Shovel Knight Review
Unsheathe Thy Inner Shovel
"A charismatic game with a seemingly generic story that is all but generic..."
*This is an old review; much of what you will read here no longer fully represents my view, skills, and knowledge.*
In the first few minutes of being introduced to the world of Shovel Knight we are quickly carried to a story that tells us what it is that will motivate our character — the loss of his companion — through a quest in which we will be told countless times there is no hope.
Set on a lively, bright-colored pixelated world, the game carries us through vibrant green fields full of colorful enemies to dark dungeons where the light of the day can’t ever be seen.
Ridding itself of all the unnecessary weights Shovel Knight sets itself apart from the crowd of popular platformers by making the bold move of incorporating in its narrative a story that has been told numerous time in the history of fantasy video-games, whereas we get to see the clear quarrel between the forces of evil and the brave hero in shiny armor. Yet it’s under the simplicity of the concept that Shovel Knight shines the most, by introducing an incredibly complex level design, numerous unique enemies, and engaging mechanics, all that making the game feel so awfully fun to play despite the basic appearances.
A platformer of stupendous quality, polished to ground-breaking levels that despite the familiarity contained within it, Shovel Knight is a game like no other.
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Release Date: June 26, 2014
Shovel Knight is a game structured like any other platformer, divided into short segments of platforming that get increasingly complex the more progress is made, with new objects of different interaction with the player, and the introduction of new enemies.
It is under the cover of a basic concept, bright visuals, and an energetic soundtrack that the game get people hit by surprise. With a difficulty setting that is sure to make even the most skilled of platformers sweat cold, playing through the game can prove to be quite challenging, requiring attention and superior precision, as well as perfect timing to evade some dangerous encounters.
Shovel Knight is also a very visual game despite the great limitations of pixel-art, propelled not only by a very unique art style but also by great animations and sound effects that make scenes all the more impactful.
The game is packed with corners treated to very special care, and because of that you’ll rarely find yourself feeling underwhelmed by some form of content.
From the moment we start our journey the game is always set in motion, with always something happening in the background, opening doors for unexpected but often very welcome random encounters with unique interactions.
You’ll rarely if ever find yourself wondering about what to do next because the game will always be very clear about what are your objectives, but in what order to tackle them down is always up to the player to decide. A game where you will always have something to do and somewhere to go from start to finish.
A Terrible Fate Awaits
In our journey to seek hope against all odds we will encounter many foes standing in our way. Amongst them lies a select group of powerful villainous knights, assembled at the command of an even more powerful witch as means to dominate part of the world we play on. These knights, the secondary antagonists of the story will be the main force fighting to keep us from reaching our objective of getting to the place where we separated from our companion.
After each time we successfully manage to make our way across each level we will be greeted to a final challenge that is to take down one of these major enemies. While their fights aren’t especially difficult it is all the setting in which we fight them that makes each fight feel so unique. Thanks to some well-placed checkpoints right before each fight it feels pretty easy to take control of encounters in just a few attempts, knowing it only takes mere seconds to get back up fighting again.
Raising victorious from each individual encounter, and after being told numerous times our efforts would be worth nothing, for in the end a terrible fate would be all there is waiting for us, unbothered by the advice we move to the place that was our objective from the very beginning, the place where we would meet the origin of all the chaos, and the culprit to the separation of Shovel Knight and his companion.
While the final fight sequence can be quite underwhelming from a difficulty perspective, the ending closes the game in a pretty good note, finishing the story in a simple yet very effective way.
Abilities And Upgrades
In Shovel Knight we start the campaign naked skills-wise, stripped of fancy abilities, able only to perform simple actions such as to just swing our shovel at enemies.
Thankfully it doesn’t stay that way for long, and we are soon introduced to some trinkets that allow us to perform some more advanced actions like one that allows us to dash through the air, making it possible to reach some previously unreachable places, or another that rend us invincible for a few seconds, immune to all kinds of damage, allowing us to walk on spikes, or to simply avoid enemies completely, allowing us to walk right past them.
Now regarding upgrades, when you’re more than halfway done with the story, the two NPCs that make upgrading armors and weapons possible become accessible.
The way to acquire upgrades is very simple — upon spending an elevated amount of gold you can buy an upgrade for the shovel or armor. The shovel upgrades unlock certain abilities that some will work passively, enhancing our character’s reach depending on certain conditions, or increasing our ability to dig piles of valuables in a single motion while another will augment the player attack upon holding the attack button for longer.
Armor upgrades on the other hand offer some unique passive effects that essentially are made to complement some playstyles better, or to just better fit the visual style of each individual. The biggest changes that come with equipping new armors will be mostly visuals only, with most of the obtainable upgrades being almost completely useless, having very little impact on gameplay apart from a cosmetic perspective.
Taking some of them as an example, we have one that cuts the amount of gold we lose upon dying by a considerable amount, which considerably useful but loses its appeal rather quickly knowing that by mid to late game, — the point in the story where we unlock the ability to make the upgrade — we'd already have gathered enough resources to buy all the most necessary upgrades to carry us through the rest of the game; another reduces by a great margin the amount of knockback taken upon colliding with enemies, and if not for the huge tradeoff of sliding on the ground as if walking on ice, the upgrade would definitely be the most useful by a longshot.
And finally, the most expensive upgrade one can obtain, costing the gold of a few successful runs is, as the own game states, completely useless, apart from “it looks good”. The very own in-game description reads: “Flashy! Acrobatic! Useless!”, and that’s what it is, absolutely useless from a gameplay perspective, but definitely very stylish.
Armors are all only in the game mostly for cosmetic reasons, and avoiding them entirely shouldn’t really affect your gameplay in any way other than by the fact that you’ll be missing on entirely new visuals for the Shovel Knight.
Shovel Knight was overall a really fun experience I enjoyed every minute of playing through.
The game, hiding under the cover of extreme simplicity, possesses an incredibly deep gameplay experience that holds many surprises throughout its entirety for those adept enough to explore what lies at the end of the 10-12 hour long adventure.
All that proppeled by the great art-style, and incredible soundtrack makes the game one of a kind.
Energetic soundtrack perfectly fitting for the adventure Shovel Knight is trying to get players to experience.
Stages that are super fun to explore thanks to the wide gameplay variety each unique stage brings to the experience.
Incredible visuals despite the limitations that come with pixel-art, giving awesome detailing even to the most unexpected of places.
Smart, quality platforming, with well placed enemies and objects that are sure to frustrate attempts at perfoming a simple jump.
Slightly underwhelming upgrades, with the biggest issue being that they are mostly useless from a gameplay perspective.
Many bosses aren't as difficult as they could have possibly been, which makes some fights seem kind of underwhelming.
Slightly frustrating sequences of platforming, especially in some tight areas where you don't have much space for maneuvers.
Collectibles lose their value rather quickly and by mid to late game there isn't lots of use for most things you find on stages.
A game that is not made to be glorified for its visuals or incredible story-telling. What it offers instead is a lot of personality inside an energetic, short, lively experience. Betraying the expectations of those expecting a basic experience, the game is all but basic.
10/12/2020 - Caius, The [insert shovel joke]