The lights are on
Each year there are a plethora of indie titles, many of them which are naturally described as “a love letter to classic gaming”. These games, like Mercenary Kings or Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Videogame, try their best to recreate the magic of the NES or SNES era. However, while these other titles attempt to mimic the unique style of these classic titles, Shovel Knight is one of the only ones able to systematically reimagine and perfect the experience. In short, Shovel Knight is a must-get if you are or have ever been a classic gamer.
Shovel Knight began as a Kickstarter campaign by Yacht Club Games in March of last year. The crowdfunding drive was immediately met with critical praise internet-wide and was quickly funded, surpassing most every stretch goal. The obvious question quickly became “Is there any way that Shovel Knight can meet the hype surrounding it?”
I’m here to answer that question today with a resounding “Yes!”
Shovel Knight is of course the tale of blue, spade-toting warrior who is pitted against the major villains of his world: The Enchantress and The Order of No Quarter. The game could easily be described as a Megaman/Metroidvania-esque platformer with a lot more up its sleeve.
While this is Yacht Club Games’ first title, they clearly are fluent in the basic mechanics of classic games and what people loved about them. For instance, just like some of the most noteworthy classics (Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man X), Shovel Knight begins with no tutorial — instead it starts with a quick story and a gameplay-centered learning experience. While most indie titles will bog you down with the “how-to’s”, Shovel Knight knows that any proper way to teach a game is done through gameplay.
This is only one way where Shovel Knight brings the best components of older games and uses them as it’s own. To name a few extra, the game utilizes overworld maps (Super Mario World), unique collectable weapons (Legend of Zelda and Metroid), hidden secrets and areas scattered throughout every area (Castlevania), and systematic weapon and armor upgrades (Megaman X). While I can go on for more than an hour about this, I would recommend you take a swing at the game and test it out yourself.
While Yacht Club Games has been able to meticulously pick out the best characteristics of old titles, they have also reimagined the “classic gaming” experience to near perfection. Instead of having stock lives and game over screens, Shovel Knight takes the modern approach (best described as Rayman Legends meets Dark Souls) where dying is a mere inconvenience — sending you back to the last checkpoint and momentarily docking your collection of jewels unless you are able to get back to the same point and collect them. This acts as a perfect way to constantly keep gameplay rolling while still incentivizing players to stay alive.
Additionally, the gameplay mechanics of the game are spot on. I am a big critic of platformers with poor mechanics (I’m looking at you Donkey Kong Country Returns: Tropical Freeze and LittleBigPlanet), however Shovel Knight’s mechanics feel fluid from the get-go. Within minutes of picking up a controller, classic and casual gamers alike will instantly understand what each control does and how to use it.
Last but not least, I would be remiss without mentioning that Yacht Club Games know how to fully utilize achievements. “But Lou!” you say, “Nintendo platforms don’t have achievements!” Doesn’t matter — Yacht Club Games made sure to add a “Feats” checklist to every version of the game which are unlockable, despite overarching achievement/trophy support. Further, these feats help to incentivize new play styles instead of acting as mere benchmarks of progress in the game.
The game is worth checking out for more reasons that I can name: pristine level design, the constant awful puns, the beautiful sprite models, the randomly occurring events in the overworld. As I mentioned before, I could go on for hours.
If you are looking for which system to get this Indie title on, I highly recommend the Wii U. While I played the game on all three platforms (Wii U, 3DS, and PC), the Off-TV play, seamless framerate, quick-select of options, multi-controller support, and Miiverse support [will update as it becomes available] makes it easily the best experience. While the 3DS supports StreetPass Battle Arena and a 3D experience, it doesn’t ever seem better than the PC version. No matter what system you pick up Steam Knight on, you are guaranteed a great experience.
Yacht Club Games has proven that they are more fluent in both classic and current game mechanics than most other developers. Shovel Knight not only acts as a love letter to classic gaming, but also the perfection of it. Whether you enjoy indie titles or not, the $15 price tag is well worth the 10-15+ hour experience. This game carries my highest recommendation: go get it!
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.
Lou Contaldi is MONG’s Nintendo Specialist and senior editor. In his off time, he enjoys being aggressively mediocre at Hearthstone. You can follow his incoherent ramblings at Twitter.
This review is based on a game that was independently purchased at full retail price along with review copies for the other systems. The reviewer has played 10-12 hours of this game on all three platforms.
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