feats to accomplish such as running through a level with no damage as well as a New Game Plus mode. While there are some new caveats the second time around, the new game plus does not add much to the experience; replacing food with bombs and making enemies deal more damage. Regardless, Shovel Knight is a solid downloadable title and worth digging out your wallet to purchase.