As far as games that were funded and released from Kickstarter, we have seen some pretty good games, like Broken Age, and some incredible flops, like Takedown Red Sabre and Star Command. However, one of the most anticipated games that was coming from Kickstarter was Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight. For those who have not heard of this company, Yacht Club Games was formed by a couple of people who were once a part of WayForward Technologies. I would say that we all have seen the high and low points of WayForward Technologies’ games, but even though Shovel Knight looked promising, we could have gotten another pretentious retro game that tries to capture that spark retro games have, but didn’t. Luckily, Yacht Club Games has brought us a game with smart game design, a retro feel that has its own charm, and is one of the best examples of good Kickstarter games. Let’s dig our way through this game, and review Shovel Knight.
Shovel Knight is about, well, Shovel Knight. A little bit of backstory is given to our hero as he was once a mighty adventurer with his closest friend/love interest, Shield Knight. Unfortunately, one adventure goes wrong, and results in the loss of Shield Knight. As time has passed, Shovel Knight has lived in solitude until an evil force has taken over the kingdom. He then sets off on another adventure to destroy the Enchantress and The Order of No Quarter that is preventing him from his mission to save the land. The story is simple, but the game is bursting with personality, and the characters aren’t that bad. You do get into Shovel Knight’s journey, and you feel good once he has beaten another boss that puts him one step closer to reaching his goal. It doesn’t reach the drama of games like Spec Ops: The Line, Ni No Kuni, or Valiant Hearts: The Great War, but you still care for the characters.
Shovel Knight is a 2D action platformer, and you will make your way across 12 main levels, including the tutorial and the final three levels, the Tower of Fate. Your main weapon is, of course, your trusty shovel. You can slash sideways, thrust downward in a pogo stick-style fashion, and use the shovel to uncover treasure and find hidden areas. Your attack moves are limited so don’t expect a combo system. Luckily, enemies are designed around this attack system where they will die in one or two hits. Some enemies will be like those knights from Zelda II, and have the ability to block your moves. Those sequences become tests of patience, and are incredibly satisfying if you are persistent enough to tackle those enemies. That is, unless you want to use one of the many awesome Castlevania-style sub-weapons. Throughout the game, you will find hidden areas with relics that will give you additional fire power, like an anchor that is like the throwing axe in Castlevania, gauntlets that will let you go through floating stones, an emblem that will make you invulnerable for a few seconds, and one of my favorites, a dagger that not only attacks enemies, but can also get you across large gaps. What I enjoy about these sub-weapons are that their uses are well implemented, and are satisfying to use. It isn’t like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, where all I used in terms of sub-weapons was the axe, or in Mega Man 2 where if you just equip Metal Man’s weapon, it breaks everything, and makes it less fun to use the other robot master weapons. I found areas where one relic helped me out a lot. They also implement loot levels, where they basically teach you how to use said sub-weapon by rewarding you with a lot of loot. Outside of combat, you will find two different towns where you can get health, magic, armor, and weapon upgrades that will give you enhanced abilities. The armor upgrades will give Shovel Knight different types of armors, with different perks, like only losing half the money you would normally lose in a level when you die, or doubling your magic damage, but leaving you a little more vulnerable. Just like in Super Mario Bros. 3, there will be wandering bosses that you will need to fight if you want to get a very hefty loot boost, and to spice up the gameplay every now and then. The boss fights are some of the best I have seen. Like many people have said, they don’t have a preset pattern, but different moves that they will implement at random so you don’t need to rely on playing the boss over and over to understand what you need to do to beat them. This game is hard, and I will admit I died a lot during the entire game, but like everyone else has said again, it is your fault. The controls are tight, and if you die, it’s on you, and not the game. The experience isn’t long at about five hours, but it doesn’t really overstay its welcome, and there is enough to the overall game, like a “new game +” option, where you keep your upgrades, but take a little more damage, to keep you coming back to it.
Graphically, it is everything old-school gamers love about retro games. The colors are bright, the animations are smooth, and it goes that retro gaming route, but doesn’t feel like it’s just doing it to get your attention. It’s not a cheap graphical look just for the sake of saving money. The music is amazing, and there is a reason for that. The composers for the game are the always talented Jake Kaufman and the also always talented Manami Matsumae. Jake Kaufman is known for the soundtracks for the original Shantae, Legend of Kay, Contra 4, Retro City Rampage, Mighty Switch Force!, Double Dragon Neo, and Ducktales: Remastered. Manami Matsumae is well known for her work on games like the original Mega Man, U.N. Squadron, Magic Sword, and is helping out with the soundtrack for Mighty No. 9. The tunes are catchy, upbeat, and atmospheric at times. I found myself humming the tunes to the Clockwork Tower level a lot.
So, do I have any complaints? These are only minor, and don’t fully detract from the game. I wish they didn’t have the whole “you get hit, you bounce back” gimmick that a lot of difficult games had back in the day, because while 99% of the time it doesn’t really get in the way, that rare 1% was where I found myself dying because of the knockback gimmick. I also felt like they could have taken out the need to have super tiny platforms. This is only a real issue when it comes to one of the earlier levels where you fight Specter Knight, and the level’s gimmick is that the level goes dark, and has off-screen lightning light the level in front of you up for a few seconds. Again though, these are some very minor gripes that don’t ruin the game.
Shovel Knight is so satisfying and awesome! This is hands down one of my favorite games of the year. It has some very minor issues, but the overall experience shows that Yacht Club Games has a bright future ahead of it. If you have a Wii U, PC, or Nintendo 3DS, you can pick the game up for $15, and while I wish it was $10 instead, the game is worth every single penny you put into purchasing it. I can’t wait to see what Yacht Club Games has up its sleeve for its next game!
This game gets a 9 out of 10.