We live in a time when nostalgia cannot really be considered a fad. For the past 3-4 years the independent game development community has produced games that sing never-ending praise for the 8 and 16-bit generation. Some thought this was a passing fancy and that we’d “get over it”. They were wrong. The number of games that have employed a retro art style if not more are too numerous to count. While many are wonderful homages to an older and epic era there are quite a few duds.
Yacht Club Games first release has a lot to live up to. There is no shortage of retro platformers and it was announced around the same time as the Duck Tales remake. Which coincidentally was made by the studio were many of members of Yacht Club Games came from, WayForward. It would be fair to say that WayForward lost some good people because Shovel Knight, Yacht Club Games’ first title, is awesome. Shovel Knight makes no qualms about where its inspiration originates. Anyone who grew up playing classic NES platformer and action games in addition to some more recent HD classics will feel immediately at home. However that sense of comfort does not mean the game doesn’t bring its own innovations.
Shovel Knight is an underdog and must fight through a group of other uniquely themed knights along with an evil Enchantress who have collectively taken on the moniker, The Order of No Quarter. Shovel’s love, Shield Knight, has been taken and he will stop at nothing to rescue her. Using a world map, Shovel Knight must confront the other knights in their own domain to work his way up to the Tower of Fate. Along the way he will encounter challenges on the road and spend the treasures he accumulates on health, magic, armor, weapons, relics and tools. Shovel Knight’s main weapon is used for pogoing, slashing and, of course, digging. It may seem unfair at the beginning of the game to encounter enemies with powerful projectiles. But the relics you buy enable you to cast fire, become invincible, fish, hurl anchors, fly, dash punch and more.
The levels are tough but fair and I often found myself elated to see a checkpoint. Checkpoints are fueled by the same currency you use to augment your abilities. Should you smash open a checkpoint for its loot you will no longer be able to use it for its intended purpose; thus making any level that much more challenging. The penalty for death is the loss of money. However that money can be reacquired, in the very place you lost it. Money earned can be spent on meal tickets (health upgrades), new shovel/armor abilities or magic upgrades. The levels in Shovel Knight contain many secrets. Some meal tickets and relics can be found or purchased mid-level. Sheet music can also be found throughout the game and will allow you to enjoy more of Jake Kaufman and Manami Matsumae’s work.
The combat and level design are superb. If you like boss battles, this game will not let you down. There are bosses everywhere and so many things to find. Like the level’s themselves the bosses are tough but fair. I died a lot in this game; fighting bosses and maneuvering through tricky time sensitive sections. Despite my frustrations, I was mad at my performance and not the level’s design. Shovel Knight is a love letter to games that are legendary in their own right. Nothing felt overused or redundant and, dare I say, Yacht Club raised the bar while simultaneously throwing down the gauntlet.
Recommendation: Worth a buy
Full Disclosure: The PC version of this game was provided to GameEnthus by the publisher.
Genre: retro-inspired action platformer
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U
Worth a buy – paying full price for fans of the series or genre makes sense – often includes a caveat
Worth a buy on sale – not quite full price worthy but close, – often includes a caveat
Rent – rent before buying
No – borrow it if you must play it
Please no – Don’t waste any time and/or money on it