In an age where countless indie developers strive to create the ultimate retro experience, Shovel Knight clearly stands out of the crowd. With everything fine-tuned and era-appropriate, you'll feel like you're playing a long-lost NES game, but is that really what you want to spend your time doing? Of course it is, so grab a shovel and let's dig in to this modern-day retro masterpiece.
Shovel Knight has traveled the world with his inseparably beloved Shield Knight. However, when Shield Knight becomes entrapped in the Tower of Fate, Shovel Knight mourns her disappearance until one fateful day when the evil Enchantress breaks the tower's seal. It's up to Shovel Knight to journey throughout the land while defeating The Order of No Quarter, their enchanting leader, and hopefully be able to adventure with Shield Knight yet again.
8-bit graphics don't get much more authentic or beautiful as they are in Shovel Knight. The many environments that you explore set themselves apart from each other with distinct characteristics. You'll traverse castles, laboratories, airships, and towns; all of which have a steampunk overtone. The Knight himself and all of his foes are animated smoothly which solidifies the vibrant visuals perfectly. Enemies and bosses can appear anywhere from menacing to completely ridiculous and their absurdity makes them all the more fun to battle. Shovel Knight's soundtrack will be remembered for years if not decades as one of the best chiptune scores ever composed. Not only is it genuinely 8-bit, it's so catchy that certain tunes will loop in your head for days after putting the game down. To complete the soundscape are effects that provide instant gratification for every onscreen occurrence. Overall, Shovel Knight is a masterful work of old-school gaming at its prime.
You control Mr. Knight with the directional pad (or stick, if you want), a button to jump, and a button to attack. Isn't that exactly what you expected? That's not everything, of course, since he is a capable warrior with many abilities at his disposal. He can also downward-thrust after jumping and use relics that mostly act like sub-weapons by holding up while attacking. These simple controls are implemented fantastically as every action feels responsive and satisfying. Whether you're fighting a boss, platforming in areas covered with spikes, or casting a line down a hole so you can take a break and do some fishing, it's difficult not to enjoy every moment.
Shovel Knight's ten or so stages are quite long. Even while playing through flawlessly and not having to restart, you'll be impressed by how much time you'll spend simply completing a stage. Within stages, you'll fight many foes, encounter sub-bosses, make your way through unique platforming situations, and obviously battle a boss at the end. Although it's mainly platforming, it never becomes tiresome because the stages do a great job of keeping the gameplay fresh and exciting. Between stages you can purchase upgrades in towns, fight optional bosses, challenge relic-specific stages, and uncover a large variety of secrets and treasures. It's a constantly rewarding adventure that'll surely have you hooked simply to find out what goodies await. If you want to take a break from the excitement then you can always hand over all of your found music sheets to the bard so he can play you a song to lift your spirits and get you ready to continue your quest. There's so much to see and do and even after you've seen it all, you'll want to experience it all over again.
I guess I have to mention some frustrating aspects since this is a review, after all. Upon meeting your demise, a quarter of your total gold leaves your possession in the form of retrievable floating money bags. Although this is an interesting mechanic, at times the gold is simply unreachable. You could argue that this is just part of the game, but there's no denying how annoying it is when you can see your hard-earned cash floating above a faraway bed of spikes. Also, when you get hit by an enemy, you're knocked back a little bit. This was a common element in many classic platformers, but in this day and age when you get hit by an enemy and knocked back into a bottomless pit, you can get understandably outraged. That brings me to my final grievance which is that most pits are in fact bottomless while a few actually cause you to enter a new room. At a couple points in the game, you're actually forced to take leaps of faith down unmarked pits in order to advance. This may be a small complaint, but it's a noteworthy inconsistency.
Shovel Knight may have a few minor issues, but it represents the epitome of 8-bit gaming. If it were released for the NES back in the day, gamers would still be playing it today while enjoying every second of its first-rate sights and sounds, simple yet fulfilling gameplay, and constantly rewarding treasure trove of content.
- + Top-notch 8-bit graphics with one of the best chiptune soundtracks ever composed
- + Incredibly satisfying 2D platform gameplay
- + Plenty of extra content and replayability
- - Some frustrating events occur such as when knockback results in death
- - Pits can be unclear since most end your life while a few are paths to new rooms