Shovel Knight, Yacht Club Game’s Kickstarter cinderella story, is a game I have been following for some time. At first, I wasn’t drawn in; not because of a genuine lack of interest, but because I didn’t look enough into the general concept and gameplay of the game itself. I scrolled through a couple of pages and watched some reveal videos, but it wasn’t until a couple of days before its release that I began to get excited. I feel bad, because I am such a supporter of the game and Yacht Club Games now that I wish I could’ve helped contribute to their Kickstarter. But hey, shoulda woulda. Looking back, I was wrong for not getting excited about the game the second I first saw it. Keep reading to see my complete unbiased thoughts on Shovel Knight for 3DS.
From the second Shovel Knight begins, you can tell it was intended to pay contribution to the 8-bit classics. Shovel Knight’s atmosphere has a pretty retro look, while at the same time bringing some new colors to the color palette. This makes the game look pretty beautiful. The atmosphere of each level has its own identity, almost to the point where you feel like you’re playing a different game each level. Each level has a certain theme, with each Boss paralleling the theme in terms of structure and move sets. If you have done any browsing on the Shovel Knight Kickstarter page, you have probably seen a handful of the Boss Nights. All of the the bosses fight incredibly differently, with each one demanding a different strategy. This adds some anticipation and excitement when coming across the last checkpoint and entering the boss’s layer.
Plot and Item System. Without revealing too many spoilers, the game presents a story involving Shovel Knight and his madame Shield Knight. In short, he is on a quest to save his beloved by facing the Order of No Quarter. The plot is pretty interesting, not to mention pretty light-hearted and funny. There are various towns on the map, all with side quests and mini games that allow for a nice getaway in between stages. I for one particularly enjoy taking all of my spoils back to the towns after each map to see what I can afford. Shovel Knight offers upgrades in the form of additional health, magic, shovel powers, weapons, and different armor sets. If this seems overwhelming in terms of spending money, just know there are plenty of ways to make some coin. Whether that be breaking checkpoints, fishing for golden fish, finding song sheets, finding treasure, and even more, you’ll be reeling in the cash in no time. In order to have an unbiased review, I must mention some flaws I feel could have been improved on. The armor system could be better if you were able to change armors on the fly instead of being forced to go back to the armor smith and requesting a change. Although this is not a huge flaw or inconvenience by any means, I feel the need to mention my opinion on the matter. I mean, this is a review after all.
Gameplay. The gameplay of Shovel Knight is without a doubt a rather smooth experience. Being able to map your abilities to different buttons, you can instantly change up the buttons to the way you want to play. The default puts jump on B and attack on A, but I, being uncomfortable, switched the two up. Little customization options like this make a game one and a half times better already. Now lets talk about the Knight of Shovelry himself. Jumping, attacking, and moving in Shovel Knight is fine tuned to make every mistake your fault. You fell off of a cliff? You weren’t precise enough with your jump. You fell on spikes after getting hit by an enemy? You weren’t close enough to the enemy when attacking with your shovel. Shovel Knight is brutal in the fact that it puts success and failure on the player, not on the fallbacks of the game’s structure. I’ve gotten mad while playing, but I never felt mad at the game. I was mad at myself for not being careful in precise enough. One thing i particularly love about Shovel Knight is that after you get hit, you become invincible for about a second. This really shines during the battle with Polar Knight, where he pounds up the ice to reveal spikes on the floor. When you get hit by Polar Knight and just so happen to land on the spikes, death does not take its toll due to the well-implemented insurance invincibility system. Well played, Yacht Club.
Fighting enemies in Shovel Knight forces the player to make each move according to both the structure of and the enemies in the area. A skeleton is located on an isolated area with cliffs on either side? You can either easily kill it with your flare wand with a well-timed jump shot, or you can put your skills to the test and jump to the cliff with the skeleton. You can play a level so many different ways, each one having its own form of reward. There are enough different enemies to keep the gameplay fresh, with enough recurring enemies to make the player feel like they have control over situations. There is a great balance between uncertainty and control in Shovel Knight.
In terms of difficulty, the game delivers quite a challenge. You will die, and you will probably get frustrated. However, the game remains fun under every circumstance. The checkpoint system in Shovel Knight is very forgiving, with there being 3-7 checkpoints in every level. Now, if you’re looking for even more a challenge, play new game +, which only gives a couple of checkpoints per level. Depending on how you play, the game is more or less challenging. You can choose to play without items, or you can choose to destroy checkpoints for some more currency. Play how you wish, but no there is risk and reward to every choice.
Replayability. With new game +, feats (achievements), and a seemingness endless amount of hidden areas, the replay value of Shovel Knight is rather high. I personally have a plethora of files all geared towards certain feats. I have a file where i’m not spending any money or unlocking items, which means I can’t buy any armor upgrades, shovel upgrades, or magic upgrades. It shall be rather difficult, but I like a challenge. If you’re looking for a game to sink your teeth into, Shovel Knight is definitely a great option.
3-D Implementation. Since I’m reviewing the 3DS version, I should probably talk about the exclusive feature for the 3DS right? Right. The 3-D in Shovel Knight adds a sense of layering to the game which while not particularly enhancing gameplay, does enhance the experience of the game. I’d much prefer having the 3-D option to not having the option. Luxuries are always a plus.
Conclusion. Shovel Knight is a game full of fun times and good vibes. Offering a pretty enticing story, rich gameplay, side content, and a good amount of customization, Yacht Club’s first installment does not fall short on practically any scale. Whether or not you are into retro-esq platformers, i advice you give this game a try because I can almost guarantee it will win you over. It has a modern vibe to it, while paying tribute to the classics.
Pros: Full of Content
Great Replay Value
Fine-tuned combat system
Challenging, yet rewarding
Secrets can be found everywhere
Supports different play styles (customization)
The main character is a shoveling knight
Cons: There’s not a Shovel Knight 2 out yet
Review by Nick Putnam