I already have shoveled my way through this game in an entire night, since Yacht Club Games let Kickstarter backers play the game early. I may have missed some stuff, but main game-wise, I've dug up about what's offered here.
As a fellow Kickstarter backer, what do I think of this game? Well, to put it shortly...I ♥♥♥♥ING LOVED THIS GAME! I'm really glad that this game saw the light of day, unlike some other Kickstarted projects out there, and I am content with how it turned out. Yacht Club Games, I applaud your efforts here.
Shovel Knight is pretty much as if someone took Mega Man, DuckTales, and the Metroidvania concept and threw it together in a 2A03 blender set to VRC6, threw in some modern enhancements, and released it out to the world for everyone to try. This game really feels like it could have been on NES, from the graphics to the audio all the way down to the core gameplay. Yes, I know that there are instances of proof that part of the game can't be done on NES, but who cares? I felt like some of the added changes helped with making the game much better, in the long run.
The story itself is pretty much like other NES games: Forgettable. But come on, you're not here for the story. NES games were never recognized for that. The dialogue spoken throughout is also pretty cheesy and full of puns, which I think adds to the charm of the game. You can probably get a good laugh out of it, or at least a smile on your face.
In contrast to that, the gameplay is just excellent. As I said, it's a mix of Mega Man, DuckTales, and Metroidvania stuff. You can slice at enemies with your sharp shovel, bounce off of them to inflict damage and reach higher terrain, and use an assortment of side weapons. The side weapons are definitely built for combat, but most of them are also coded to aid in exploration. There definitely will be levels where you need to use a certain item to advance through, which I think is excellent...though I wish there were more levels/areas in the game that did that, too. But aside from that, you can go through the whole game with just the shovel, like how you can go through all of a Mega Man game with just the Buster.
I think that the difficulty is fairly set. With how the levels are designed and how the gameplay is handled, it's really your fault for failing, which I appreciate with games like this. It also makes you learn the game's mechanics instead of giving you an unnecessary tutorial, which I also like. You can also give yourself a better challenge by destroying the checkpoints, which give you more gold in exchange of having to start from a previous area of the level upon death. With New Game+, you start with your previous equipment/upgrades, but you take more damage, can't find food in the levels, and you have less checkpoints in the level. Definitely for those who want it NES hard.
The level design is superb. Yes, they are linear in nature, like with every NES game. But all the enemies/platforms/items are fairly placed out across the place to synergize with the gameplay. There are also plenty of secrets hidden in each level, which gives an excellent risk vs reward feeling of finding and completing each secret area. They also provide a nice place to test out any relics that you find, if you do find any.
While difficult, I think that the game is also rather forgiving. You don't have a lives system, and you don't get a game over for dying so much or for any other condition. That said, you do lose some of your gold upon death, which you can recover in the same area that you died in, akin to Dark Souls. I like this...but I have a bit of a gripe with it, too (explained at the bottom). I think that the checkpoints are properly spaced out throughout the levels, which aids with some of the forgiveness that the game offers. Either way, if you fall, just get back up and try again. It's not game over unless you make it game over.
I like how the bosses are handled. They don't really have a pattern, but a set list of moves that they choose to execute depending on the situation. These moves are pretty easy to pick up on, and they definitely fit the theme of the boss.
The graphics for the game are just nostalgic glory here. I know that some of the colors in the palette in this game could never show up on a NES game...but I don't care. These added colors really help with the mood and design of the levels/enemies. Yacht Club Games did amazing with making sure that they would work on the NES, similar to how Capcom could get more than three colors on a single sprite. Just great authenticity. The animations are buttery-smooth, too.
The sound...OH MAH RAWR! It's just...too good. The music done in this game was composed with Famitracker, but uses an expansion chip called the VRC6, which was only available in some Konami games for the Famicom, notably Akumajou Densetsu (Castlevania 3). I consider this one of the best expansion chips for the Famicom, and I really was excited to see it being used for this game. Oh, unlike some indie retro games out there, the sound effects in this game really do sound like they could have came from the NES, so kudos to that, as well.
If I had one complaint about this game, it would be how the money bags are sometimes spawned upon death. I've had moments of not being able to reach any floating bags, all because they would be in an area that's impossible to return back to safety, especially over bottomless pits. I hope that a future patch can resolve that.
One play session will vary on your skill level. For me, I beat the game in a bit over 7 hours with 84% item completion for my first playthrough, though it seems like it's an average of 4-6 hours for everyone else...and less than 1 1/2 hours if you're really that good at the game. There's New Game+ for those who want to extend their time with the game with a better challenge. But either way, with the quality of the final product, I say the price is justified.
Overall, as a PC gamer, a NES gamer, and a Kickstarter backer, I really enjoyed this game. It's by far one of the greatest games I've played this year, and I'm really happy that this game was completed. I can't wait to see what else Yacht Club Games has in store soon, either for this game or for another. If you're a fan of retro games (especially the NES), you owe it to yourself to pick this game up.