Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Shovel Knight Review (XONE)

Of all the bazillion indie games that desperately want to rekindle the oldschool 2D platformer flame, Shovel Knight comes the closest to getting everything right.  It has great presentation and fantastic gameplay borne from a wide range of inspirations that all come together to form something pretty special.  See our full Xbox One Shovel Knight review for all of the details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Yacht Club Games
  • Developer: Yacht Club Games
  • ESRB Rating: “E” for Everyone
  • Genre: 2D Platformer
  • Pros: Great artwork and music; sharp controls; solid level design; tons of content; cheat codes!
  • Cons: Uneven difficulty; co-op only on Wii U
  • MSRP: $15



Shovel Knight stars a knight with a shovel that fights through a series of levels and boss fights in his quest to save his one true love, Shield Knight.  Each of the levels is themed after whatever knight that lords over them – King Knight’s level is a castle, Specter Knight’s level is a haunted mansion, etc.. 

Shovel Knight borrows elements from a number of classic game series.  The world map is similar to Super Mario Bros. 3, the themed levels and bosses are clearly a nod to Mega Man, and you have to buy or find new weapons and progression items similar to Castlevania 2 or The Adventures of Link.  It all comes together to form a game that is familiar and nostalgic, but also fresh.


Gameplay in Shovel Knight hearkens back to oldschool games as well.  At its core it is a 2D action platformer where you run and jump around levels and destroying enemies along the way to reach the end.  What sets Shovel Knight apart, however, is that your main weapon is a shovel, so combat is usually up close and personal.  You also have a pogo ability similar to Scrooge McDuck in the classic DuckTales game, which is used not only to defeat enemies but also to bounce on objects to gain more height and reach new areas.  The controls are fantastic and the game just feels really good to play.

It is also different from, say, the Mega Man series in that you don’t earn new items and abilities simply by defeating the bosses and instead you have to find them in a stage or buy them at a village.  Over the course of the game you’ll get a fireball projectile, a brief invincibility spell, a dagger that lets you fly across the screen, and much more.  The fact that many items are optional makes replays interesting because there are a lot of different ways to get through the game using the various tools at your disposal. 

One thing about Shovel Knight is that it has very uneven difficulty from level to level.  This isn’t any different from other oldschool-style games, of course, but the sudden jumps in difficulty seem more like difficulty for difficulty’s sake rather than doing it because it is fun.  Shovel Knight’s difficulty usually comes in the form of a particular room or platforming section that is exponentially harder than anything else in that level and dying over and over at these bottlenecks kind of saps your desire to play the game.  You don’t so much feel satisfaction when you beat these sections as you feel relief you won’t have to bother with them again.  That doesn’t seem like a feeling game developers should be eager for players to have.  You can get through it, of course, but it kind of starts to feel like a grind by the end.

Another oldschool throwback in Shovel Knight comes in the form of actual honest to goodness cheat codes.  We haven’t really had cheat codes for a long time now, but Shovel Knight has more than 300 of them that let you do all sorts of things like starting with various items / abilities, getting lots of money, skipping levels, and much more.  I love cheats!

My one real complaint (my whining about the difficulty is admittedly pretty subjective) with Shovel Knight is that it has a co-op mode that is exclusive to the Wii U version of the game.  That is super lame and I’m not happy about it.

Presentation in Shovel Knight is absolutely pixel perfect.  The NES-style sprite graphics look absolutely fantastic and the animation is extremely well done.  It obviously has more colors and higher pixel density (thus more detailed sprites) than a real NES game, but it still captures the same overall look perfectly.  The soundtrack is also a great throwback to the NES era with some truly catchy music that would have fit as well into Mega Man as they do in Shovel Knight.

Shovel Knight is without a doubt the most successful throwback indie 2D platformers on the market because it actually does just about everything well.  It doesn’t rely exclusively on just one thing like uber difficulty, or gameplay gimmicks, or an appealing art style like so many indie games do.  It instead does all of these things and more to create a much more fully realized total experience than most of its indie contemporaries.  Shovel Knight is the full package that oldschool gamers and younger players alike will have a great time with. 
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher

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