Shovel Knight begins as most adventures do. Two adventurers, Shovel Knight and Shield Knight, are off on a journey when they come across the Tower of Fate. Inside they find a cursed amulet, which knocks Shovel Knight out. When he wakes up, Shield Knight is nowhere to be found. Shovel Knight becomes depressed and begins living a life of solitude, until one day the Evil Enchantress and her Order of No Quarter arrive to take over the land. Shovel Knight takes up his trusty shovel and makes his way to the Tower to defeat the Enchantress and her Order. Why he’s got a shovel in particular is never really made clear, haha.
While simple, the story does it's job. It keeps you interested and gives you a purpose. This of course is accented by amazing gameplay inspired by old school retro classics such as Mega Man, Castlevania, The Adventures of Link, Super Mario Bros, and even Ducktales. Shovel Knight borrows a few mechanics from some of the aforementioned game, but succeeds in making them its own. You can use your shovel to attack enemies, as well as dig up piles of dirt to find treasure, gems, and coins (these serve as your currency). You can also do a downward plunge attack, very much like Scrooge's pogo stick in Ducktales. This is pretty much all you can do, that is until you get your first relic. Relics are your sub-weapons, similar to Castlevania, with each use costing Magic to use. You can swap between relics at anytime via the inventory screen. They each have a specific use, like the Phase Locket allowing you to temporarily become invulnerable, or the Fiery Wand, which allows you to shoot fireballs in a straight path in front of you. Relics are found in one of two ways: either by finding the NPC Chester hidden in each stage, or by buying it from Chester in the first town. Buying it from him in town is more expensive though! In addition to these attacks and relics, you can aslo purchase abilities and armor upgrades in a later area.
The range and variety of enemies is impressive for any game, retro or otherwise, and there are some particularly good Mega Man-inspired boss battles. They all have their movement patterns to learn, but rather than just shooting a red flashing body part three times each encounter always has a more complex puzzle element. In Shovel Knight boss battles are things you actually look forward to as a culmination of the level’s ideas – not a semi-interactive cut scene before the next stage. Where the game doesn’t excel quite as well is the level design, which vacillates between making clever use of the shovel and more generic 2D platform arrangements. There are a lot of cleverly hidden secrets and shortcuts though, which together with the fact that you have to collect dropped gold from your corpse when you die is as reminiscent of Dark Souls as it is Super Mario World. Instant death whenever hitting a spike pit seems excessive punishment though and even if the checkpoint-ing is relatively generous the platforming gets so difficult by the end that it still won’t be enough for many less experienced gamers. Shovel Knight himself is also quite heavy for a platform character, although after an hour or so play you simply adjust to his slightly slower rhythm.
In most cases the game understands exactly when to stay old school and when to defer to more modern design theories. Even the visuals aren’t really anything like a NES. The number of colours and larger sprites are PC Engine level at least, which may seem inauthentic but allows for much more interesting visuals while still maintaining the retro tone. Shovel Knight’s creators clearly understand that while graphics are never entirely timeless good gameplay is, and if Shovel Knight really had been released back in the early ’90s it would’ve been rightly acknowledged as a great example of its art. The soundtrack for the game is fantastic. Each level has their own catchy tune, as does each boss fight. As you collect songs from the stages, you can sell them to the Bard in town for 500 gold each. Then at any time, once you've returned a song, you can request that the Bard play it in town for free! Good times are had by all.
Shovel Knight is a fantastic call to nostalgia and is a well-designed game overall. There's also a New Game+ feature where enemies deal more damage to you, and 45 achievements to collect in all! Thankfully you don't even need to open the Steam overlay to see what achievements you have, because at the main menu you can select "Feats" so see all of your accomplishments. The game is playable both with and without relics, so the game is as challenging as you want it to be. Can you dig it? I sure can!http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=390117464
A Must Play
Be sure to check out Nerd House Gaming
for more reviews!