You either are, or know someone who grew up around 8-bit gaming. There are memories you cherish, or stories you tell of playing your favorite games until all hours of the night. You’ll likely recall the nostalgia for the games Shovel Knight is so greatly inspired by. Yacht Club Games does tell their own story, build their own world, and set their own rules for you to play in, creating new memories and stories to tell.
Shovel Knight and Shield Knight roam the unnamed lands. Shovel Knight went unconscious after an amulet unleashed it’s terrible magic. Shield Knight has disappeared, this news put Shovel Knight into a depression. He comes out of it after learning an Enchantress has seized the land, claimed it for herself, and dispatched the Quarter of No Order to protect her at all costs. He refuses to let her reign continue, and so begins your quest for adventure and returning to your former glory.
Playing as the Shovel Knight is quite satisfying with his tight controls and fun combat. His moveset is limited to attacks and jumping attacks, but with his shovelblade, he is able to flip creatures onto their backs, lunges, and dig through piles to reveal treasures. In a overt nod to Ducktales, you are able to point your shovel straight down to bounce on soft objects like jelly, strike down foes, or break through objects to reveal secret areas and treasures. Controller options are plentiful, and if you have any kind of gamepad, it is likely to work or Yacht Club Games will find a way to make it work.
The game is generous by using autosaves. While traversing a level, glass balls on pedestals serve as checkpoints that ignite a flame inside when activated. Conversely, some of these you can be broken for money, thereby sacrificing the checkpoint. The checkpoint does not save your progress. So, should you skip out on a level halfway through and want to resume, you’ll be starting back at the beginning. It’s not a huge loss, as it is faithful to the era it is trying to emulate. In a modern twist of borrowing from Dark Souls, you’ll lose a quarter of your money upon death. And you’re only given one chance to redeem that money before it is lost for good.
Gold is the currency that all these gems you collect, magically turn into. Once you’ve accrued enough gold, you can spend it any of the game’s many vendors. At first you’ll just have access buying health and magic upgrades, and buying a fishing pole, and a throwable anchor that has an arc on it. At the halfway point, a new town opens up where you can purchase new armor with passive bonuses and upgrade your sword to have passive abilities.
The overworld map plays a large part in the game. It is an homage to many games, but what comes to mind is (but not limited to) Super Mario Bros. 3. It is this in particular as you have barriers that block you from freely exploring every level, but give you options to engage a certain number levels in any order you wish. Once all in an area have been defeated, more of the map is revealed and you’re able to take on a new set in the order that you please. It’s just the right amount of freedom to make you feel in control, than being directed down a linear path that the developer forces onto you.
Shovel Knight does so much right, but what it doesn’t do right is how it handles the boss battles. They come off a little tame, and less menacing than all of the obstacles in the level that came before it. While the bosses all have different attack patterns and styles, can all but be defeated by the downward shovel attack. You can more often than not “cheese” them with that move to wear down their health bar in no time. This deflates the enjoyment of a level, as it should be a build up to a grand battle. However, it ends up being just a let down.
If the sound of Shovel Knight is familiar, it probably is. That’s because Manami Matsumae helped compose the music. But the soundtrack is primarily composed of chiptunes from Jake Kaufman, which gives the game a modern twist. There are many classic tracks that you’ll often be stopped in a level, just to hear a song finish. And since there’s no level timer, you’ll be doing this often.
Side activities like fishing and gem hunting allow for you to enjoy the downtime and play the game in a less stressful environment while having the ability to earn more gold. Random bosses roam the map that can be encountered for even more gems and gold. I wish there were more side activities and challenges to pursue, but there is a New Game+ for those wanting an additional challenge.
Yacht Club Games understands what made the 8 and 16-bit eras work, and what you recall so fondly. They were there for it, too. With a gentle ramp up in difficulty, a large cast of characters to interact with, a colorful visual treatment that compliments the art style, and the fusion of new and old-style of music makes Shovel Knight a modern classic.
A pre-release Steam code was provided by the developer for review purposes