Release Date: June 26, 2014
Systems: 3DS, Wii U, PC
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Metacrtic Score: 90
At this moment in time in geek culture (and pop culture as a whole) retro and nostalgia-based products are two of the highest grossing in the world. Most of the big Hollywood blockbusters are based of of comics, bored-games, old TV shows or movie franchises in hopes that a once loyal fan base will return to see their old favorites again. While this has led to an abundance of really good stuff, I think we should always be weary of an overabundance of nostalgia, as those who look too fondly on the past seem to think the best days are behind them. So when “Shovel Knight” came out, clearly a love letter to the classic Ness and the games that made the system so popular, there was a very real possibility that the game would be nothing but a rehash of old ideas and outdated mechanics. In the end, though, what matters is what we got and not what we could have gotten, and what we got is one of the best games in recent memory.
The story of Shovel Knight is simple: you play as the titular Shovel Knight, who is looking for his old partner, Shield Knight. Around the same time a group of knights calling themselves The Order of No Quarter have sprung up and you must fight them all and reach “The Tower of Fate” to in order to rescue your old partner. The story is simple, sweet and to the point, but there are some truly great moments of story-telling here, most done in game play and with out word spoken.
For example, every few levels you enter a dream stage where Shield Knight is falling and you have to catch her. The first time all you have to do is wait for her to come down but during the final section you are swarmed by enemies, symbolizing how the road is getting harder and the possibility if failure is sinking in. While there is no real consequence for failure, these moments make you want to catch her, and make you want to see Shovel knight succeed. Another great moment comes at the end, and it shows you just how great a team Shovel Knight and Shield Knight made through the context of game play alone, but that is nearing spoiler territory, so that’s all I’m going to say for now.
I think my favorite part of the games story (and by extension, my favorite part of it being a retro styled Ness love letter) is that it harked back to a day when game stories were odd and colorful and fun instead of countless variations of “Rugged White man Kills countless Brown Skinned People and maybe some Russians Too”. The game takes pride in the fact that some of the villagers are humans while others are house like humanoids, it takes pride in silliness and fun and personally I think we’re all the better for it, both as players and a community as a whole. Sure, i’m all for dark and gritty games when that’s what the game calls for, but I love that this game is so dedicated to being happy. In fact, I can honestly say that the ending of this game is one of the sweetest things i’ve ever witnessed.
In the end the story here is nothing more that a old, worn-out paperback fantasy novel you reread when you just want to turn your brain off and have a lot of fun, but this is the book you will always come back too. I honestly have no issues with the story of this game at all, from the writing to exaction of the story, it’s all top natch.
In keeping with the “Ness retrospective” aesthetic and theme Yacht Club Games has going on here, these is one thing you should keep in mind before picking up a copy: games back then were hard. It’s not “Dark Souls”, but if you’re looking to earn your fun you owe yourself a look.
The game plays like a mash up of “Super Mario 3” and “MegaMan”. You start the game on a very much “Super Mario 3”-esc world map where you can pic and choose with of the open dungeons you want to explore, each with a unique Theme and boss at the end. The dungeons themselves play more like MegaMan than Mario, however, as you actually have some offensive capabilities other than simply jumping. Unfortunately, the one aspect of MegaMan the developers didn’t keep was getting weapons from fallen bosses. Don’t get me wrong, you do gain more abilities, but the bosses had some cool movies I wish I could have used on others. It also would have been a nice reward for actually beating the bosses, as they will wreak your crap with no remorse. This is not a game that will let you win, you have to earn your progress. But while it may have taken three or four (or six) tries to beat each boss, the game never felt unfair. I was learning patterns and learning to use all the tools available to me, making each victory a testament of my superiority over the games challenges.
As for leveling up you buy upgrades for your health, shovel and armor as well as buying relics that grant you special abilities. Its a good system, but I wish it was explained a little bit better. I didn’t even start upgrading my shovel as I was unaware that the option even existed. Sadly though, not all the upgrades are as worth getting as others. At least half of the relics I got when unused as I had something better or just forgot about it felt somewhat superfluous. For example, one of the relics allows you to fade, taking no damage when walking over spikes (normally an instant kill) or other traps and enemies. However, I never really had reason to use it as I could too easily avoid these on my own. While is is the most minor of gripes, it would have been nice if I had more of a reason to change between all of my items instead of the three or four I constantly used.
One thing I do feel I should bring up though, I played this on my 2DS and not the version you can get on Steam. It controlled perfectly and felt like it was made for the hand held platform. I honestly can’t think of how the game could possibly control as well using a mouse and keyboard. So while I can’t say “don’t play this on the PC”, I can say if you have the option to play it on Nintendo’s console, you should.
Game Play: 4.5/5
Music and Sound:
Due to a pretty odd issue with saving this review, i’m rewriting this bit, and the long winded version is gone forever. So sorry for this part being so underwhelming, but I simply don’t want to rewrite all of it again. What you need to know is this: the music is just as great as the rest of the game. Unless you simply hate 8-bit ere game music there will be something here to peek your interest and perk up your ears.
Music and Sound:
Overall Score: 4.8/5
Who is this game for:
If you miss the days of the Ness, if you want something more that “generic shooter 9000”, if you like fun, thus game is for you.