First of all:
Because this is the freaking FIRST TIME that I’m writing an actual game review. I did write about games and game news, but I didn’t actually write a review. I know I promised to write a review about Hyrule Warriors and Smash Bros 3DS, and they’re coming! I’m aiming for next week and the week after ;).
So Shovel Knight. It’s out in the US for 3DS and Wii-U for a couple of months now, but Europe only got the Steam Version. That is, up until last week. Since I prefer console gaming to pc gaming, I decided to wait for the Wii-U version. Last week’s Nintendo Direct announced that Shovel Knight would be available in the Nintendo e-shop shortly after the broadcast (and SURPRISE: freaking Majora’s freaking Mask freaking 3D was announced, but that’s not what this article is about).
Shovel Knight is an indie game developed with the help of Kickstarter. It fits in the current indie game trend, and qualitatively, it fits right in between Fez, Super Meat Boy, and even Minecraft. Because Shovel Knight is GOOD. Shovel Knight is a retro platformer game, much like Mega Man. For those who are unfamiliar with the platformer genre: it’s a side scrolling perspective where you usually walk from the left side of the screen to the right side of the screen, jumping on platforms (hence the name) and killing enemies.
The story starts with the introduction of Shovel Knight. (S)he (gender is unknown) and his/her friend Shield Knight are the best knights in the world and live a happy knight life. But Shield Knight is kidnapped and was taken to the Tower of Fate. Shovel Knight couldn’t rescue her and lived his/her life in despair afterwards. But suddenly, the Enchantress takes over the world with the help of other knights: the Order of No Quarter. The Tower of Fate is now unsealed which means that Shovel Knight can save Shield Knight.
This is where your adventure begins. You navigate through a map a la Super Mario Brothers 3, with levels a la Megaman (and many other platformers) and villages a la Zelda 2. Each level has a different theme, linked to the Knight who is the final boss of each respective level. To name a few: there is a laboratory level where you have to defeat the Plague Knight, an ice level where you have to defeat the Polar Knight and a castle themed level where you have to defeat the King Knight. In these levels, you collect gold which you can use to buy mana, heart, armor, and weapon upgrades in the villages.
Speaking of weapons: Your weapon is a shovel. You can use this shovel not only to attack enemies, but also to dig up treasure and break down secret walls. You can also use it as a pogo stick to bounce and damage enemies. Each level has it’s own unique mechanics, which you will discover if you play the game. This means that each level feels genuinely unique and the game does not feel repetitive at any point. There are also some kind of ‘random events’: enemy icons appear on the map which enables you to play a mini-level or defeat a boss, which is a good opportunity to earn more gold.
As previously stated, gold is important in this game because you need it to buy upgrades. Every time you die, in stead of losing a ‘life’ or getting the game over screen, you’ll lose gold. You get a chance to get the gold back if you return at the place where you died. This sometimes causes dilemmas: will you return to a dangerous place to get the gold back but risk losing even more gold or do you just ignore it and progress further trough the level? Each level has 5 save points where you return to when you die. Another interesting mechanic is that you have the opportunity to destroy those save points for more gold, but then you’ll lose the save point and are send back in the level even further when you die.
This game has an amazing learning curve. Each mechanic and level is build in a way that it is self-explanatory, so there are no annoying tutorials. Some passages or final bosses may seem impossible at first, but with practice and trying over some times, you’ll get increasingly better. So this game may seem hard at some points, especially if you’re not used to playing platformers, but you’ll learn fast and it won’t happen that you’re stuck at one particular point for several days.
This game is made to look like it could’ve been released on the NES. But don’t be fooled by that: it looks amazing! The pixel art is beautiful and the bright colors just make me feel… happy. The music is also amazing. Speaking of music, music sheets are collectibles in this game. They’re usually hidden behind secret walls.
When you finish the game, there is a second mode unlocked called New Game Plus. All the upgrades you bought in your previous play trough will be carried over, but enemies are twice as strong and there will be less checkpoints. There are also achievements in this game, called feats. Some achievements will be very easy and you’ll almost get them by default (spend 25000 gold, compete the game), and others are nearly impossible (complete the game within 1,5 hours, complete a the game while destroying all checkpoints). This gives the game a high replay value.
There is a lot more I can tell about Shovel Knight, but to be honest, I’m only halfway trough the game and I want to play further. I really recommend this game, even if you’re casual gamer or if you’re not a gamer at all. It’s really accessible without being too easy. Since I haven’t finished the game yet, I can’t give a grade though, but it will be between an 8/10 and a 10/10.
Shovel Knight is available on Steam, 3DS and Wii-U for €15,-.
(note that the music in the trailer is not actual in-game music)