Shovel Knight. Bongripper 360 No Scope Need Not Apply.
By Martin Toney
Note: Given the RPG-esque gameplay mechanics that players can use to upgrade Shovel Knight as he moves forward in the game, this review will only feature the default Blue Shovel Knight to avoid spoilers.
The Story so far.
There was once a formidable duo of adventuring Knights, Shovel Knight & Shield Knight, that travelled the world together; performing Knightly deeds for the common folk and seeking the hoarded treasures of their foes. After a great deal of adventuring and over powering any evil that dared oppose them, the pair discovered the Tower of Fate; a towering edifice of stone that houses a powerful cursed amulet which overwhelms our heroes and renders the noble twosome unconscious. Regaining his consciousness, Shovel Knight finds that his beloved Shield Knight is missing, nowhere to be found, and the Tower of Fate sealed tightly shut.
Lost in his grief, the once mighty Shovel Knight quits the adventuring lifestyle and sinks into a sad life of loneliness. In the absence of Shovel Knight, a dark magical mistress known as the Enchantress is able to spread her evil magic across the land and rise to power.
However, word reaches the ears of the secluded Shovel Knight that the Enchantress has unsealed the Tower of Fate, spurring him into action. Steeling his soul, sharpening his shovel and preparing to strike the earth; Shovel Knight strides out of his self imposed seclusion once more in the hope that he will be reunited with his beloved Shield Knight.
Steel Thy Sword! The Gameplay of Shovel Knight.
There is a lot to be said about Shovel Knights 2D Side Scrolling Action Platforming gameplay. Players are given control of a shovel wielding Knight that has clearly been inspired by the classic side scrollers of yore, from the pogo styled bouncing of Scrooge McDuck to the precision jumping and shooting of the blue bomber, MegaMan.
Focusing on solid 2D platforming design that far surpasses most side scrollers in recent memory with clever enemy placement and environmental hazards, Shovel Knight delivers a tight and precise adventure through a number of unique environments that will challenge the player at every turn.
Making use of his signature weapon, Shovel Knight can dig through many different things in the game world, from a pile of stone and sand that’s just waiting to be upturned to the armour of an enemy soldier that stands in your path, nothing can stand up to the might of your unyielding Shovel.
However, the Shovel isn’t your only option. Savvy players will make use of the various Relics scattered throughout the game. These Relics act as magical items that grant Shovel Knight a variety of skills such as a bouncing sphere of energy, straight path projectiles or a brief period of invincibility. Underwater fishing anyone?
These Relics, when used properly, can help the player enormously as they progress through the stage. However players that are searching for a more difficult gameplay experience can choose not to use certain Relics and can even shatter the checkpoint spheres, meaning that death at any point means restarting the entire stage.
There’s Beauty in Simplicity. The Visuals of Shovel Knight.
As I’ve mentioned before on numerous occasions, there’s beauty in simplicity. Games need not make a spectacle of their graphical fidelity, more often than not developers use flashy filters and particle effects to cover up the limited gameplay found in their games. Shovel Knight uses an intentionally limited colour palette that forced developers Yacht Club Games to make sure that the visuals were on par with the gameplay. And make no mistake, the visual style of Shovel Knight is simply gorgeous.
Drawing obvious inspiration from some of the most iconic side scrolling games in history, Shovel Knight is a bright and colourful game that manages to easily convey the tone of each stage. From the dark and lonely camp where our brave Knight camps each night, to the green and open vistas of the country-side that rolls away from the warm and cozy first village.
Players don’t have to worry about losing track of Shovel Knight amidst the chaos of combat and magic though, as a careful attention to colour selection means the player and enemies are always clearly recognizable against the backdrop of the environment. Some encounters even take place against plain black backgrounds to allow for a greater focus on the challenge of the fight, but this simplistic background somehow makes the colourful and clever character design seem even more lively.
Strike The Earth. The Sounds of Shovel Knight.
In keeping with the old school 8-bit NES era aesthetic, Shovel Knight is accompanied by an outstanding chip tune soundtrack that I’ve listened to from start to finish on multiple occasions already. This authentic soundtrack was composed by video game music veteran, Jake Kaufman who has previously worked on Contra 4, Duck Tales: Remastered as well as Batman: The Brave and The Bold. Further musical talent was supplied by Manami Matsumae who is perhaps best known for her work on the classic video games MegaMan and MegaMan 10.
“You are naught but a decadent dandy!” Final Thoughts on Shovel Knight.
Shovel Knight is a fantastically well put together adventure that will test a players skill, tenacity and ability to triumph over genuinely challenging level design that doesn’t rely on cheap tricks to generate an artificial level of difficulty. Boss encounters are always exciting and new, the acquisition of items is for the most part optional and the games unique charm and wit helps bring it to life in a way that breathes life into pixelated characters in a way I personally haven’t seen since the late days of the SNES era.
Ultimately, Shovel Knight is a game that the hardcore gamer should not miss out on. It’s a throwback to an older and more honest time where games where judged on the merit of their gameplay and design rather than their budget. Truly, Shovel Knight is a modern classic, in every sense of the word.
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/martin.jpg” ]Martin Toney is a career journalist inside and outside the video game industry, he has worked with Newspapers, Magazines, Radio stations and a great deal of online publications. He lives on the North Coast of Ireland where he is lucky enough to see parts of Game of Thrones getting made. Apparently it feels nice to live on “The Kings Road to Winterfell.” [/author]