Shovel knight may very well be the best indie game i’ve played since Guacamelee, a fantastic retro styled game which has clearly been designed from the ground up with gameplay in mind and everything else second.
Unsurprisingly, you play as Shovel Knight, on his quest to save his old partner Shield Knight, there is some vague story in there (surprisingly more than you would expect from this style of game) but for the most part the set up is kill all these bosses, then you can take on the big evil looking tower of whatever at the end – and that’s absolutely fine by me, especially in this sort of game, plot is really just kind of.. there… There are 8 bosses then, each with their own castle/dungeon area, similar to that found in the old megaman games, you have access to 2 or 3 at a time which you can beat in whatever order you want, and similar to megaman or even zelda, clearing the level will often unearth a relic which is a sub-weapon/item used by your magic gauge.
What makes shovel knight so great however is the way it seamlessly blends all of the best concepts from all of these retro games together – the world map from old games, the sub-item and magic system from castlevania, the pixel perfect platforming and boss layout from Megaman – and adds new things to the mix, health/magic and gear upgrades for money (which in turn gives value to the money found in levels), a checkpoint system which is perfectly spaced and can be disabled if you are psychotic and want extra challenge, challenge zones for extra money, roaming parties on the world map which function as additional bosses (presumedly bosses they designed but couldn’t fit in elsewhere, but i’m fine with that).
Then of course we could talk about all of the other things in the package which are done near perfectly:
– a dark souls style death system which is painful but not overly frustrating
– a difficulty level which is challenging yet never unfair (deaths will almost always be your own fault rather than the fault of the level design)
– fantastic levels which each have their own feel, enemy types and gimmicks (for example, water in treasure knights level affects the rate at which you fall/jump)
– tons of secrets in said levels, with extra difficulty rooms to challenge those who want it, but not stress those who would rather skip the challenge
– bosses which all have personality and are likable in their own regard
– funny writing and animation on side characters, as well as little entertaining things with the villagers which add nothing to gameplay, but are wonderful to see/experience (use a charge attack on the girl playing with the hoop in the town)
– Amazing chiptune soundtrack which always fits the level
– speaking of amazing, the graphics are also beautiful in their own retro fashion.
– did I mention the story actually doesn’t completely suck?
Special mention also, despite not having a single written tutorial text in the game, each level’s new mechanics (or shovel knight’s mechanics as a whole) are completely explained ingame before you are ever put in a position where it will kill you – egoraptor has a whole segment in his megaman sequelitis video where he goes over just this sort of thing, and shovel knight have nailed it – the game will constantly force you into new situations where the next big thing is explained, a perfect example can be seen in the tinker knight stage where there are striped rotating beams which you can jump off but also fall through – the first time you encounter one is literally right on top of a checkpoint, and it is impossible to get to the next screen without jumping onto it and having at least an idea of what it does.
Yacht club games? you guys are Fucking. Genius.
On some level, it’s hard to effectively convey what makes Shovel Knight so good because on a surface level, it doesn’t do anything that out of the box, however literally everything it does do has been done with such precision and care that the game feels truly refined and is an absolute joy to play because of that.
If you enjoyed megaman or castlevania back in the day, or if you enjoy video games and have 1 or more eyeballs, you owe it to yourself to give Shovel Knight a try as this is 5 hours of pure retro joy.
Approximate Game Length : 4-6 Hours
Actual Worth / Online Price: £8 / £11 = 0.72
Should you play it : Yes!