In case you missed my previous post, I mentioned how I had kickstarted Shovel Knight and was very much enjoying my first run through it. Days later, I’ve beaten the game and am halfway toward doing so again on a New Game+ save (all items from previous run, but harder). I am still loving it.
To cut to the chase, if I had to give Shovel Knight a score, it would be an approximate nine bordering closer to ten. The game is exactly what I wanted when I first saw it. It has a reasonable amount of challenge befitting it’s 8-bit aesthetic and intended heritage, but it won’t punish most gamers “too much”. Shovel Knight also has a ton of charm, including lines about “Shovel justice” and short speeches that expound individual boss motivations. The writing won’t win any literary awards, but it is perfect for this kind of game.
Even with its simple, straight-forward, and often humorous dialogue, the game did milk some decent characterization from its sparse lines. There are dream sequence bonus stages where Shovel Knight must catch his lost love Shield Knight while fighting off a hoard of attackers. While fun, the main purpose of these stages for me was investing me in their relationship and getting me interested in what exactly happened to Shield Knight prior to the game. The end of the story, while still very limited, managed to satisfy more than the more typical NES end screens. Those usually featured lines like, “You winner” and “Congradulations, you save day – what hero!”
The game’s controls are tight, the platforming is fun, and the bosses all have interesting patterns to overcome. The whole game functions like a love letter to the original Mega Man series, mixed with a few nods to other games (the level select screen looks like Super Mario 3’s, for instance.) It’s a bit easy to exploit if you max out your Magic, get the Magic armor, and abuse the Phase Shifting item, but you still have to time jumps correctly, so it’s not too bad. I loved the initial challenge of my first run, but the New Game+’s limited Checkpoints (two per level with the second one coming just before the boss) felt a lot more appropriate to what I really expected.
I do have one complaint about Shovel Knight, though it isn’t about the game itself. The Kickstarter originally slated delivery of the game in September 2013, which obviously didn’t happen. That’s not a big deal – I expect delays – but the final release of the game doesn’t include all of the stretch goals. This is definitely a nitpick, but considering the delay and the additional $200,000 over the goal Yacht Club received I was hoping for everything at once. It’ll likely work out better this way as it’ll give me an excuse to come back for Gender Swap mode, but it was disappointing.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Shovel Knight is worth your full investment. It is the best kind of homage: the sort that becomes its own thing. It has humor, challenge, and charm. It may be a bit light on content initially, especially if you are the sort of player who plays things once, but I wouldn’t miss out on playing it. Shovel Knight proves why indie games and Kickstarter are great for gaming as a whole.
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