So, another retro-style 8-bit game pops up. Many may think that the style is horribly overdone today and will pay no attention to Shovel Knight.
I have a message for those of you - if you like platformers at all, DO NOT IGNORE THIS GAME.
Shovel Knight takes place in an unnamed kingdom, under threat by the Enchantress and the 8 Knights of her Order of No Quarter. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Yeah, the Mega Man comparisons can be pretty plentiful, especially since the Mega Man series is what I usually see as the best platformers ever made.
The story is pretty run of the mill, protagonist (Shovel Knight) and his companion/lover (Shield Knight) roamed the land in search of adventure, until one day, Shield Knight was taken from him by the dark power of a magic amulet. Don't roll your eyes just yet, because it gets good. While the story is simple, it deepens as he game goes on, through little bits of dialogue you may come across here and there.
-----MINOR SPOILER - KEEPING IT AS VAGUE AS POSSIBLE-----
There's a sequence near the end that shows that Shield Knight is not a flat, boring character used just to provide a love interest for the main character - she has her own merits, and is an equal, and that sequence shows just how well they work together and how much worse off Shovel Knight is without her. All that is shown through gameplay that lasts...about 3 minutes, 5 tops.
So, the story actually stands up pretty well.
Holy hell, this soundtrack is incredible. The tunes are extremely catchy, and, strangely enough, I would actually encourage you NOT to listen to any of the music outside of the game until you've heard it inside. That's right, I'm counting music as spoilers for this game. Jake Kaufman has done an amazing job as always.
Mega Man 2 always had my favourite 8-bit soundtrack. Up until I played this game.
MINOR SPOILER: There is one track in the game that has taken my place of best sad 8-bit song from Mega Man 3's Proto Man Theme - Shield Knight Requiem. You'll know which track this is when you play the feels inducing sequence it goes with.
The game plays brilliantly, the jumping is precise, the controls, while a bit weird at first (A and D for left and right, W and S for up and down, J to attack and K to jump) work very well once you get used to them. The level designs are all done very well, with specific mechanics and enemies being used in each of the Knight Lairs, and in each specific Lair alone, keeping the game fresh and interesting and, most importantly, challenging, as you have to learn new adversaries and mechanics to deal with. Almost all deaths in the game feel like your fault, something you can improve on.
The bosses work differently than most bosses I've seen in platformers like these. In other platformers, the bosses will have an attack pattern, performing attacks in a pre-determined sequence. Learn the pattern, and you can take the boss down with ease.
Not the case here - the bosses in Shovel Knight have set attacks, but completely lack any pattern. This makes the bosses do their job MUCH better - testing the player's skill. You have to learn their attacks, not the pattern - you need to learn their attacks and make sure you know how to counter them.
The checkpoints are a point of interest, because, save for in the first level and the final level, checkpoints can be broken to yield vast amounts of money, rendering the checkpoint beyond use. Death does not punish you by knocking off a life, leading you to an inevitable and frustrating Game Over. Instead, dying takes away some of your dosh, which you must then recover in the next life if you want it back. Sometimes these flying bags can end up in awkward or downright unreachable places, which, while annoying, could be viewed as punishment for messing up, encouraging you to improve. This checkpoint system means skilled players can receive a large monetary bonus if they so decide. Of course, getting cocky and then messing up after destroying checkpoints can send you from any length through the level all the way back to the start, so choose wisely.
The game lasts around 5 to 6 hours, depending on your skill, on the first playthrough, an ample length, but it's packed full of secrets to find, one of the most notable being the Music Sheet collactables. 46 sheets are out in the world, hiding wherever, which can be returned to the village bard, who will pay you 500 gold for each, who can then play them for you - the music sheets in question form the game's soundtrack, so you can listen to your favourite tracks (provided you found the sheet) while scurrying about the village.
On top of that, there's a New Game +, unlocked after beating the game for the first time. This makes checkpoints much more scarce, about 2 per level, where once there may have been 3 times as many, healing items are almost never found, the most healing you'll get is the Ichor Of Restoration (given by the Troupple King (I could explain what a Troupple is, but you're better off finding out for yourself)). Trying to beat the game like this is even harder, and would probably add a fair bit of length to the game (I say would; I've not actually been able to finish New Game + yet.)
The design of the levels and foes, aesthetically, is brilliant, with each stage's looks, features and enemies having their own style, keeping the game looking new and interesting. The game was designed with a limited colour palette, to mimic the NES's restrictions. Of course, not all parts of the game, such as the parallax scrolling or a few colours the NES's limits prevented here and there, but overall, the game stays very close to the 8-bit era it's based on, with the UI looking like it's come straight out of Castlevania, and the overworld map being very reminiscent of that from Super Mario Bros. 3.
Shovel Knight is an 8-bit platformer that has elements from previous games of the era, and uses them magnificently. it excels in all areas. It's not just a retro 8-bit platformer aspiring to be like the classics - it's better than the classics.
It's challenging but enjoyable, and has enough of its own merits to stand tall, without needing to use nostalgia as a crutch - the NES era was not my childhood, that was the PS1 era. So if Shovel Knight's not sucking me in with nostalgia, then it must be something else giving me this rampant love for the game.
The early Mega Man games used to be what I considered the best platformers.
That title now belongs to Shovel Knight.
This game is EASILY worth the £11 (or reigonal equivalent) price tag.
If you enjoy platformers, are looking to get into the genre, or are a veteran of platformers, you owe it to yourself to buy this game.