In recent years, retro style video games have become a popular trend. Another popular trend is using Kickstarter to get funding from potential customers. Shovel Knight, by Yacht Club Games, is yet another in a long line of games that exploits these two aspects, with a humble investment price of $75,000 that brought in over $300, 000 by the campaign’s end. The action platformer takes elements from many old school games while adding new ideas with a retro twist to them, bringing the best of both worlds without many faults.
The story of Shovel Knight is as simple and straightforward as was the case with many games now considered retro. After losing his friend and potential love interest in battle, Shovel Knight gives up on adventuring. In time, a villain known as the Enchantress takes over the land with her Order of No Quarter. Shovel Knight once again takes up his shovel blade to save the land. Other than that, there’s no story to speak of except for a plot twist so obvious that players will guess it before the opening scenes of the game are finished. That being said, the plot isn’t the biggest priority in games like these.
The one thing that can make or break a game like this is the controls. If they’re just slightly off, it can ruin the experience. Thankfully, Shovel Knight’s controls are incredibly tight. Jumping, attacking, and Shovel Bouncing are responsive and easy to pull off. One of the moves players will need to master quickly is the shovel bounce. It will allow players to quickly deal with larger enemies without too much trouble, as well as allow them to access hidden parts in stages that contain more loot.
Like most old school games, Shovel Knight is filled with secrets to uncover. Certain walls can by hit to expose new areas with more treasure and collectibles. These areas also hide merchants who will sell you Relics; Shovel Knight’s version of subweapons. These powerful items all have their own magic cost to use them, much like Castlevania’s heart system. The weapons range from an amulet that temporarily protects you from all harm, to a blade that thrusts you across gaps. Every one of these Relics is incredibly fun to use and are all useful.
Another impressive feat that Shovel Knight nails is the difficulty. Most retro style games have incredibly hard and even unfair difficulty spikes. Shovel Knight has a great difficulty curve that starts off easy, and slowly ramps up to provide a great and yet fair challenge to the player. For a greater, old school challenge, players can choose to destroy checkpoints in levels to gain a lot more loot. However, if they die, then they’ll go back to the start of the level instead of the checkpoint.
Instead of collecting and losing lives, Shovel Knight uses a Dark Souls like death and recovery system. When you die, you’ll lose a random amount of loot. If you can reach the point where you died without dying again, you can claim the floating bags of loot you dropped and continue on with the level. One downside to this is that sometimes when you die, it will be impossible to collect all of the loot you’ve just dropped without killing yourself in the process again. Many times I’ve fallen down a pit, only to come back and find out that the lion’s share of my loot is right near the bottom of the screen and it’s not viable to recover it.
Players can also buy upgrades to the Shovel Blade such as being able to dig up dirt piles faster and being able to fire sparks out of it at full health. Also upgradeable is Shovel Knight’s armour, with new abilities such as dropping less loot after death, and getting rid of the dreaded knockback effect after being hit.
Levels in Shovel Knight are themed after the Order of No Quarter you are challenging. Each of these stages introduce new mechanics to make things feel fresh, however these mechanics only last for a screen, which is some wasted potential. In one level, a Relic allows you to ride over spikes and will jump gaps. It’s only really used in a two screens in the entire game, which makes it feel gimmicky.
Another downfall of the game is the final boss fight. Without going into much detail, the only way to deal damage to the final boss is with the assistance of an A.I controlled partner. Many times they wouldn’t perform the action needed to hit the boss, and resulted in not being able to hit the boss for a good portion of the fight. Even worse than this is that the same A.I is needed to avoid a few attacks that the boss throws out, and they often don’t use the action needed to avoid that attack, making the already tough boss fight more aggravating than legitimately challenging.
Shovel Knight is a fantastic game that brings the best of old school games without much of the frustrations they had.