Shovel Knight Review


By: Brandon Myers @BrandoCalrysian

The gaming industry is in the midst of a retro revival with the rise of independent publishers. It almost seems as though the industry has reached an age where it is okay to look back. The indie movement is here to stay and with it come Gems like Shovel Knight. Yacht Club Games crafted Shovel Knight with an obvious love for the NES days and it really shows in the gameplay and soundtrack.

Shovel Knight is a well-made and clever mix of several NES classics. Its gameplay, bosses, and level designs are inspired by Mega Man. Its world map with its own track movements and sealed-off areas are like Mario 3. Its combat is almost straight out of Duck Tales. Its hub towns, money systems, and inventory are familiar to anyone who has played Zelda II. Even the soundtrack is an homage to the great 8-bit tunes we loved as kids. It borrows all of these things in such a way that it feels familiar, but is also something of its own. This game really is one big beautiful love letter to the 8-bit era.

The story doesn’t break any new ground, but it really doesn’t have to. Our hero Shovel Knight is on a quest to save the land from the Enchantress and her Order of No Quarter. The Order of No Quarter is a group of eight Knights, each with their own stage and moves. These boss battles are particularly interesting, each with their own gameplay wrinkle.

The gameplay is responsive, easy to pick up, and feels like it could work on an NES controller. Controlling Shovel Knight is simple: move, attack, and jump. Armed with his Shovel, Shovel Knight can strike his enemies or he can jump on top of them with a pogo-like downward strike that is directly inspired by the Classic Ducktales game. The Shovel Knight is anything but one dimensional, however, as his shovel can also be used to dig up treasure and break through obstacles that may be blocking your path. The loot you collect can be used for upgrades to make it even more powerful. Between levels, the over-world map lets you move to your next destination with enemies moving around the map just like in Mario 3. You can also visit he hub towns to talk to a variety of interesting NPCs, and upgrade your weapon, armor, and health.

While many of these retro-inspired games bring with them the crushing difficulty of some games of the era, Shovel Knight brings a balanced difficulty that can be challenging, but is never insurmountable. I can appreciate this as it lets a wider audience enjoy the game. If easy is not your style, you can make it tougher on yourself by destroying the checkpoints to gain extra loot. It is a risk vs reward system that ups the challenge by kicking you back to the beginning of the level upon dying.
Shovel Knight’s graphics are inspired by the look of an NES game, but obviously could not have run on an NES. If you appreciate the retro look, there is a lot to see and appreciate in Shovel Knight. The soundtrack is also a great retro-sounding throwback to the NES days of old. The lively tunes mesh well with the gameplay and never got stale.

I fell in love with Shovel Knight the moment I started playing. It is a fitting homage to a bygone era that borrows from some of the all-time greats while still maintaining its own identity. If you are a fan of old-school games, or you want to experience the best of an era you were too young to enjoy, then this game is for you. Shovel Knight is a must play and is one of my favorite games of the year.


Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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