Shovel Knight Review: Awesomeness in spades.

It’s probably clear that I love old games by this point. I’ve played through King’s Quest 5 and we’ve talked at some length about Lost Eden. So none of this should be a shock.

What might be a little bit of a surprise, though, is that I was never a fan of consoles, growing up. I’m still not a fan, really: they’re not backwards compatible with older versions of the hardware, there’s a built-in plateau for the technology you’re buying and they’re closed systems.

So, I haven’t worried too much about console games. Oh, I’ve heard that there are some excellent titles on the market that are exclusive to those formats – nearly every Zelda has been on a Nintendo console – the Fable series is “fabled” for not being complete on PC – and it would have been fantastic for Journey to have come to more than the Playstation console, but by and large, these exclusives [a terrible idea in and of itself, as far as I’m concerned] have never swayed me. I am part of the PC Master Race and that’s all there is to it.

So, while I’ve played some older console games, my attachment to them isn’t as great as my feelings regarding PC games.

But sometimes, I’m relatively good about spotting a reasonably interesting old game and in those cases; I will make a point of trying to play that game from end-to-end.

I do like the idea that some of these game play staples keep coming around again, though. So I was genuinely pleased when Shovel Knight became available, DRM-free.

Shovel Knight is a fantastic indie success story. The idea was: take a little bit of some of the NES classics, toss them in a blender and see what comes out. The result is fairly straight-laced platformer that borrows some modern design sensibilities to make for a fantastic experience.

There are many "staples" of old NES games in Shovel Knight.  One of these is the idea of a flying fortress.  In this case, the fortress is flying into the sunset.
Sunset aboard the Propeller express

When you start the game up for the first time, it looks and behaves like a long-lost game cartridge from the late 80’s or early 90’s. The chip tune soundtrack starts up with a melody that will become – in time and depending how much you play the game – rather familiar.

And given that there’s a New Game+ here, you’re probably likely to make at least two passes. One as a regular play through and one with the difficulty setting ramped up a bit. I, of course, am not very good at this thing and a total coward, so I never did that in the three times I played through the game.

Like most room-based platformers, Shovel Knight moves from left to right, starting at the entrance of a level and moving his way to an exit. On the way, he can pogo on semi-permanent items like blocks or bubbles, as well as use the titular shovel to dig up piles of gold or to hit enemies. Some of this probably feels familiar because some of it comes directly from games like Donald Duck.

The defining factor with all platformers is how the jumping feels and – in the case of Shovel Knight, the jump action – and resulting movement in the air – is all wonderfully precise. Most of the time, you die in Shovel Knight because you did something silly.

That isn’t to say that it is all smooth sailing: Shovel Knight occasionally likes to play the “this is a pretend-old-game” card and so some of its design can be…a trifle unfair. Yes, there are pits of doom. Certainly, spikes of peril exist and if you get caught by them, monsters can end your run by pushing you off platforms, but a lot of these sins are somewhat forgivable, because the design is reasonably modern: die in a level and, instead of being sent back to the beginning, you’ll find yourself at a handy checkpoint, not so far from where you started. Since you only have one life, Yacht Club Games has included a set of chalices in the game that you can fill whenever you’re between levels. These act as “life two” and “life three” if you pick the right stuff to fill the chalices with and…filling the chalices? Well, a picture is worth a thousand words. That’s about the best way to put it.

"Extra lives" come in the form of chalices that you can buy early on.  These can be filled by ichor which can be found in stages [by fishing] or on the overworld by visiting the Troupple King.  Here is in all his glory, preparing to dance.
The troupple king! Long may his stem grow!
This is a picture of the actual dance the Troupple King does.  It is a scripted event that has "troupple" fish flying everywhere set to incredibly bizarre music.  To cap this all off, the Troupple King himself looks /incredibly/ goofy while doing it.
The Troupple King dance.

All that said, Shovel Knight is a short game. Most “casual” runs can be done in about four to six hours. Speed runs are possible and are a part of the Feat system [essentially achievements that you get for doing specific actions in-game] – there’s a bit of a subculture based around this, with times heading right into the fifty minute mark.

To do that, of course, the intrepid player will need all the tools of the trade at their disposal, from a sword that allows you to fly short distances to a coin that obliterates enemies and leaves a trail of money in it’s wake, everything is fair game to the speed-runner.

One of the little mini games you can play for mini is the alchemy game.  This is run by an especially dour character called Mona who wants you to set the score to 150 points or bust.  You play by hitting the alchemy glasses into special bits of the wall.  If you do, you gain points.
Alchemy mini game

And that’s not even really the end of it: there are mini-games and treasure coves and notes to collect. In short, Shovel Knight’s 120 megabyte package comes filled to the brim with things for the player to do.

Can I recommend it? Wholeheartedly. If you’re a fan of game history, play this game. If you’re a fan of just straight up platforming joy, pay this game. In fact, I’m just going to get it over with and say it straight out: if you’re a gamer, play this game. You’ll be so glad you did.

I did a let’s play of Shovel Knight here.