By: Jeff Cater
Though the indie scene is rampant with 8-bit games these days, the fellows over at Yacht Club Games have put together a game not only retro in visual style but gameplay as well. In Shovel Knight, you are on a quest to avenge the death of your partner, the Shield Knight, with sweet shovel justice.
Shovel Knight definitely identifies itself immediately as a retro title in its representation of controls. You may use the analog stick to move the knight around, but I found it much more applicable and responsive to use the d-pad. Pressing “X” will swing your shovel, which is good for the destruction of enemies and the environment alike.
To use your selected magical power (which can be selected via the view button), you hold up while pressing X, and the appropriate action, which can be contextual with certain items, will be performed. If you find yourself falling from any height you can simply hold down and you will descend at a greater pace with your shovel in a piercing position. This is a very handy thing to practice because the game will expect you to master the art of the down Jump early on.
Yacht Club made excellent use of the limited colors and animations that are expected of retro platformer. On your journey of vengeance you will encounter a gigantic variety of NPC and enemy types, all fitting of their equally varied environments.
Each of the Knights responsible for the death of Shield Knight has a stage that represents their unique personality. For example, the King Knight has a regal, traditional castle, whereas the Polar Knight has a frosted, glacial castle with a finale at what looks like The Northern Lights. Altogether it has a great aesthetic, fitting on any device you choose to play it on.
What would a retro title be without some tunes of the era? Shovel Knight mainly has “plinks” and “bloops” for interactions, but the music for each and every stage is done phenomenally! It’s likely that many of these chiptune masterpieces will get stuck in your head, and with hidden tracks scattered about you can unlock music from your favorite levels for the minstrel NPC to play back in the village.
First and foremost, Shovel Knight is a difficult game from the get-go. Not only are you expected to master complex jump puzzle mechanics very early on, but you have to do it while fighting enemies and figuring out their patterns.
After a little progression, you will earn treasure that can be exchanged for additional life bars or maxing out your mana pool. Treasure may also be spent on a variety of items (that draw their uses from your mana), such as a green bouncing chaos ball or a cloak of invisibility.
In order to maximize your treasure income and best prepare yourself for challenges ahead, you must try to fully exploit every inch of any given stage because hidden paths can be located by breakable walls or even false floor tiles. Embedded chunks of rock on the floor or the walls can yield good findings as well.
This treasure can come at a high price, however, as the enemies are extremely unforgiving, especially early on. Also, you will drop a high amount of your gathered loot if you die at any point in the stage. Upon restarting from a recent checkpoint, you must fight your way back to your loot bags to reclaim them. If you die before you collect, kiss them goodbye!
Soon after becoming a master of shovel mechanics and earning certain upgrades, the game does in fact become much easier, specifically the boss fights. What does retain its freshness and challenge is the level design. There are plenty of frustrating stage elements that feel like cheap shots, but once get past that moving platform or spike pit and reclaim your loot, you get a surge of adrenaline and confidence like no other to just keep pushing on.
Now available on both Xbox One and PlayStation Network, Shovel Knight is a challenging experience that will constantly throw new concepts and mechanics at you; all while still retaining the classic feel for its duration.