For the last several years, there’s been a renaissance of independent developers creating games with a decidedly retro aesthetic. They absolutely run the gamut in style and tone. As a child, I had an NES, so I have a predisposition toÂ being attracted to a lot of these games. Unfortunately, not all of them have much going for them outside of a visual style that harkens back to the days of cartridges and CRT televisions. But does Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight have what it takes to hold up over time?
The gameplay in Shovel Knight is pretty straight forward. Shovel Knight has a horizontal slash, which has a short reach, and a downward thrust that can be used as an attack or to bounce off of things to get to higher places. Of course, that’s just at the beginning. As I progressed in SK, I got relics that gave me special abilities, like being able to fly short distances or clear all enemies on screen quickly. None of the relics are necessary to complete the game. In fact, I often just used SK’s traditional attacks for most enemies, and just used the relics to reach treasure.
The game’s levels are spread across a map that SK can traverse. In between stages, there are plenty of diversions. It gave the world a much more dynamic feeling instead of just Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, etc. There are two villages for SK to explore with upgrades and relics to purchase. There are also little things added that I had fun just playing around wth, like the Hoop Kid in the first village. Trying to keep bouncing for as long as possible while the hoop moves. There are also extra bosses that pop up on the map to defeat, to bring a little variety to the game.
Speaking of bosses, each of the Knights of the Order of the No Quarter were fun to fight. Every single battle had a unique look as well as a way to take them down. For instance, Polar Knight used his shovel to keep SK from attacking him from the top, which is an attack that I had been heavily favoring by this point.
Yacht Club did a fantastic job with level design. The game taught me new level specific mechanics in a somewhat â€œsafe zoneâ€ to make sure I’m doing it right before moving on to the next â€œscreen.â€ Of course, the game is no pushover. On my first time playing, I died countless times, but all of the deaths were never â€œcheap.â€ It was always on me on why I died. It pushed me to keep going further and further, but never discouraging. The strange thing about the level design is how often it leads to exploration. The levels are linear with very few alternate paths, but there are so many secrets hidden within that I wanted to find everything I could.
The story was a complete, and pleasant surprise to me. It starts out as a simple â€œrescue Shield Knight plot,â€ but by the end I found myself caring for these characters. Even the Knights of the Order of the No Quarter had some character moments that felt real. Despite the melancholy ending, Shovel Knight doesn’t take itself too seriously; from silly characters to even poking fun at the Kickstarter the game had a few years ago.
The biggest draw to the game, for me, was the visual style. Yacht Club Games went with a pixelated look with a limited color palette. The game isn’t in 8-bit though. Shovel Knight does a lot of stuff that the NES couldn’t handle, but they were additions that work within this game. However, the limited color palette makes the game pop out that much more. Everything about the way the game looks works well.
To compliment the retro-chic, Yacht Club Games got with Jake â€œvirtâ€ Kaufman to compose a score that finds itself comfortable next to the visual style of Shovel Knight. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. I’ve found myself humming the game’s theme out of nowhere, which is a testament to Kaufman’s work. Of course, not only did Yacht Club get Kaufman, but they also were able to get Manami Matsumae, who did work on the original Mega Man title, for a few tracks which blew me out of the water.
The Playstation version of Shovel Knight has a few new features that are exclusive to this version. The first is Cross-Buy. Buying a copy of Shovel Knight on the Playstation 4, Playstation 3, or Vita will let you play it on any one of those systems. I alternated between playing on the PS4 and Vita myself, as I liked to play a little bit of the game before bed. You can upload your save file to the cloud and the re-download it on another one of your consoles, so you can continue your progress without having to restart every single time. Of course, the biggest addition to the game on Playstation platforms is Kratos from God of War being a boss character to fight. The fight was very unique, compared to the other boss fights, but still retained Kratos’ trademark Blades of Athena.
If my glowing review wasn’t indicative enough, I absolutely loved my time with Shovel Knight. The tight controls, the visual style, the music, the attention to detail, and the love poured into this by Yacht Club Games made this one of my favorite games in 2014 and it’s almost certain that the Playstation version will be one of my favorite games in 2015.
Shovel Knight is available on Wii U, 3DS, PC, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Vita, and will be coming to the Xbox One April 29th, 2015.