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Shovel Knight Review

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I grew up playing games on the NES and that’s where I have a lot of nostalgia. Now with the resurgence of these games we have an ocean of indie pixel platformers to choose from. Taking inspiration from the classics, Shovel Knight offers a great blend of new and old mechanics giving an even fresher take on the genre.

Can You Dig It?

Shovel Knight and Shield Knight were the best heroes in all of the land. When the heroes arrived at the Tower of Fate, a cursed amulet knocked them unconscious. When Shovel Knight awoke Shield Knight was gone. Shovel Knight was traumatized after this event and went into a life of solitude. With Shovel Knight gone, The Enchantress and her Order of No Quarter were free to run rampant. Shovel Knight notices this evil and seeks to return to the Tower of Fate to avenge his missing love.

Shovel Knight story

What’s nice here is that the story never intrudes on the gameplay. Sure, before fighting a boss there is occasional banter with one liners. The town’s people are expressive and give great hints for helping you become better at the game. Some of the interactions truly made me chuckle the first time I read them. Certain words also wiggle or bounce for emphasis making the characters have more of a personality. What works best here is that there isn’t some kind of overarching grandiose story. Just good old fashion beat the bad guys because they’re bad.

I Dig.

Shovel Knight is a cross between Mega Man, Castlevania, Duck Tails, and a little bit of Zelda 2. You may think borrowing ideas from all of these games makes Shovel Knight derivative but that’s not the case. Shovel Knight combines all of these elements into an excellent 8-bit classic. Shovel Knight’s platforming will test your quick problem solving skills and reaction speed. Shovel Knight introduces you to a basic mechanic that will be used throughout the level. For example, lightening plays a huge roll on Specter Knight’s stage. Certain platforms are hidden by the darkness and you need to time your jumps with the lightning strikes. Then when you think you’ve mastered it, the platforms are moving and enemies are hidden by the night sky. Shovel Knight is always throwing something new at you and keeps you guessing making every stage feel different.

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Shovel Knight falls in between Mega Man and Castlevania with enemy placement and overall movement. You’re not blasting away a ton of foes and you’re not systematically disposing of enemies to make that jump easier. You are taking out enemies here or there then jumping across multiple platforms. Shovel Knight is not as rigid as Mega Man and not as stiff as your favorite Belmont. You are usually in control of Shovel Knight but the biggest issue I ran into was using the downward stab. The physics felt a bit off. Like my character just gained a lot of weight, giving me a slight feeling of losing control. As you progress through the game you get used to how it works but there is a problem. In order to break the downward stab you simply can’t let it go. In other words you are committed to that movement and can’t change your mind. This often lead me diving into pits which wasn’t my intention or accidently breaking vital blocks and losing my footing. These sometimes felt like cheap deaths.

Gold management is another important aspect in Shovel Knight. In the early game you must choose between either upgrading your health or total magic points. It has taken inspiration from current rouge likes, because when you fall in battle you drop a certain amount of gold. In order to get this gold back you need to run to where you died. If you happen to die on your way to get your gold then say goodbye to that dropped gold. One stage I died about 15 times and I ended up losing a good chunk of change which led to less upgrades. There are plenty of checkpoints in each level but there’s a slight twist to them. You can break the checkpoint to get the treasure within but once you do then that checkpoint is gone and you will have to settle respawning at the next closest checkpoint.

Shovel Knight ice

Relics give Shovel Knight special abilities that covers projectiles to even a fishing rod. Some of the my favorites include a bracelet that makes you invincible for about three seconds for those difficult jumps. Another is the fire wand which acts like a projectile to take out enemies from a far. You can also buy these chalices that let you pick two different effects. One turns the player invulnerable for 10 seconds and the other refills your health to full. These items are one time use per level and can be replenished whenever you go back to the pond. I found these power-ups to be way too strong in the game and made bosses a push over.

Another thing I want to point out is the difficulty curve in the game. Overall the game felt well balanced, but on certain stages the difficulty was all over the place. One screen I would just blaze past then the next screen would be filled with pits, flying enemies, and spikes all over the walls. Near the end it tests everything you have learned and those where the toughest stages in the game. After it was all said and done I managed to finish the game in just under five hours. Completing the game unlocks New Game+. You get to carry over all of your upgrades and items plus the game is much harder. The only thing I could tell from New Game+ is that I was taking more damage and enemies received the same amount of hits before they perished. Leaving me with no incentive to play the game again.

Graphics & Audio

Shovel Knight is a complete throwback to the 8-bit NES era. The pixel art and animations are some of the best we’ve seen in these types of games. Sure the game uses more colors and frames of animation than the NES could handle but that doesn’t take away from the experience. Each stage is crafted so well it brings back that sense of accomplishment when you make it to the end of the stage and beat the boss.

 

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In Tinker Knight’s level there are spinning gears and tools everywhere. Plague Knight has one of my favorite stages with flashing neon lights, bubbles, and flasks spread out in various places. Shovel Knight’s music also sticks with 8-bit chip tunes. These songs reminded me of Mega Man and kept me humming them long after play was over.

Wii U Features

Shovel Knight offers basic off TV play that one comes to expect with most Wii U games. The gamepad allows you to quick select inventory items on the gamepad. Most of the time I found myself pausing the game to select my items, so this really didn’t help me out. At the current time you can only play Shovel Knight on Nintendo platforms and PC.

Conclusion

Shovel Knight is simply one of the best platformers I’ve ever played. Its gameplay is finely tuned offering tons of variety per stage. It manages to combine all of these game elements so well it was hard to put down and kept me coming back for more. Yacht Club Games really ran with the 8-bit style and showed their labor of love for pixel art and tight gameplay. If you’re looking for a fresh platformer to play then dig up Shovel Knight. This is the best Mega Man game you’re going to play for a long time.

Score: 8.5/10

Pros

+ Excellent 8-bit aesthetics
+ Great variety between levels

Cons

– Uninspired use of the GamePad
– Balance doesn’t stay consistent

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  • jjbredesen

    Thats it i am buying it! Great review :D

    • DodoEgg

      Don’t, just play old NES games, you’ll get the exact same feeling

      • Epicstuf

        Shut Up.

      • Daniel Gonzalez

        Of course, but that’s the point. It brings back old memories. You can play plenty of old NES games, but you can’t play Shovel Knight on your NES.

      • jjbredesen

        I have played a lot of NES games in my life, and they are not Shovel Night :P All games give different experiances.

  • Stuart Thomas

    I bought this game the day of it’s release, i found it challenging and satisfying. Although i hated getting through the level with a lot of gold and then losing it due to countless mistakes in a specific jump or gold bag that was too near spikes. But thats the challenge right? So i found myself using the red armor first of all to limit my losses in gold, i’m still only 4-5 levels in so i may not have experienced the whole game, but i love it! Its frustrating but satisfying, with all the technological advances in computers and consoles, capturing the essence of a good game is hard. Yacht Club Games did a great job and its worth the money.

  • greengecko007

    A good review. There’s some points I don’t fully agree with, but that’s perfectly fine. Shovel Knight is a great game and I hope it finds support on Nintendo consoles. It seems to be doing pretty well on Steam even with the Summer sales going on.

    • Daniel Gonzalez

      I think it’s 16th of top sellers at the moment. I’d say it did quite well. Steam users have good taste. I hope it goes all on platforms soon. Everyone should experience it.

      • Yen

        Everyone can experience it. They just have to get it on Steam or get a Wii U/3DS. ;)

        • Daniel Gonzalez

          It’s likely to release on other platforms in the near future. So those who want it on a specific platform, will probably just wait it out.

          • Yen

            Just saying they don’t have to wait to experience it if they don’t want to.

          • Daniel Gonzalez

            Gotcha. Already have it on Steam and 3DS. Most compare it to NES, but I do see Sega Master System in it too(if anyone remembers that console).

          • TheRealTruthTeller

            The games good, but it would have abysmal sales on the brobox one or the playwithyourselfstation 4, you know… they need those HQHD 1080P 60FPS CALL OF DUTY 9000+1

          • Daniel Gonzalez

            Need some new material, Davey boy.

          • Hikingguy

            Are there really people who don’t know what the Master System is?

          • Daniel Gonzalez

            Hard to say. It’s rarely mentioned.

          • Hikingguy

            I guess now that you say that, growing up the Master System was part of my life, but I never had the passion for it like I had compared to the NES or the Genesis/MegaDrive.

          • greengecko007

            I don’t know about near future, but yeah, I think if they are able Yacht Club Games has every intention of putting this game on as many platforms as possible. I think their priorities right now are to get rewards delivered to their fundraisers, patch the game’s few hiccups, add the stretch goal content in updates, and obviously let the game sell.

          • Daniel Gonzalez

            I think it depends on how many fans ask for it on other platforms. If there’s plenty of demand, then I don’t see why they wouldn’t. For now, yeah, they’re going to focus on the platforms they’re on at the moment.

  • BIG Franky

    should how the gamepad is utilized be incorporated into a game review? I’m not sure I think so… not all games have this feature incorporated, and it shouldn’t necessarily be a knock against them. do we hold all games to this standard? no… and we shouldn’t… so I’m not sure it works here. especially for a game that is designed as a throwback to the NEW era. it just seems like a lazy critique that doesn’t work. FAIL.

    • greengecko007

      I respect the viewers opinion, and actually agree that I found it more convenient to pause the game to switch relics, but I don’t feel that it’s a great criticism. I think we should expect Nintendo games to use the gamepad, since it’s their product, but I don’t think it’s fair to expect a multiplatform, $15 indie game that is trying to be a retro throwback to come up with some innovative gamepad uses.

    • Jessey

      The feature is there for them to utilize. If it’s just a blank screen then no, but if they make any effort to implement a feature into the gamepad, then sure.

  • abe

    wish i could be playing this but for some reason the whole of the EU is a shovel no zone

  • JohnJBanks

    Most of the time I found myself pausing the game to select my items, so this really didn’t help me out. At the current time you can only play Shovel Knight on Nintendo platforms and PC. num.to/427-837-276-945

  • Kevin James McAllister

    The gamepad utilization was all that it should have been. It gave you a different way to change relics and allowed remote play. The game was developed to be just like an NES game, so any extravagant use of the gamepad would have betrayed that. This game came to the Wii U, but that doesn’t mean it’s an exclusive that must make full use of the gamepad. That’s a really bizarre thing to list as a con on the review summary at the bottom.

    As far as balance not being consistent, I think you’re phrasing is misleading. You say in the review proper that you simply mean between screens (which of course you won’t have every screen harder than the last), but the review summary implies the whole game has inconsistent balance, which I strongly disagree with.

    The game, for what it is, deserves at least a 9, in my opinion.

  • majora :D

    There’s a small mistake here. The way you describe the downward thrust sounds like you can’t cancel it, which you can by attacking. I’m not sure if you mean it is hard to cancel or if you didn’t knew it can be canceled, but that little bit of info is a bit misleading at best, or totally wrong at worst. Other than that, great review.

  • anthony optimo

    Shovel Knight 3D world: The Sequel

  • Stephen Macneil

    Uninspired use of the gamepad? Give me a break. This game deserves nothing less than a 9, it shouldn’t be knocked for being ported to the Wii U and not using the gamepad. This is about gameplay.

    • DodoEgg

      This game is so overrated. I just played it. It’s a NES game, so it comes with all the flaws. The difficulty is high, but cheap so it’s just frustrating, all the boss battles are basically the Hell boss from Super Meat Boy (see JonTron’s 6 horrible boss battles). NES games had to put difficulty to impossible heights so that their game lasts longer, Shovel Knight does the same, except that it could do so much more if the developers weren’t so lazy. This game is clearly made for the small amount of people who hate their lives now so they want to play NES games again, so they play Shovel Knight.

      I wish I hadn’t bought this pile of trash. It looks and plays like a NES game, so what? What makes Shovel Knight special, the fact that it copies from games released over 20 years ago, but apparently that’s fine because this game is just nostalgia condensed into a dildo and shoved into your anus, so only a few weirdos will love it, the rest just want the real thing.

      • Stephen Macneil

        It’s not even that hard, what are you talking about? Also, I don’t think you know what cheap death is. If you die in shovel knight, it’s the player’s fault. The controls are spot on. Another point, this game will be a huge hit and potential GOTY, so it’s not just a few people buying it.

      • Epicstuf

        Wow. Average COD fanboy reply

      • RyuNoHadouken

        in other words: you suck at it?

      • Jonathan Robitaille

        lol at the response from the fanboys. I agree, this game is a bit overrated. It’s a really well done game. I like it a lot. However, people are getting a little out of hand with throwing around game of the year declarations. I’m playing Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze right now as well and there really is no comparison. If Shovel Knight gets a 9 than DK is a 10. SK is great for what it is but it does not compare to present day quality. If this had come out in 1987 I could see it gaining a following and having numerous sequels with each getting better and better until you get to present day. But as it stands, there is way too much hyperbole going on with this game. I highly recommend you buy it. It is too expensive I feel but if it gets into the single digits it is almost a must buy. I got it to support 3rd parties on the Wii U.

        • palomino blue

          DK was a $60 game and this came out for $15. I think the price is right where it should be. I agree that it can’t compete with the level of detail in modern games but $15 for you get is worth it.

      • FoxMulder900

        I literally found no flaws in this game that are typical of NES flaws, slowdowns, sprite flickering, non-existent. It definitely is not just a copy of an NES game, it refines every aspect that it borrows from the days of old.

      • BIG Franky

        shut your mouth TROLL…. your comments are proof that you haven’t even played it, as the game’s difficulty is one of its very few flaws… it is a little too easy. go back to your mother’s basement and cry yourself to sleep at night… pathetically sad knowing you will die a virgin and you blame yourself for daddy running off with another man becuz he hated you…

      • David Trail

        Go play Watch Dogs. I heard that game is a masterpiece.

        Shovel Knight > most multiplats

      • Madmagican

        So it’s bad because you’re unskilled in platformers? XD

        Every death in the game is purely your fault and yours alone.

    • palomino blue

      Agreed. Using the gamepad for inventory is fine. Nintendo has failed to implement the gamepad better on most games. I also think it’s the best miiverse integration I’ve seen so far. I love being able to post from the diary. Really cool.

  • Rinslowe

    Whoa. I feel like I’ve been Shovel Knighted. Is that subliminal? I now have the word etched in my brain. No, blunt force trauma seems more appropriate. Quite a few mentions to the title in there.
    :)

    Seriously though, I like seeing reviews here. It’s grand…
    Cheers.

    • Daniel Gonzalez

      I’m really diggin’ it.

      • Rinslowe

        So it’s fair to say there’s no shovel-ware to be found here?

        • Daniel Gonzalez

          Personally speaking? I’d say that Yacht Club Games took their time with it and delivered a solid game. I love the irony of the game’s title since around the net, this game has been called shovelware before. Wouldn’t be surprised if the developers purposely named it accordingly.

          • Rinslowe

            That’s deep.
            :)
            Are we still playing?

            Diggin
            Shovel ware
            Deep

            Sure there’s a few others left…

          • Daniel Gonzalez

            Nothing really comes to mind….but something will pop up during the knight.

          • Rinslowe

            I’m sure that whatever comes to mind will be… ground breaking.

          • Cdwoods

            I gotta say, I’m really diggin’ all these puns.

  • disqus_QNIAqtNpHo

    9.5/10 in my opinion

  • Epicstuf

    Let’s see how many puns we can rack up. I’m really DIGging this game!

  • https://marvel.com/universe/Moon_Knight Moon Knight

    Uninspired use of the Gamepad? It’s not an original Wii U game. It also has to run on the 3DS and Steam. What did you expect? Not every Wii U game needs to make tremendous use of the gamepad. Not every DS game made tremendous use of the touch screen, and that’s ok. Did Super Mario 3D World include any inspired use of the gamepad? No it did not, and that’s ok.

  • Darkness

    Hopefully this is a free game or something you can win from that stupid club toddler. Nintendo can waste of bunch of time with old outdated games but can’t fix the game that’s supposed to save the Weak U. Mario Kart 8 has so many flaws it’s not even funny!
    http://www.change.org/petitions/nintendo-fix-battle-mode-in-mario-kart-8

    • Stephen Severino

      Suicide is a good option for you.

      • Darkness

        I’ll pass

        Thanks

        • Epicstuf

          Don’t pass.

          Thanks.

    • superhatlessmario2 .

      You realize this game isn’t made by Nintendo, right? They aren’t using any of their time on this. I also don’t see how this game is outdated seeing that the design of the game was an artistic choice made by the developer, not due to limitations of the game or the hardware.

      • Darkness

        I had no idea, all I know is the game looks like something I seen in an arcade back in the late 80’s. Looks extremely boring as well.

        Thanks for the correct info :)

    • Vile-Okami

      Wow. You’re a fucking idiot.

      • Darkness

        Was that all you could come up with high hair legend? It’s not my fault Nintendo caters to the bed wetter like yourself

        • Vile-Okami

          It was concise and to the point. All I needed to say. Not sure why you think Nintendo would give out someones game for free, especially when it’s more fun than anything that’s been put out on my other two consoles lately.

  • james

    Too many of these indie games are using these 8 bit sprite graphics because they are easier and cheaper to create. Its a step backwards.

    • MerryBlind .

      What do you want them to do? They’re indie developers a.k.a no funding. Obviously they’ll take the easy and cheap way out. Perfectly legit in my book.

    • Jeff Jackson

      I see your point but if I may it is suppose to bring nostalgia as they call it to older players personally I wasn’t born when the NES and SNES so I feel kinda left out not many 10 to12 year olds know what those are sorry if I came up as rude or offending in any type of manner.

    • Stephen Severino

      I’ve played it. There’s nothing in the game that suggests Yacht Club lacks talent, knowledge, or creativity. They made a retro game because they wanted to make one. Game development is an art form. We don’t criticize musicians when they bring in styles and influence from past decades, and we shouldn’t do it to game studios.

  • http://nintendopapercraftvideos.wordpress.com/ Sam

    It looks like a very good game. Everyone on Miiverse is talking about it.

  • http://www.gamesobscura.com/ themizarkshow

    I love it and am playing on 3DS. It’s great for playing in-between meetings at work, downtimes while out and about, or while sitting on the couch watching TV.

    Having the off-screen option with WiiU is great, but unless it can work miles away from my house, it’s not gonna be played half as much as a portable version.

  • Jackson Cota

    Just picked up the game and I think I would give it a 9.5/10!