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Shovel Knight review

Excellent
AT A GLANCE
  • Nostalgic art style
  • Unique stages and bosses
  • Lots of extras on the world map
  • Occasionally feeling overpowered

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the team at Yacht Club Games has crafted a loving tribute to the classic NES Mega Man titles with Shovel Knight. It’s a journey through totally unique stages topped off by one-of-a-kind bosses, with fun power-ups and platforming along the way. And it’s a journey through retro nostalgia, reminding us of a time when games and stories were simple yet fun.

The tale begins with Shovel Knight returning from a time of isolation in the farmlands. He once journeyed with a female companion named Shield Knight until disaster at a fortress known as the Tower of Fate caused a cursed amulet to make her disappear. Not vanish like a magic trick, mind you--what actually happened is never outright explained, but it does do a good job of setting the stage for the game’s simple retro experience. The event--whatever it was--caused Shovel Knight to retreat from the spotlight… until the evil Enchantress and her Order of No Quarter took over the land. Now he must stop that team of villains. It’s not a high-concept premise, but it’s all Shovel Knight needs to plop you right down into the action.

“Plop” is the right word there, as Shovel Knight lacks any real tutorial. This is a good thing--you get right into the action in the game’s first level with no handholding. Shovel Knight can jump and attack with his shovel, but he can also use it like Scrooge McDuck’s cane in Duck Tales (NES), bouncing over enemy heads and obstacles. His various manoeuvres are simple to grasp, but tough to master, and that constantly gives you an exciting feeling that there’s more to discover. And there is...

Beyond the battles

When you’re not exploring the main levels, there are some fun diversions on the world map. Optional bosses like The Baz (copy-and-pasted from Divekick) occasionally pop up, and these are some of the best fights of the game. There are also optional challenge levels, which actually require some of those overpowered items to complete--but these are more difficult than the standard stages, and reward you with lots of treasure. For those who want a greater challenge, they are a great option.

Every level is completely different from the last, with new traps like falling chandeliers and spurts of lava being regularly introduced. It’s a fun way to drive you to play “just one more level,” to see--and conquer--the new features of each one. They’re each themed on a member of the Order of No Quarter, a board of knights with varying elemental abilities (see the gallery below for a breakdown). One such stage, modeled after Specter Knight, is a dark graveyard, where you can only see the platforms below you when lightning flashes, lighting up the area. It’s a thrilling stage; a highlight amongst a slew of genuinely novel levels.

This variety carries over into the end-of-level bosses themselves. Each stage is capped with a battle against one of the Order’s knights, whose personality matches his home level. Just as you’re driven to see what each level offers, it’s a thrill seeing a new knight in battle. 

Treasure Knight, for example, lives in a flooded submarine filled with plundered gold, and he attacks by zipping around the arena with a grappling hook/spear gun device. Plague Knight lives in a castle-turned-potion-shop, and he floods the screen with vials of poison and explosives. These are pulse-pounding battles littered with flying projectiles and flailing blades.

More Info

Release date: Jun 25 2014 - Wii U, 3DS
Mar 31 2014 - PC (US)
Available Platforms: Wii U, 3DS, PC
Genre: Platformer
ESRB Rating:
Everyone: Mild Fantasy Violence

While those fights may sound difficult--especially for gamers who have fallen away from (or never experienced) retro difficulty--there is a balancing force within the game. Shovel Knight can purchase gear, like a Phase Bracelet that lets him ghost through enemies and attacks, and a Fire Rod that shoots ranged fireballs. Items like these do make combat and exploration easier, but they also completely nerf the boss fights. Once you purchase enough gear, the knights become pushovers--I spammed one of the final fights with a ricocheting magic and won with almost no effort, and the fact that treasure is plentiful means purchasing these abilities is too easy. I felt godlike a few times, and that left some fights that should have been intense feeling hollow. The upside is that these overpowered items give you a head start in Shovel Knight’s New Game Plus. Which is... tough.

That said, my first journey through Shovel Knight was still a blast. I loved seeing what each new level and boss were going to throw at me. I never felt like I was seeing the same screen twice, and even when I was overpowered, I was still having fun. Most will blow through the game in 6 hours, but many will feel the urge to replay on higher difficulties. I did. Why? Because I really “dig” Shovel Knight... Yeah? YEAH! I had to make that joke at least once.

A varied and charming platformer, only blighted when it lets players get a little overpowered.

This game was reviewed on PC.

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19 comments

  • shawksta - June 26, 2014 11:34 a.m.

    Awesome, im still deciding on which platform to get it on. Looking forward to playing it.
  • Jackonomics2.0 - June 26, 2014 10:41 a.m.

    Nice to a see a great new Indie game actually try to be itself rather than relying on it's retro graphics. I'm guessing all 3 versions are practically the same right? The only difference is I heard the Wii U version is later getting free DLC that adds new modes and a Multilayer battle mode. Regardless, I wont be surprised if it won GOTY, this year hasn't really provided a ground breaking game yet, just a set if great games.
  • BladedFalcon - June 26, 2014 10:46 a.m.

    All the versions are getting the DLC, not just the Wii U one. The differences are kinda minor, but they are there. The 3Ds version has a street pass battle minigame. (and a 3D layer effect that actually look really nice) The Wii U version has a Dark souls style of in-game messaging. And the PC version had the usual team achievements and benefits.
  • Jackonomics2.0 - June 26, 2014 11:32 a.m.

    Yeah so i heard, fucking ign can never give full details sometimes, i thought they meant only Wii U. Great to hear.
  • BladedFalcon - June 26, 2014 12:51 p.m.

    Yeah, I think the only DLC that might be exclusive to the Wii U and PC is the multiplayer mode they plan to implement, and that mainly because it's meant to be local MP, as having it be online would require resources they don't have or aren't willing to spend. Everything else though, like extra 3 characters and a gender swap mode will be free DLC for all versions, as all of these were stretch goals from the KS campaign.
  • universaltofu - June 26, 2014 10:10 a.m.

    Finally this game is out, the mega mannishness had my attention since I first heard about it.
  • BladedFalcon - June 26, 2014 10:07 a.m.

    I'm playing since yesterday, and I already consider it my game of the year so far. Of course, I backed almost as soon as the kickstarter campaign started, so to say I as beyond pumped for it may be an understatement. still, the game has met and surpassed all my expectations so far. DIG IT!
  • Vonter - June 27, 2014 4:52 p.m.

    It got over too soon. Q_Q But oh, it was great, the best non Megaman copycat surely. I'll check on Sunday how rough is the New Game+.
  • BladedFalcon - June 27, 2014 10:08 p.m.

    Haha, just finished an hour ago myself XD. It might have felt soon, days-wise, but game time I spent 12 hours on it, and I only have one music sheet left to find. I'd say that's a pretty decent amount of game time for a non metroidvania sidescroller, specially since the game doesn't resort to any kind of filler stage or anything, even the obligatory boss gauntlet was so much quicker and to the point than it usually is. Yeah, the game is fucking fantastic, even though I loved Dark Souls II, this one's definitely my GOTY so far. Everything was done great, got a few surprises as well, and the endgame and ending? fucking fantastic, it's the kind of effort and reward most games should have at the end but they seldom do because developers think it's not worth it >_>; Screw Sunday, I'm tackling NG+ RIGHT NOW XD
  • Vonter - June 27, 2014 10:41 p.m.

    Yep, it was quite a ride, the game has very good pacing, the controls feel very solid, which is something even big devs still struggle. I also like the game has closure, (unlike Wayforward games). Since NG+ will probably be less flexible with health items I'll look forward for some details I skipped, and buff up to max stats, and buy the rest of the armors. The only nitpick, is how the second to last stage breaks the game's rules in regards to pit deaths. With platforms that barely leave the screen and one section that kills you despite having a room below. Other than that the game was excellent.
  • BladedFalcon - June 28, 2014 midnight

    Yeah, the controls felt pretty much perfect. Which is a nice contrast from say, DuckTales remastered, which despite being made by WayForward (A bigger studio than YGC is), had some problem with delayed inputs and shoddy pogo detection. I think it helps that SK is kinda generous with it's hit-boxes, you often get to score a downward thrust even if you're technically BELOW an enemy, but it's never done in a way that makes it too exploitable. And yeah, the story is very simple and doesn't break any molds, but at least it's well told and ended well, but what I meant before was regarding the credits scenes with the rest of the cast, seemingly a simple thing, but each but a huge smile on my face and you could say it even fleshes the characters out a bit more. Yeah, NG+ is more demanding, but honestly? I'd say start it as is, since that way you get to feel like your money cans till buy you something. If you want to play it safe, you can just simply copy your finished save file to an extra slot. And huh, really? I don't think I fell in that part you're talking about, if true I can see how it could be frustrating, but I guess it was made in order to make the stage more challenging. 'sides, this game fully operates under video game logic, such as with the fact that vertical scrolling sections will kill you if you leave the screen even though technically you're still touching the ground XD Actually, my own nitpick would be that there aren't enough map encounters/events. The amount of random boss battles is fine, but I would have liked to experience more of those bonus stages. Oh well, I guess there's nothing to it but to wait for the free challenge mode DLC XD
  • Vonter - June 28, 2014 7:32 a.m.

    Yep, also there 3D backgrounds don't mix well with the sprites. I see the convenience but it drops the quality of the presentation. Yeah that's what I mean. That sense of closure and feeling the ride was worth it. Games nowadays and some cartoons kinda stop, after the climatic battle. It's nice to see. Yeah, no concern, just took me off guard, since I automatically assumed I'm still standing on something, since it doesn't leave too far outside of the screen, I will have like to fight some of the rivals again, or seeing in them in a town. I don't complain since they made the game more interesting and broke a bit from the Megaman formula, especially the Haunted Gallery. How much did you have to pledge to be in there?
  • BladedFalcon - June 28, 2014 8:54 a.m.

    200 bucks, and there were 77 backers, so they had quite a good amount of them to display them all. And yeah, again, it's a really minor nitpick to begin with, and the game already has a ton of content as it is, so really, I'm just being greedy :P Also, I've just fought one of the rival again in NG+, this after beating 3 of the main bosses... if you thought the rivals ere kinda easier than the main bosses in the first go trough... you're in for quite a surprise, is all I'll say :P
  • universaltofu - June 29, 2014 10:35 p.m.

    Agreed, the theming was so good, every stage so well conceived. The boss rush was handled perfectly.
  • Draaz - July 8, 2014 11:41 p.m.

    I really like it as well but I'm gonna have to give my Goty so far to Transistor but I love Shovel Knight!
  • winner2 - June 26, 2014 8:11 a.m.

    Dear god this looks awesome, getting this for sure.
  • Swedish_Chef - June 26, 2014 6:43 a.m.

    I can dig it, looks like a groundbreaking title that has entertainment value in spades! ...SHOVEL PUNS! (I've actually been really looking forward to this since it was originally announced a good long while ago so I'm really happy it turned out good).

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