“Hey, you should check out that Shovel Knight Kickstarter; looks pretty awesome.”
“You just a Wii U, right? You should go check out Shovel Knight; seems like it’s right up your alley.”
“Shovel Knight is coming out on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in a few months; you need to try it.”
Welcome to the last year of my life, listening to people constantly recommending that I play Shovel Knight, while I continuously ignore them. Why did I ignore them? My interest in 2D platformers is long past, plus I don’t like doing anything that’s recommended to me. No matter my reasons, I was wrong to avoid Shovel Knight; so massively wrong.
A Love Story
Before the beginning of the game, Shovel Knight is in seclusion after losing his love, Shield Knight, to the darkness within The Enchantress. When our story begins, Shovel Knight has decided to journey across the realm to defeat The Enchantress once and for all, while trying to find out what became of his beloved Shield Knight. Between him and his goal is The Order of No Quarter, a band of knights instructed by The Enchantress to stop Shovel Knight. Shovel Knight journeys across the land defeating members of The Order of No Quarter, while dealing with infrequent run-ins with The Black Knight, a knight seeming like an Order wannabee pulled straight from Shovel Knight’s dark side.
While journeying through the land players will realize not all is as it seems with The Enchantress or even The Black Knight’s motives, but that’s something for each player to discover on their own.
When dealing with most classic, 8-bit styled games, it is rarely expected that story will be a primary component. Sure, the classic Super Mario games had their stories, with Super Mario World standing out, but they were still mostly just something to service level design. Rarely did story really stand out as a focal point. Shovel Knight does not follow true with this, as the story of Shovel Knight, simple as it is, has more heart and emotions buried inside it than many AAA RPGs created over the last decade. Throughout the game’s 4-6 hours story (90 minutes if achievement hunting; 14+ hours if me) pulled into the journey and motivations of not just Shovel Knight, but of each member of The Order of No Quarter. By the time the after credits stinger hit, I was more than ready to shed a tear or two over the simple, yet masterful story told of love, sacrifice, and knowing one’s true self.
Shovel Knight is a masterstroke in simplicity when it comes to storytelling, which is not dissimilar to how it treats its gameplay.
Digging Across the Land
It would be hard to blame anyone for starting up Shovel Knight and not immediately having flashbacks to Super Mario Bros. 3 the first time their eyes descended upon the overworld map. From the linear, but not linear pathing to the random encounters that trigger from simply walking over an enemy, the similarities are strong. They don’t stop at Super Mario Bros. 3 as Shovel Knight cherry-picks from many of the legends of 8-bit past: The chiptune music pulls on notes from Sonic the Hedgehog, Mega Man, and Battletoads; the gameplay, from beating bosses to level traversal harkens back to the time of Mega Man, when there was one specific way to beat each boss or level — though Shovel Knight is nowhere near as strict.
These notes are most definitely intentional, including much more not mentioned, as Shovel Knight is both an homage as well as its own entity. It does what so many games of assorted genres has tried to do over this, the decade of nostalgia: it exists entirely separately from what came before it, while simultaneously acknowledging nearly everything of the genre and building upon it. If you’ve ever played the a Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog, or Mega Man; if you ever dabbled at Aladdin on the Sega Genesis; if you ever played any classic or semi-classic game of that 8-16-bit era, then the nostalgia will flow strongly from the moment <em>Shovel Knight’s</em> main theme hits until the moment you [SPOILER!] defeat The Enchantress in a multistage battle for the soul of Shield Knight.
Even if you’ve never laid your hands upon that glorious era of yesteryear, you still won’t be left out in the cold. Someone coming in lukewarm or even cold to the genre will still find much to enjoy. The music sets the stage like few games ever have before it creating an atmosphere for adventure that will keep you playing even if you tire of the gameplay– seriously, buy the damned soundtrack (both of them) immediately as they are absolute perfection. Though honestly, I can’t imagine most people tiring of the gameplay at any point. I’m absolutely incompetent when it comes to most platformers (seriously 14+ hours to beat this game) and I was hooked from start to finish, only willing to stop playing because I had a 4-month-old baby that was being selfish and wanting to eat food. Even in your failures you’ll only lose just enough that it should motivate you to make up for your mistakes and try again.
There should be no surprise in this, but seriously, go play Shovel Knight this instant! Buy the game on whatever you’d like, whether PC, Wii U, 3DS, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, or Xbox One; seriously you have an overabundance of system options to play it on. Once you’ve beaten the game, play it again on new game plus mode, then buy the soundtracks. Engross yourself in Shovel Knight, because it has plenty of DLC on the way; all of which looks outstanding.
This is a game you and everyone like you owes yourself to play, so go out there and pick it up immediately if you are late to the game like I am.
Shovel Knight does what many games capitalizing on nostalgia attempt to do: it copies what came before, while breathing new life into ancient bones. From weaving a wonderful tale to perfecting platformer gaming, it takes you on a journey filled with near-infinite replayability. The music (oh sweet Garrus, the music!) will fill you with joy and elation the likes of which your crusted over heart may have never experienced.
It's so good that I'm going to break our rating scale for it.
Buy it; share it; love it.