If you haven’t heard of Shovel Knight yet, I’m the luckiest guy in the world, because this Shovel Knight Review might actually matter to you. The highly-praised title has warmed hearts over the gaming community across all platforms, completely ignoring the opinion-based wars between the devices it runs on, whilst catering to each in some way. An 8-bit, self-aware callback to a “golden age” filled with references to the classic titles of days gone by. Let’s shovel on to the review.
Look and Feel
Intentionally retro, the basis of Shovel Knight seems to be “Hey guys! Remember how awesome games used to just be awesome? They still are!”. This extends beyond the visual representation, but that is certainly what hits the eye first. The 8-bit style isn’t jarring because it doesn’t hide it or make excuses for it, it embraces it.
It’s incredibly colourful, from the over-world to the individual levels made up of various environments, and – whilst it doesn’t exactly push hardware – boasts fantastic stability throughout the entirety of the game. The audio, too, hits the nostalgia button but doesn’t feel dated. In fact, it feels more at home and memorable than most modern day soundscapes created for gaming. Lots of fast-paced, high energy, guitar-riff replicating themes come at you and you’ll no doubt find the common battle-level theme to be unmistakable in years to come.
Not much to be said about the feel that hasn’t already been said about the look and audio. It’s great to control Shovel Knight. It feels as it should if you’ve ever played an 8-bit platform game in your life. You’re always in danger of pit-falling but there is always a way around it. Above all else, it feels great to play. That’s what we’re here for, right? To play?
Let’s boil it down to the basics for you: you’re a knight that wields a shovel. You go from left to right (as is tradition) until you reach a boss. You defeat the boss, and are rewarded with the treasure from that journey. Boom! Game done. It’s over.
Ok, it’s not quite that simple. Sometimes you go up and down. Seriously though, it’s a tried and true formula but it does it so well. The treasure you gain is used to increase health, magic points (mana), purchase relics which are tools that have various uses to assist you within the game, and to upgrade both your shovel and armour sets.
Simple to learn, difficult to master – this is the creed of Shovel Knight. You might handle the journey through to the Usurper King’s domain and beat him down with a slither of health between you and death, but could you do it without losing a drop of HP? Could you destroy the checkpoints along the way, knowing that any singular death, fair or not, would result in having to run it all from the start once more? This game design is the true genius of Shovel Knight’s gameplay. It restricts almost nobody from experiencing it, but allows the best of the best to get truly engrossed.
The over-world map is very Mario Bros. 3, wherein you move along and can have encounters with some enemies as move on the map if your character comes in to contact with theirs. These result in some cool boss fights or opportunities at extra treasure.
The boss battles are definitely the highlight of the experience, with each requiring a different tactic to take down (to an extent). It’s more about timing than anything and recognising the attack patterns. I liked to use the Phase Locket myself more than any other relic. Free hint!
The game can be difficult to the point of frustration at some points, but persevere and you’ll be rewarded with a prideful, manly tear of your own at the end. I kid, but legitimately, it’s worth pushing through the entire game to see the conclusion of Shovel Knight’s pursuit of Shield Knight.
One type of collectible exists: song scrolls. These scrolls can be handed in to a Bard at the Village for a gold reward and the ability to hear that theme as and when you request it from him. Some are simple to acquire, others are ridiculously complicated. So well hidden, Sherlock and Batman would have to resurrect Einstein in order to have a shot at gathering them all. Ok, maybe not, but they’re a challenge to find, so completionists are either in for a treat or an arduous shift depending on their perspective.
Of course, like with most games of its kind, Shovel Knight comes to life in New Game Plus, where the enemies hit harder, but you carry over all relics and upgrades earned in the first playthrough. Also, wherein you’d normally find health-recovering meat as you journeyed through levels, you will find only a bomb. It requires much more skill to beat NG+, and it’s a worthy upgrade in challenge – especially the penultimate level.
The latest versions of the game – for Playstation 4 and Xbox One – have exclusive content. The Wii U received priority release well in advance of the currently reviewed product, in-case you’re wondering why Nintendo were “left out”. Playstation gamers get to face-off against Kratos of God of War fame, whilst Xbox One players get some fairly unique Battletoads challenges. Think of those what you will, they’re interesting incentives no matter where you play.
Having torn through the main game and New Game Plus, I find myself now going back to try and collect all of the Song Scrolls and complete some of the more difficult feats, such as “Finish the game in 1 hour and 30 minutes”. On that note, the game can take as long as you let it and is entirely skill based. There’s nothing to truly fault Shovel Knight on, but what holds it back from that coveted 10/10 is that it doesn’t do anything new. We didn’t ask it to, and it didn’t try to, granted, but were there to be anything of the sort said, that would be the one drawback of this fantastic title that’s more than deserving of your money.
Review Format: PS4
Shovel Knight Review
Graphics - 8/10
Story - 8/10
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Fun Factor - 9.5/10
There's a lot to dig about Shovel Knight. It'd be a grave mistake to miss out on the fruits of Yacht Club Games' labour. Quit garden your wallet and fork out some green for this lovable tribute to the classics.
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