SHARPEN THY SHOVEL
If you could choose one weapon to fight off countless enemies what would it be? The classic sword? A mighty hammer? Ever given any thought to a shovel? Well you should, because Shovel Knight is a shining example of how an unorthodox weapon can make for an extremely entertaining and challenging game!
The game starts off with our hero, Shovel Knight, and his partner in adventuring, Shield Knight, finding a magic amulet in The Tower of Fate. They quickly learn that the amulet is cursed and fall to its’ dark powers, leaving Shovel Knight awaking alone and far from the Tower Of Fate. He learns that the tower is now sealed up tight and protected by The Order of No Quarter and their leader, The Enchantress. Desperate to find his friend, he sets off on a classic adventure to defeat the Order of No Quarter and save the kingdom in the process. While this story may seem very simple, it is actually filled with clever dialogue, interesting characters and a solid plot twist to keep the player interested.
At first glance, the gameplay seems to be very simple. You have a simple short range shovel attack and the usual left, right, and jump controls. Shovel Knight also has a ton of items that he can use in battle such as fireballs, anchors, gauntlets, and even temporary invincibility. These items are scattered throughout levels in the form of a hidden merchant, as well as some items being able to be bought in town. But to add to the fun, Shovel Knight can thrust his shovel straight down while jumping, causing him to hit and bounce off of enemies below him. What could have been simply used as a gimmick move is actually necessary to get by certain areas and makes some bosses much easier. Shovel Knight can even buy new armor that gives him bonus effects, such as being able to do a special power attack after two downward thrusts or not being able to knocked back from attacks. This really adds a good amount of depth to a seemingly simple game because it gives players the option to decide how they want to play.
As with many games, you have a health bar as well as a mana bar for your items/magic. Throughout the game, you will have many chances to increase either of these, for a good amount of gold, of course. Which brings me to one of my favorite parts about Shovel Knight, gathering all that shiny gold! Enemies drop gold, gold is scattered throughout the level, and you can also dig up gold with your trusty shovel. During my playthrough, I died various times trying to get gold that I should have left behind. Which brings me to my next point in Shovel Knight, dying. You will die over and over again, but I never felt that the game was too hard or unfair. One thing to mention is that you don’t have a set amount of lives, instead when you die you lose a good chunk of your overall gold. But luckily you can get it back, if you can make it to the place you died, that is. You get a real sense of accomplishment when you finally beat that boss, or manage to barely scrape pass some of the more difficult platforming areas.
The bosses deserve their own special mention due to the extreme differences between bosses and their corresponding levels. Every boss fight and level feels unique and the environment design really fits the theme of the level’s boss. The boss fights themselves are extremely fast paced and leave little room for error. It took me a few attempts for each boss before finally bringing glorious shovel justice upon them. Each boss fight also delivers some humorous and witty dialogue that helps bring some life to the characters.
As far as the graphics and art style of the game go, let me start by saying that I am a sucker for retro graphics. Growing up, I played a handful of of SNES and Sega Genesis side-scrollers and Shovel Knight feels like it is right out of that era. Never before have I experienced such a strong feeling of nostalgia, even though I was playing a brand new game. The graphics are right up there with classics from back in the day such as the Castlevania and MegaMan series. All the levels are extremely colorful and every boss stage has an underlying theme to it. Shovel Knight is proof that a modern game does not need to have flashy 3D graphics in order for it to succeed. The audio for Shovel Knight also uses a retro style 8 bit sound track. Each stage and boss has it’s own unique music to really fit the scene.
I believe that it is safe to say that Shovel Knight is a modern classic. The controls are tight, the story is interesting enough to keep the player driving towards the end, the levels and corresponding bosses are each unique and to top it all off there is also a new game + mode to add replay value. My one and only complaint is that I wish the game was slightly longer, but here’s to hoping for a sequel!
+ Extremely well made and unique level/boss design
+ Different play styles based on armor and item preferences
+ Retro feel and nostalgia factor
+ Humorous dialogue and character interaction
+ YOUR WEAPON IS A SHOVEL
+/- Very challenging game
– Fairly short
Shovel Knight was reviewed on PC but is also available for Wii U and 3DS.