The kingdom is in peril, and the Enchantress and her evil Order of No Quarter are wreaking havoc. It’s a time of sword and shields, so no Blue Bomber here, but there is a Blue Burrower, the Shovel Knight!
Genre(s): Platforming | Action
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Release Date: June 2014
Played: Full playthrough – Shovel Knight
Purchase At: Steam
I had heard of Shovel Knight before but never played it, making the mistake of dismissing it as yet another retro-style platformer. But after seeing some of my favourite YouTubers play the game, I decided to give it a shot as it looked pretty interesting, a medieval version of Mega Man.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Shovel Knight takes place in a medieval fantasy world where at one time Shovel Knight and his partner Shield Knight protected the land. But after the mission in which Shield Knight fell, Shovel Knight hung up the spade and retired. This left the world without heroes and gave the Enchantress and her evil Knights a chance to take over. When he hears the Enchantress has unsealed the Tower of Fate, where Shield Knight fell while they fought unspeakable evil, Shovel decides to take the fight to them, even if many in the Order of No Quarter are former comrades.
Shovel Knight is a mix of the best of Mega Man, Castlevania and Super Mario 3. It features an overworld map with different mission locations, as well as friendly towns and shops where the Shovel Knight can upgrade his equipment. The bosses follow the Mega Man naming style, just replacing the “Man” for Knight, such as Plague Knight and King Knight. There’s also a boss rush near the end. Finally, from Castlevania we have “Wall Chicken.” I kid, there are also obvious inspirations on the architecture style, with a mix of classic fantasy medieval and gothic, particularly the last couple of stages.
To be fair there are many more references and points of inspiration, as Shovel Knight is clearly a love letter to the NES classics we all grew up with, as there are even some elements that could be traced to Ducktales and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It’s all old school and it’s terribly fun!
Players control the Shovel Knight, using his spade to attack enemies and dig up treasure. Treasure is important to buy upgrades and items, such as fireball relics or the Chalices for the lovable Troupple King. Treasure also somewhat measures how many lives you have. Unlike the classic games that inspired it, in Shovel Knight you don’t have lives, but instead lose money on each death. When you continue you can pick up what you lost, but sometimes that’s impossible, particularly if you fell down a hole!
Levels in Shovel Knight are hard, even harder than the bosses are. There are traps, pits, enemies in just the right place to make your life a nightmare and tons of very out-of-the-way treasures that you know you’re going to go after, even if it involves navigating moving platforms, collapsing floors and mini-bosses. But everything for a bit of cash or another music sheet for the nice troubadour in the village—who also gives you cash. Each level also follows a theme, connected to the boss of course, and have mechanics and traps that make them all unique and fun to play. Propeller Knight’s stage is one of the toughest and my viewers on stream congratulated me for making it far on the level without dying, especially considering it was my first playthrough!
Boss fights are a blast. If you’re a careful player or have played games like these in the past, they won’t be too hard, though the latter bosses like Polar Knight and Propeller Knight can be a handful. There are also one-off bosses that you meet on the map, and they provide an extra challenge and a ton of gold for your troubles, and they too are pretty fun, from a boy with double boomerangs to a man fighting with hats!
Sadly, the final boss fight, the Enchantress, is terribly disappointing. Instead of the hard-as-nails final bosses that we’re used to seeing in the games that inspired Shovel Knight, where you have to use every resource you have to make it out alive, the Enchantress is quite straightforward, with very few complications. I had a full-health chalice at hand and didn’t have to use it because there was no need for it. I expected a greater challenge. That’s not to say I didn’t die, I just didn’t die as much as I should’ve!
Visuals are gorgeous. Yes, they’re old-school graphics, but when you have such a love-child of classic games, this look is perfect. It’s a dark world with colourful visuals. Because of it, the stark grim environments of the Tower of Fate have a greater impact. Also, just because you’re evil doesn’t mean you have to dress and decorate all in black! I particularly like the backgrounds, as they sometimes tell other stories. For example, Mole Knight’s level is cavernous and the background shows ruins of earlier kingdoms. It made me want to know more about the land, about those that were here before we did.
But it’s the music that’s the true star of this game. Level music is amazing, Mega Man 2 level of amazing! I could just sit there and listen to the tunes instead of playing—though that’s not exactly spectator sport while you’re broadcasting! And with the troubadour in town, if you’ve collected the music sheet, you can replay them as much as you want, which is awesome!
Shovel Knight is one of the best platformers I’ve played in my life, even counting the old school classics. The only thing it needs to surpass them is harder boss encounters, as they lack the difficulty of the levels they’re in. But with New Game Plus and challenge modes, I’m sure I can find that challenge at some point!
5/5 – Hell Yes!