I fucking love Shovel Knight!
Not only is it a game that lived up to the massive hype that preceded it, but also one of the few that I’ve played in the past few years in which I had to stop myself mid-game, and process just how much fun I was having. I don’t like using the term “perfect” when describing a game, because no game is really flawless – but Shovel Knight is probably the closest thing to a perfect game I’ll ever get to play.
During the Rebel Roundtable: Our Favourite Video Game Trailers, I briefly touched upon what I enjoyed about the game, based on my expectations from the trailer. So with that in mind, I’ve decided to write a proper review, because I think the game deserves one.
Shovel Knight was developed by Yacht Club Games after a very successful Kickstarter campaign, proving that you can accomplish something useful with crowd funding – other than potato salads. While originally released for the PC via Steam, it got ported to every current-gen console and handheld. Some of these ports got sweet bonuses, such as the option to fight the Battletoads on the Xbox One version. As a sucke…I mean, well-researched consumer, I bought several of these ports, and enjoyed them all immensely.
As the eponymous Shovel Knight, your duty is to traverse the land, fighting monsters, digging up treasure, and stopping the Knights of the Order of No Quarter as you make your way to the Tower of Fate, so that you can put an end to the Enchantress’ tyranny. You are also risking life and limb, hoping to figure out what happened to your friend, Shield Knight, who disappeared the last time you entered the Tower of Fate.
On your journey, you will encounter some delightfully odd characters. One such character is the Troupple King, who looks like a fish crossbred with an apple. His purpose is to dance for you, and give you magic ichors (potions) to aid in your quest. Another one of my favourites is Croaker, a talking frog who is a master of puns.
This game is a lot of fun because the controls are tight and very responsive. Shovel Knight moves at just the right pace – not too slow or too fast. I have fallen into pits, but those were errors on my part, typically when I misjudged the distance to a ledge, or I forgot to mind those enemies with propellers. I will admit that the water physics are a bit wonky – not so much because you can jump higher (Mega Man also could in the same environment), more so because your movement isn’t really hindered all that much. I do love how you can use the shovel as a pogo stick to bounce off enemies, and reach high ledges.
Instead of relying on lives, Shovel Knight will penalize you when you die by taking a portion of your gold. You are given the chance to get your gold back that you lost…unless you die again before obtaining it – then it’s gone forever. I have actually lost gold permanently in my many playthroughs, and every time it was extremely frustrating.
Every piece of music in this game is excellent, and each one complements the stage where they are placed perfectly. For example, while you are diving into the depths of the Iron Whale, the music conveys a feeling of sunken exploration, coupled with a dreaded unseen threat from the deep, waiting to strike! My favourite is “High Above the Land,” because it’s so energetic and uplifting; seeing as how this track plays when you’re climbing an airship, it’s very appropriate.
The boss fights are a great challenge, because they can adapt their patterns based on how you attack and move. The most notable example of this is Treasure Knight, who has multiple ways of attacking you, and moves surprisingly fast. He is one of my favorite bosses to fight, even though he can be a pain in the ass. If you can beat him without getting hit, then you’re a better player than I am. Congratulations.
Now, I will get back to my review, if that’s all right with you.
I originally stated in my contribution to the Rebel Roundtable that the graphics are pixelated perfection. After many months, I still stand by that remark. Even though the art style is heavily influenced by NES games, such as Zelda II and Mega Man, it is not limited to the Nintendo’s hardware. This allows the game to have wonderful additions such as an extended color palette, and the liberal use of parallax scrolling (the ability to shift different layers of the screen at different rates).
I also really like what they did with the armor system in this game. Traditionally, different armors meant different defense stats. In Shovel Knight though, you can buy different armors, but they each grant unique bonuses. The Final Guard, for example, ensures that you don’t drop as much gold when you die, while the Conjurer’s Coat increases your magic and allows you to harvest magic from defeated enemies, but it decreases your defense as a trade-off.
My one complaint about the game is that the cost for all the items, armors and shovel upgrades is not really that expensive once you factor in all the treasure you can get throughout a single playthrough. Granted, there is an achievement for having more than 50,000 gold, but it is an easy achievement to get, especially if you don’t buy any items or upgrades. This could’ve been rectified by having you lose more gold when you die – or even permanently losing gold – but it’s a minor complaint from me.
If there’s one thing I really love about this game, it’s that your playthrough can be as hard, or as easy as you want it to be, especially if you want to get all the achievements (or “feats” as the game calls them). You can collect every relic and armor in the game, or be a “penny pincher” and don’t spend any money. You can take your time and play the game at your convenience, or try to finish in an hour and 30 minutes. There are many ways you can play and beat the game, making it’s replay value extraordinary.
With the recent release of the expansion campaign, Plague of Shadows, you get to play as Plague Knight. His story runs concurrently with Shovel Knight’s, adding more fun and an extra challenge to a game that was already really fun to begin with. I highly recommend that you play this amazing game. Aside from being audibly and visually excellent, the optional challenges will keep you coming back for more. It’s available on essentially everything right now, and the $15 price tag, is not too steep. So dig into this adventure today!