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Shovel Knight is a game that revels in the past without copying it. Elements of the 8-bit era are plentiful in Shovel Knight, but it is all remarkably original. From the faithful pixel graphics to the outstanding chiptune soundtrack, Shovel Knight is authentically original in its interpretation of the days of yore.
What I mean by that is that Shovel Knight wouldn't feel out of place on an NES cartridge. It's a game that loves the past, but is willing to do more than just acknowledge the classics. You won't find any cheeky references to Super Mario Bros. or Master Blaster. Instead you'll be treated to an amalgamation of game mechanics that work beautifully in harmony here. The Scrooge McDuck pogo jump is the main combat mechanic. There are eight themed Knights much like Mega Man's Robot Masters. There are even villages that recall Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. Using these elements, Shovel Knight makes an outstanding game that is fitting of the term modern classic.
Gameplay is the star of Shovel Knight. Everything feels very tight and controls extremely well. Challenging platforming is a test of skill as opposed to controls. In addition to the satisfying and well-tuned platforming, the combat is a lot of fun. Bouncing on adversaries heads never gets stale throughout the game, and relics like a Flare Wand and War Horn add a nice variety to every encounter. The gameplay feels amazing which is crucial for a game that is not interested in sprawling stories or complex puzzles.
I've already touched on the style of the game, but it cannot be overstated how charming and delightful the whole package appears. The pixel graphics look genuine to the 8-bit era, unlike other games that use this visual technique. The soundtrack is outstanding, with many tracks being stuck in my head after a brief moment of playing. Shovel Knight achieves what it wants to in terms of style.
Despite all of Shovel Knight's clear inspiration from the NES days, it is lacking the often insane challenge of those games. I am not a glutton for punishment, so I do not see this as a critique. But for those who are looking for a stiffer challenge, the New Game Plus is much more difficult. This is just one example of how Shovel Knight expertly mixes modern design into a game that could accurately be described as a throwback.
Shovel Knight is a game that delights on so many levels. Nostalgically, aesthetically, and with gameplay, this game kept me smiling throughout its adventure. Shovel Knight has surprised and delighted me in ways that few games can today.
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