Retro Gaming Review: Shovel Knight

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Draw your steel and dig deep, my knights! For adventure! For shovelry!

Okay, I’m being slightly disingenuous here. Shovel Knight, the little indie game that could, is not, chronologically speaking, a retro game. The title was release across several consoles in 2014 and was ported to Sony systems in 2015. Still, Yacht Club‘s award-winning debut title is aesthetically and spiritually a classic title, with graphics, music, gameplay, and gumption all hearkening back to the brighter, simpler days of the 1980s.

Shovel Knight is a tale of adventure, magic, and shovelry. Our titular hero, the brave Shovel Knight, embarks on a quest to defeat the evil Enchantress and her rogues gallery of treacherous knights, The Order of No Quarter, in order to rescue his beloved partner Shield Knight. The story is both absurd and endearing, providing just enough emotional impetus and intriguing mystery to provide an engaging but never overwrought experience. It is the perfect complement to the simple but compelling gameplay.

Shovel Knight’s intuitive control scheme is a throwback to the very best games of the 8-bit era. Aside from guiding our hero with the d-pad, you’ll only ever have to use two buttons: attack and jump. Like Link in Zelda II or Scrooge McDuck in DuckTales, players can attack horizontally with a simple press of the button or can perform a down-thrust by leaping into the air and pressing down. Thankfully, Shovel Knight’s handy shovel serves as both tool and weapon, allowing for a surprising complexity in both combat and exploration. This depth is supplemented by a number of magical relics that Shovel Knight can acquire through his adventures. None of these, including a propeller dagger and a projectile anchor, are required to navigate the dungeons or to best the wily bosses, but they do enrich the experience. It’s a genuine thrill to cruise across spike pits with the gear or to fell nefarious wyverns with fireballs. Yacht Club have achieved a near perfect balance in game design, both embracing linearity in individual stages and rewarding exploration with extra treasure and other secrets. Completionists will want to seek out every piece of sheet music and every secret chest, but those seeking a quick romp will be able to progress quickly. The game caters to your style with a unique and always rewarding experience.

One key to that experience is the difficulty. Although the use of relics may diminish some of the challenge of the game, it by no means completely eliminates all of the hard components. The bosses, your fallen knight adversaries, each move and attack in distinct patterns that must be studied and countered with precision in a way reminiscent of the glory days of Mega Man. Even more challenging though are some of the stages; I found myself cursing as I died over and over trying to avoid a giant angler fish in the Iron Whale. However, the game is so well designed and such a joy to play that despite occasional frustration I never found myself tempted to rage quit. Shovel Knight is the kind of game you’ll pick up and won’t want to put down until you’re finished.

A key component of this engaging atmosphere is the presentation. Yacht Club have squeezed a lot of beauty out of the 8-bit engine, presenting a vibrant, detailed world in lush, retro glory. Whether it was the falling green rain in the Tower of Fates or the zany chemical vats in the Explodatorium, the designs in Shovel Knight’s adventure are a visual treat for those who grew up in the 80s. Enhancing this is Jake Kaufman’s wonderful chiptune score. The tracks range from frozen dirges to bouncing disco rhythms, but every track presents a delightfully old-school sense of adventure that should appeal to fans of classic new wave music like Gary Numan or dungeon synth like Sequestered Keep. These tracks can be played by a bard in the village after you’ve found the requisite hidden piece of sheet music, or you can just go to Jake Kaufman’s Bandcamp page. Those seeking a true retro experience can also download the soundtrack in a special NES compiled version and play it through a special cartridge on your old Nintendo Entertainment System.

Ultimately, Shovel Knight is a gem of a game that oozes charm and embraces elegant simplicity. The story is heartfelt, entertaining, and downright fun at times. The gameplay is expertly tuned and rewarding, and the complete package is a joy to behold. It’s no wonder the game has gotten such rave reviews. Even better, Yacht Club’s initial kickstarter campaign was so successful that they have a smattering of free updates planned. The first, an expansion that allows you to replay the game from the perspective of the nefarious Plague Knight, has already been released! Really, there’s no reason not to play this game if you enjoy great video games. I give Shovel Knight five gleaming shovels out of five.

NEW_TOILETSCALE_5_of_5

Shovel Knight is available for pretty much all major consoles out there, so pick it up today and praise the Troupple King.

Half trout. Half apple. All king.

(Photos VIA, and VIA)

  • That way too happy half trout. Half apple. All king thing looks borderline Anime.

    http://i.giphy.com/V22OKDEFNOAPS.gif

  • TrickleDownOvTacoKvltRiff

    Retro gaming? Ill give you some retro gaming whipersnapper….

    • LOL, what even IS this, gramps?

      • TrickleDownOvTacoKvltRiff

        Pong, the OG home game system. There was no other….lol! I actually recall the affluent kid I hung with back in the day, Dave Duxberry, being the first one one the block to get one. I think it was 1976-77. We were hooked!

        PS-Dave was cool as fuck, hot sister, stole his parent cigarettes and taught me how to rotate a carton so they couldnt tell you took a pack, dug Van Halen.

  • Sir Tapir The Based

    Troupple King is love, Troupple King is life.

  • COAL ROLL

    this game looks cool AF

    • Dubs

      It’s really, really. fun. Not very long, but the replay value is high, and the expansions extend its life a decent amount.

      • COAL ROLL

        what platform?

        • Dubs

          PC, Wii U, 3DS, XBone, PSP, PS4…

  • Waynecro

    Nice review, W. This reminds me: I need to buy a shovel. The neighbors get nervous when I try to dig big-ass weeds out of my front yard with a machete.

    • They will die living in Venezuela.

      • Waynecro

        Everyone should own a machete.

        • Except people in jails!

          • Waynecro

            Well, yeah. Of course, if someone in jail manages to keister a fucking machete, he deserves to keep it.

  • YourLogicIsFlushed

    I don’t understand this. I only play games where I can die for 10 minutes straight and still get XP.

    • Dubs

      You can do plenty of dying in this game. You’ll just lose gold in the process.

      • YourLogicIsFlushed

        I always liked retro games, up until the point where you lose for the 3rd time at the same point in the game, and keep having to redo the easy levels. I have patience, but the people who actually beat old Nintendo games are basically saints.

        • Guppusmaximus

          Then Kid Icarus would be right up your alley *smirk*

          • Dubs

            I remember getting PISSED at Ninja Gaiden.

          • Guppusmaximus

            Yea, that game was awesome with a friend but by yourself it was a real b-i-t-c-h. However, not as bad as Double Dragon for the NES. I learned how to whip my controller by the cord with that one. LMAO!!

          • Waynecro

            BADASS NINJAS SHOULD NOT FLY BACK TEN FEET WHEN A STUPID, LITTLE BIRD RUNS INTO THEM!!!

          • Guppusmaximus

            Especially when you’re next to a gaping, bottomless pit / chasm.

          • Waynecro

            Seriously. The stress caused by classic Nintendo games is probably responsible for a lot of premature hair loss.

          • Dubs

            That would explain a lot for me, actually.

          • Waynecro

            Hell, Silver Surfer probably gave me an ulcer.

          • Dubs

            Turtles in Time…

          • Waynecro

            Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles probably took a few years off my life. I didn’t know any swear words back then and had no way to vent my frustration with that goddamned electric seaweed.

          • Dubs
          • Guppusmaximus

            So true. The sweaty palms & tension was unbearable at times. #goodtimes

          • Waynecro

            Had I not learned how to rage quit, my head would have exploded before the Super Nintendo came out.

  • If I’m ever able to quit playing Binding of Issac, this is next up for me. Dubya’s been talking this game up for weeks.

    • Dubs

      Note that Masterpants put me on it.

    • Binding of Isaac is pretty cool too!

    • EsusMoose

      All I do it is greed mode, thankfully Fallout 4 killed my binging of afterbirth

      • Greed mode is the best. I’ve abandoned Fallout in favor of more 30-minute bursts of Binding of Issac.

        • EsusMoose

          Bloodbourne killed fallout 4 for me, I played bloodbourne till I don’t know what to do anymore, so coming back full circle and starting some failure runs of isaac.

    • Count_Breznak

      You. Are.Slow.

      • Good lord.

        • Count_Breznak

          Pretty much burned out after getting that. Afterbirth added a lot of possible asshole rooms with unavoidable damage. Narrow room with 3 Vis brimstoning everything in the womb 2 ? Bye lost run, even with Holy Mantle. ….and then you get this eden run:

  • I still have this pending. I hope to repair our older laptop that have a little bit more power than the one I use, so I can install this game.

    The way in this graphics on Shovel Knight are constructed using the NES era pixel art technique, but expanded. They used more colors and sprites than what the NES could, aside from the proportion of the backgrounds and sprites. I liked it so much, because they didn’t rehashed the aesthetic, but expanded it. I recommend to read this interview with the graphic designer of Shovel Knight to understand a little about this topic, he made it very clear: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/DavidDAngelo/20140625/219383/Breaking_the_NES_for_Shovel_Knight.php

    For all those retro-gaming seekers like Dr. Dubz and me, I also recommend Odallus: The Dark Call, a game inspired by Shovel Knight as a new way to reinterpret older platformers. From the aesthetic, it is inspired by Castlevania and Ghost’N’Goblins.

    • Dubs

      Ha, we were talking about Area 51 at some point on FB. That game ate many a quarter in my childhood.

      • Yup, that and Crazy Taxi.

        • Oh shit yes. I downloaded that on my phone. It’s just not the same though.

          • Dubs

            I haven’t found many mobile ports that satisfactorily pull off console controls.

          • Nah, got to have that wheel in front of you.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      *alien death squeal*

  • COAL ROLL

    Anyone here ever play Wizardry?

  • Guppusmaximus

    Kinda reminds me of Rygar. That game was a real ass burner

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_j5VCXgIy4

    • Dubs

      I love all the typos and crappy English in old games. This looks fun. Kind of reminds me of Altered Beast. Those are some rad sprites.

      • There’s a NES version of that one, Dubz.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7T0_0oRALSw

      • Guppusmaximus

        Yea, the Japanese really didn’t have to worry due to the blinding success they had with the golden era of Videogames. Rygar definitely came out before Altered Beast… *Warning* While the player in this video makes it look fun – this game will make you want to break shit! LOL

    • Hammerdong Von Spookypoop

      I loved that as a kid. Never got around to playing the second one all these years later, but looked good.

      • Guppusmaximus

        You were probably good at it, that’s why. Yea, it was a great game. I just sucked at it. Well, I sucked at most of them. No sweat though. I got my revenge with an emulator and some cheat codes. *evil laugh*

        • Hammerdong Von Spookypoop

          I eventually beat it years and years later.

  • Hammerdong Von Spookypoop

    IIRC, there’s an original version before the one you’re talking about in the article.

    • Dubs

      I don’t believe so. This is Yacht Club’s first game. They crowdfunded it.

      • Hammerdong Von Spookypoop

        Hmmmmmmmmmmm, kinda looks similar to another game, but I could be mistaken.

        • Dubs

          You are. Some of the characters have appeared in some other indie games, namely Runbow, but this is a new IP.

        • Dubs

          Maybe you’re thinking of Castle Crashers.

          • Waynecro

            That game’s a blast.

          • Dubs

            I need to get it on Steam.

          • Waynecro

            I’m still jazzed about Mighty No. 9, which finally comes out in February, I think.

          • Hammerdong Von Spookypoop

            Might have to see if that’s the one. I remember I-Mockery doing a review years ago of an old school side scroller where you had to use a shovel.

          • Dubs

            Was it this game? Looks like the heroine wields a shovel. Game is unrelated to Shovel Knight, tho.

            http://skytorngame.com/

          • Hammerdong Von Spookypoop

            You nailed it!

          • Dubs

            Ah. I don’t think this one is out yet. Looks like it’s taking heavy cues from Shovel Knight and Metroid.

          • BLACKBEARD UNFILTERED

            Castle Crashers is dope

    • Didn’t knew about this one. Thanks, dude.

  • I have this game,but I’ve never played it. That always happens with indie games. I buy them and then I forget i bought them and then they just collect digital dust.

    • Dubs

      Alas, poor Shovel Knight.

  • Janitor Jim Duggan

    Nightmare Creatures is a good retro game for PS1 and N64. I found my old Sega Saturn in my room as well. Sadly the AV cable is broken and thr controller doesnt work.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Aww man I used to love Nightmare Creatures, now I want to play it again

  • Janitor Jim Duggan

    Also, the best sports game ever is NHL 94.

    • Waynecro

      NBA Jam Tournament Edition.

    • Dubs

      I think you mean NFL Blitz.

      • Janitor Jim Duggan

        No, I mean NHL 94.

        • Dubs

          I dunno how you keep misspelling Blitz.

          • Waynecro

            You’re both misspelling NBA Jam Tournament Edition. If I can’t pull off absurd sports maneuvers with characters from Mortal Kombat, I’m not interested.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            Mortal Kombat characters are in later versions of Blitz and MLB Slugfest

          • Waynecro

            They probably don’t dunk, though. Dunking is everything.

          • BLACKBEARD UNFILTERED

            Lets do it, bro.
            We got this bro!
            Yeah yeah!

            https://media2.giphy.com/media/aICBZfaVoAfv2/200w.gif
            SLAM!
            IN YOUR FACE, MA
            HAHAHAHA YEAH BRO

          • Waynecro

            That’s awesome.

          • El Jefe Ross

            Aaaaaaand Mortal Kombat for the win. Fatality. Flawless Victory.

          • Waynecro

            I still have to get the newest Mortal Kombat.

          • El Jefe Ross

            I haven’t played that one yet. All i have is a PS2

          • Waynecro

            Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks for the PS2 was pretty sweet.

          • El Jefe Ross

            I need to get that one. I have deception, Armageddon and Deadly alliance for ps2, MK4 for PS a1nd MK3 for Genesis. And I’ve played 1 and 2, naturally.

          • Waynecro

            I love the Konquest mode in Deadly Alliance and Deception. Shaolin Monks is badass because it’s a beat-’em-up-style game with platforming and RPG elements. Tons of secrets and combos and stuff. It totally makes up for that awful Sub-Zero game that was on the N64.

          • El Jefe Ross

            Those games are quite enjoyable. I’ve been meaning to check Shailon Monks out, I’ll look for it next time I’m at a game store.

          • Waynecro

            It’s great fun–especially when you drink a bunch of whiskey and play co-op mode with a pal.

          • El Jefe Ross

            Haha, and I have the whiskey and the pal to play it with!

          • Waynecro

            Come to think of it, the last time I played the game, I got so drunk that I blacked out while playing. I fell forward out of my chair and broke the PS2 with my face. Good times.

          • BLACKBEARD UNFILTERED

            Average Friday night, you mean?

          • Waynecro

            In the old days, yeah. Average every night. Although some nights I would black out while watching movies.

          • El Jefe Ross

            Holy shit! I dont know if that much whisky will be involved, but good times indeed.

          • Waynecro

            Yeah, you’re probably better off not going overboard with the whiskey.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            I loved Armageddon. I want to get it again for my PS2.

          • El Jefe Ross

            I picked my copy up at half price books for pretty cheap. I’m sure ebay has a few copies as well

          • BLACKBEARD UNFILTERED

            Its aight.

          • Guppusmaximus

            Kabal’s combos in MK3 were my favorite.

          • Waynecro

            I think I was partial to Sektor.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            Blitz is the best arcade sports game. The best simulation sports game is NHL 94 followed by Sensible World Of Soccer 96/97.

      • BLACKBEARD UNFILTERED
    • CyberneticOrganism
      • Yep, gonna need to buy that new video card before too long.

        • Janitor Jim Duggan

          I’m buying it for my Xbox One.

          • With my madd techie skillz, it would be silly for me to have anything else besides a PC. Besides, I don’t game nearly as much as most. I’ll get the new card soon, spend a year playing about 2-3 years worth of games, and then stop caring for another 2 years.

          • BLACKBEARD UNFILTERED

            Uhhhh, griefing 14 year olds is the exact reason. Because no one even knows what a PC is anymore.

          • Like the movie says “I am No One.” Besides, I’ve never done online gaming and I have no plans to start.

          • I also haven’t owned a console since the Atari 2600 was a thing.

          • BLACKBEARD UNFILTERED

            Well, joking aside, you will miss some dank console-only games that way. And hacking is generally so rampant on PC.

            I was a PC gamer exclusively for years and years but i have no rig now

          • These days even if I play Texas Hold’em I start thinking that the time could be better spent playing guitar, especially since I got the amp.

          • BLACKBEARD UNFILTERED

            My years dedicated to playing are behind me now too. I game extensively, if only to keep my mind sharp to stave off bordom

          • I’ve been playing for less than 2 years so it’s still a novelty to me.

        • Hammerdong Von Spookypoop

          BTW, bumped into this earlier. Quite possibly the oddest smokeup, but she does make some good points.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYOZjnOc4Xo

      • BLACKBEARD UNFILTERED

        False

    • CyberneticOrganism
    • Hammerdong Von Spookypoop

      Mutant League, bro, Mutant League!

    • Guppusmaximus

      I’d say Blades of Steel was better but, maybe, only because of the checking & fighting because I really no nothing about Hockey…

  • Janitor Jim Duggan

    Alice Copper is touring. Sadly the tour is going to Port Chester which is a distance.

    • I’ll have to look into that, always a good show.

      • Janitor Jim Duggan

        I don’t drive so it’s hard to get to places like that. The city is easy to get to because the train in my area goes there.

        • Sir Tapir The Based

          You can walk.

          • Janitor Jim Duggan

            It’s 2 hours by car.

          • Sir Tapir The Based

            Walk fast.

    • Ah, playing in Lynn. Lynn is a shit hole, but it’s easy for me to get there by MBTA.

    • Is that an Alice Cooper tribute band that plays instruments made purely of copper?

    • Sir Tapir The Based

      Alice Copper? Never heard of her.

  • BLACKBEARD UNFILTERED

    Got some Oskar Blues Pinner throwback IPAs, hittin the chillum, and watchin Psych. Redneck dinner on the stove.

    Does anyone know of a distro that still has Mare Cognitum’s Phobos Monolith on vinyl? Fallen Empires store is down atm

    • RJA

      Fallen Empire’s store goes down fairly regularly – for what really, I don’ t know. I got my copy from them but I will keep an eye out.

      Edit: Hell’s Headbangers does have some copies of both the black and purple!

      • BLACKBEARD UNFILTERED

        Yeap, i just put in an order for the purple

    • Bossicus thee Rossicus

      How is that IPA?

      • BLACKBEARD UNFILTERED

        Ummmm, its p good. I still have an issue with them packaging with cans.

        • Bossicus thee Rossicus

          No love for the cans?

          • BLACKBEARD UNFILTERED

            Definitely prefer bottles

  • Hammerdong Von Spookypoop

    I gave this one a try a few months ago, and it pretty much sliced my ass off like deli meets and fed it to me after 4 minutes. Only 5 levels, but GAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH, I wanted to go out and start flipping cars it was that hard! Difficulty level: Japanese.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bf0xkLOlQqw

  • nbm02ss

    I hope everyone is picking up Dankest Dungeon. Great fucking game:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-mXN3akTPU

    • Dubs

      Wow that looks rad.

    • Count_Breznak

      Definitly, but I have to get through the pile of games from the last steam sale first.