From the first time I saw Shovel Knight on video, I could hear it calling me the way only an 8-bit sidescroller can. Pixel art landscapes featuring a bouncy knight with a shovel instantly appealed to both my nostalgic side and my thirst for novelty. Once I finally played it, I was not let down. An appealing aesthetic combined with thoughtful level design makes Shovel Knight an instant classic.
Shovel Knight is the first game from Valencia, California’s Yacht Club Games, but the studio is composed of industry veterans who have worked on updates to old franchises like Contra 4, A Boy and his Blob, and Double Dragon Neon. This experience comes together to combine the best parts from the 8-bit era while applying modern innovation to the gameplay and visuals.
In a familiar plot, you assume the role of the ditch-digging warrior Shovel Knight to bury the evil enchantress and save your beloved. Along the way there are many foes to bury and treasures to scoop up. If you didn’t already infer, Shovel Knight’s main weapon is his shovel, which he can use to hit enemies, dig up treasures, and occasionally toss about the skulls of the fallen. The shovel also doubles as a pogo stick, so you can bounce around like Scrooge McDuck while you’re hoarding treasure.
Shovel Knight‘s level design is unmatched. Any opportunity to exploit the use of the shovel has been taken, and the variety of enemies, traps, and interactive objects is impressive. The game is a gentle tutor, easing you in to object interaction so you’re never left wondering what you need to do to complete an area. This does not mean Shovel Knight is easy, however. Those seeking a challenge will find what they’re looking for, and veterans of the genre will be impressed by the variety of both fresh and familiar obstacles.
Shovel Knights art is wonderful, characterizing the genre well. The pixel art and modern gameplay elements combine to create an experience that feels retro while keeping it from ending up frustrating or boring. The music is great, too; Shovel Knight’s soundtrack was penned in part by Manami Matsumae, best known for her work on the original Mega Man (she’ll also be working on the upcoming Starr Mazer).
Shovel Knight wins my vote for best platformer of 2014, and I look forward to see what other gems Yacht Club might dig up in the future.
Shovel Knight released on June 26th, 2014 for PC, Wii U and 3Ds