• Gamer's Gazette Review - Shovel Knight - Shovel of Hope

    Shovel Knight, and behind him the Order of No Quarter

    Shovel Knight

    As always, a sample of the music. Strike the Earth!

    Shovel Knight is a 2d sidescroller made by Yacht Club Games and released in 2014. It is available on pretty much every system and console you can imagine, except Xbox 360 and mobile. The game takes itís inspiration from classic 8-, and 16-bit platformers, such as Castlevania or DuckTales, from which the titular Shovel Knight even borrows a sort of pogo-jump. For the uninitiated, this means he (or she, as you can change all the genders of the characters in the game!) points his shovel down to attack enemies from above. Often enemies can be used as extra platforms this way, allowing you to reach high places.

    "Is that a shovel or are you just happOUCH DON'T SHOVEL MY HEAD MAN!"

    Shovel Knightís aesthetic is certainly recognizable, then, but in an age where nostalgic 8-bit platformers are more plentiful than Assassinís Creed games, is it actually worthwhile? The short answer is yes, it very much is. I first played Shovel Knight on PC, and after a sitting I was thoroughly ďmehĒed by it. No hard feelings, I said, as I closed it forever. Thereís just too many other games Iíd rather play. But then I got it again, on the new Nintendo Switch console, where it fits perfectly. You can play for 15 minutes, put the console to sleep, and continue from the same place three hours later. Otherwise the different versions of the game are basically the same, except for an additional campaign, Specter of Torment, in the Switch version that will be released on other platforms in April.

    For all his majesty, King Knight's crown isn't even real gold.

    The core gameplay mechanics consist of killing enemies, collecting jewels and beating levels, at the end of which is a boss-fight, a knight from the Order of No Quarter. Itís all pretty standard platforming really, but where the game really shines is in itís characters. Everyone from Shovel Knight himself, to the different antagonists. Specter Knight is tall and terrifying, with a massive scythe he ainít afraid to use. King Knight is pompous and majestic, but as they say, the higher you rise..Maybe most interesting of all is the Black Knight, not a member of the Order of No Quarter, but your opponent nonetheless. Sometimes the game has difficulty spikes, where deaths feel cheap or unfair, but these are rare and donít ruin the overall flow of the game.

    Checkpoints can be destroyed for extra money if you are a PLATFORMER GOD.

    For someone who didnít grow up with platformers and has only just discovered the genre, it was quite difficult getting into the game at first. Every spiked pit, every murderous abyss were terrifying prospects. The checkpoints, then, were instrumental in letting me enjoy the game. These glass orbs can be destroyed for extra money, but thereby making the game much harder if you die, as it wonít work anymore. The only real punishment for dying is that a certain amount of the money you were carrying will be dropped at the place of your defeat. It can be retrieved, but when falling into a pit, for example, it can be difficult to regain your lost money without losing your life again (and again, and again). Luckily there are relics to help you out. For each stage you clear, a merchant called Chester will offer you a special item from that stage. These include a fishing rod (helpful when trying to obtain moneybags floating below you), a magic wand that shoots a projectile and a spinning sword that lets you fly a certain distance. These arenít compulsory however; you can get through the game without them, except for a few extra levels that require certain items (usually with an NPC at the beginning of the stage, giving you a clue about what you need). Even then, they certainly do make the game easier. Using a relic consumes mana, which can be replenished by finding potions in the level. My one gripe with the relics is purely practical; on a controller by default you need to press up and attack at the same time, when there are two buttons completely free. This often means you will use a relic when you wanted to do a normal jumping attack until you teach yourself to take the thumb from the left joystick.

    The level select screen gives you some choice as to who to take on next.

    Each level of the game, and there are a fair few (it took me roughly 12 hours to finish the game, but if you are used to platformers it may take less time), is distinct and different, usually with a special mechanic that ramps up the difficulty. Sometimes you will fall through a platform if you donít pay enough attention to the environment, and in some parts the level is pitch black, except for occasional flashes of lightning. Every level also hides a number of music sheets you can trade in with the bard at the village for 500 gold each. This will let you choose a new song to have the bard play. The design in each of the levels also reflects in their respective bosses. Plague Knight resides in an alchemical laboratory/castle, whereas Mole Knight lives deep underground in a cave system riddled in magma and Polar Knight lives in the cold, white wilderness.

    Deep under the sea, darling it's better, down where it's wetter! Deep under the sea!

    The music, and the game has a lot of it, similarly to the graphics, draw inspiration from the classics in terms of sound design. Few soundtracks Iíve heard say ďletís go on an adventure!Ē as much as the first track the game plays you, or ďletís go on a spooky adventure!Ē as well as La Danse Macabre from the Lich Yard level. It is no surprise, then, to learn that the music is composed by Jake Kaufman, famous from games such as DuckTales Remastered, the Shantae series and maybe most impressively Crypt of the Necrodancer. Music in a game like this is imperative for immersion and making the player feel the right feelings, and Shovel Knight does not fall short.

    The gameís story revolves around Shovel Knightís long lost partner, Shield Knight, who he believes to be trapped by The Enchantress in the Tower of Fate. Itís all very high fantasy, but the game is never too serious about it, and has a certain humour that seems to say ďdonít take these names too seriously, just focus on the narrativeĒ. And it is a moving plot, even if you are not certain to realise it until the game has progressed a bit. Who Shield Knight, the Black Knight or even the Enchantress are to old Shovel is up for interpretation, but itís clear every one of these characters have a shared history.

    Shovel Knight is one of those indie darlings that caught the public eye thanks to its old school look and modernisation of the genre. Every part of it shows the love and hard work the team has for this type of game, from the exquisite pixel art to the charming characters you run into (and run through on occasion). I bought the game because of the great things I had heard of it, but even then I did not expect to love it as much as I do. So much so, that I started the (free!) Plague Knight campaign straight after beating the game. If you even have a passing interest in platformers, do give this a try. It will be worth your time.


    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Caillagh de Bodemloze's Avatar
      Caillagh de Bodemloze -
      It's really obvious from reading this just how much fun you had playing the game!

      I think this is a great review. You've described it so well, and so enthusiastically, that even though I'm not a big fan of platform games, I could almost be tempted to play this one.
    1. Alwyn's Avatar
      Alwyn -
      Great review! I agree with Caillagh. A classic style of game design with well-chosen music and charming characters - this sounds like a game which stands out compared to other platform games.