Shovel Knight started as a Kickstarter project by ex-WayForward devs. WayForward makes amazing games – Duck Tales Remastered is incredible, as was Double Dragon Neon. These games were very inspirational to me in terms of style and music. This new team, Yacht Club Games, while not comprising of the entire WayForward team, was still able to get music from Jake Kaufman! All that aside, what made Shovel Knight appealing was the 8-bit ‘NES’ graphics and what looked to be Duck Tales gameplay. Instead of a cane, you have a shovel – the Kickstarter sold me. I backed that s**t up.
Shovel Knight looks and plays like an old-school NES game. As I mentioned, it borrows heavily from Duck Tales, but it doesn’t stop there. You’ve got parts Mario 3, Castlevania, Zelda II, Mega Man, among other games. It doesn’t out-right copy them (expect for shovel-pogo being a large part of the games dynamics), but does a great job being its own game. You attack enemies with a shovel, navigate dangerous platforming sections, just to get to the end of the stage and defeat the boss. There’s tons of loot through gems and coins (ala Duck Tales), with lots of hidden areas and secrets strewn about. With this loot you can purchase upgrades and new weapons. You don’t need these upgrades to finish the game, but it’s good to have them for completing “feats” and finding secrets.
Here’s some gameplay:
At times it’s tough but this is offset by your money counting as life. When you die, you lose some of your money which you can then try to get back. I’ve never died enough to run out of money though, but I have died more than 3 to 5 times in a single level, meaning I would have had to restart. Once I completed the game, I started the New Game+ mode which is a lot harder. Your health depletes much faster. Even with all the upgrades from your original game, this is much more of a challenge. I would have preferred a ‘lives’ system. Five deaths into a stage and I have to restart – this would add much more tension. I know WayForwards Duck Tales got knocked in reviews because of this difficulty, so I can see why Yacht Club Games opted for an alternate approach.
The music is incredible, once again done by the amazing Jake Kaufman. It sounds like something straight out of a Nintendo game. If I were to perhaps make a single gripe, it would be that it became too much about being chip tune music and not enough trying to be its own thing within the limits of the musical style. Does that make sense? Maybe I’m just being picky, but it’s something to think about.
In the end, this game is worth the entry fee of $15. I’d say more. There’s some promised DLC along the way to add new modes and characters, furthering the life of the game. Even in my first play through I didn’t find everything, so I can see more time being put into this. This review was based on the PC version – it’s also available on Wii U and 3DS with extra features.