Kickstarter success stories are, unfortunately, more rare than stories of unmet goals and discontinued projects. Even when these publicly funded projects make their monetary goals, the end product still can turn out less polished then what was originally intended. Thankfully, this simply isn't the case with Shovel Knight. Developer Yacht Club Games not only made a remarkable title based on its own merits, but it also stands tall with some of gaming's most iconic franchises from a bygone era as an instant classic. It delivers on all fronts and the game is gripping from beginning to end.

 

Shovel Knight is based off of games from a time when companies like Nintendo and Sega ruled the console landscape. It has a world map like in Super Mario Bros. 3, town and level navigation from The Legend of Zelda II, gameplay concepts from the likes of Castlevania and Ducktales, and sublime boss and level design reminiscent of Mega Man games. All these distinct elements combined make a singular experience that is a joy to play that is filled with content and variety the entire way through the 5-8 hours necessary to beat the game (even more so if you play new game +).

 

The games that this retro throwback takes inspiration from are also infamous for their high difficulty and level of challenge. While Shovel Knight is no slouch in this department, it certainly turns the dial back enough for it be just challenging enough to be engaging, as opposed to being impossible to play. Those looking for a greater challenge, fear not. When you complete the game once, you have the option to start a new game + mode that allows for a higher difficulty setting while you retain all of your upgrades and items from the previous playthrough. The developer should be applauded for accomplishing the difficult task of making a game that is accessible for all players of varying skill levels.

 

The Grizzled Seer's words sums up just what makes Shovel Knight such a joy to play. Every defeat is a learning experience and every victory is sweeter for it. 

 

 

The main game is difficult, but it is more challenging and fair rather than unforgiving and punishing. It's all thanks to the way the player is taught how to use certain mechanics based on level design that teaches as you play. The game rewards clever experimentation of its mechanics to reach your goals, unlock hidden secrets and earn more gold. Each level is implemented with a checkpoint system and there are no set amount of lives to be lost. There is no game over screen or starting over from the beginning. The penalties for dying are not too steep and allow the player to jump right back into the action immediately so there is no loss of momentum. The only hindrance that comes with death is the potential loss of gold. Upon dying, your character will release flying bags with gold in them that can be recovered to reclaim whatever was lost. Die again before reaching any bags and that money is lost forever. This allows the player more freedom to explore the environment and not be afraid of daunting challenges as the punishment is not excruciating and the damage can be undone. If anything, it encourages the player to learn from their mistakes and try again to gain the satisfaction of outsmarting the game itself. It is highly rewarding to try a section or boss fight again after being defeated by it and can encourage sessions that last longer than intended with the hook of "just one more try" until they get past the point that was troubling them.

 

It should also be stated that the game is gorgeous with its colorful and pixelated style. It can coax a feeling of familiarity with its style while feeling like a fresh creation with the amount of detail in its backgrounds and character models. The soundtrack is also worth noting as each stage has its own theme and all of them are pure chiptune gold. Nothing stood out as being garish or unpleasant. Its all a delight to behold and experience.

 

Simply put the game is an absolute treat to play. I mention all these other titles that it takes influence from, but there is no need to have played them in the first place. By combining so many elements from some of the best games ever made, it could have been easy for this game to be simply derivative, however thanks to the developer's willingness to take a chance and incorporate only the best elements of those past titles with none of their flaws, it feels fresh and invigorating by mixing the old with the new. The game is enjoyable on many levels because it gets everything it sets out to do right and it does it with such confidence that it can be a magical and enthralling experience. You can do a lot worse for 10-15 dollars and this game is definitely one of the best things you can do with that money. Don't miss out on this fantastic journey. 

 

9/10