So often today, we see many Indie Developers feel like instead of striving for realistic graphics, they take a page out of yesteryear’s games. This is the direction that Shovel Knight developers Yacht Club Games decided to take, but oh did it pay off so well. Instead of feeling like a knock off of 8-bit games from years ago, it is almost as if they meant to release this game in the heyday of gaming, but forgot until 2014.
Now, I know I am late to the party, and may possibly be one of the last people to play this piece of art, but I don’t care. I don’t even care. That’s how much fun I had with this game. From the first screen that pops up, to the title screen and beyond, you get the feel of old 8-bit style games, from the design, the level design, the character design, and even the world map. To be honest, the world map seems to pay an homage to the phenomenal title Super Mario World.
The controls are simple, as if designed for a NES, the standard directions, and two buttons. There is a main town area that allows you to buy items, increase health and magic, and other exciting things. The characters in town are fun and exciting to look at, and it matches their dialogue. I am a man of puns and jokes, and I was cheering with glee for every dig, dirt, shovel, etc. joke that come up from the random people you could talk to. Once you finish in the hub, you can adventure out into the world to save your love, Shield Knight.
The game gave me a very Mega Man feel. Each of the levels were decent in length, with each one having its own special feel. For example, in Pridemoor Keep, the stage focuses more on platforming with time based restrictions through the use of summoning books that reveal blocks that can be jumped on to progress. However, in the world of Specter Knight, some screens would be engulfed in shadows, only to be revealed by flashes of lightning. This motif would appear again during the Specter Knight fight. This brings me to the topic of bosses.
When I hear the word boss, I usually think of today’s definition of “boss.” Where they are a hit sponge, that has no true pattern, isn’t too hard, but will waste your time. That is not the case, mostly. Each boss had its own trick to survive, and its own feel, as mentioned above. You will die. A lot. But with each death, you learn the pattern and can eventually make you bring the boss to its knees, and it is satisfying. I know I spent at least thirty minutes on Plague Knight. I felt like I was losing my mind. However, the patterns became clear the more I played, and eventually I won. I literally ran around the room shrieking because of how excited I was. I can’t tell you the last time a boss fight made me do that. However, the problem is comes with part of the “hit sponge” I mentioned before. While the fights have patterns and leads to feelings of accomplishment, I feel the health may be a little too high, which leads to doing the pattern over and over again until you win. It almost has the right mixture, but falls just short of it.
Each level has its own charm, and challenge, which I enjoyed. It didn’t feel like each level was harder than the previous, just that each level had its own quirks that had to be adjusted to. While I wasn’t the best at the game, I never felt like it was unfair, which is huge when you have a game like this. There has to be a perfect balance of difficulty and fairness. This is what makes players feel accomplished. Too difficult and not fair leads to annoying fights; an easy fair fight just allows you to glance over the fight without thinking too much. Shovel Knight was the perfect mixture of these two.
As I mentioned before, I had a slight issue with the boss fights, but the most frustrating part has to be the co-op, or lack thereof, partially. I played this on Xbox One, and my buddy wanted to play too. The problem is that Yacht has only released co-op on the Wii U, and not for the game. They added co-op through the use of the Shovel Knight Amiibo. So it’s like selective DLC that not everyone can buy. That is a huge disappointment because they obviously coded it, but haven’t put it into the other titles quite yet. Hopefully soon.
What ties games like this together is what I saved for last, the music. Eargasms. That is all that happened while playing. Each level was close to, if not, perfect in its music. Each song had a similar feel, but different enough for each one to be unique: the perfect combination. To make it even better, in the main town hub, there is a bard that allows you to listen to any song you’ve heard/discovered. I found myself humming the songs multiple times when I died many times in quick succession, especially the Plague Knight boss fight. (Damn you Plague Knight.)
This game is quite possibly the closest to perfect game I have played in a while. Yes it is difficult, but it gives you that beautiful sense of accomplishment. The music is great and fits the style perfectly. It is like a really pretty present, in perfectly wrapped, but one piece of tape didn’t stick down completely.
This is why I give Shovel Knight a 9.5 out of 10.