Shovel Knights is a recent 2D adventure/platformer where the player takes on the role of the Shovel Knight, a shovel wielding man of honor who had previously given up on adventure when he lost his companion Shield Knight in a magical tower. He is currently seeking to stop the evil advance of the Enchantress, who originates from that same magical tower, and her Order of No Quarter, which is a group of themed knights who have signed on with her to help her take over the land. Shovel Knight must brave different and varied lands, defeat dangerous knights of great power and skill and unravel the mystery of the Enchantress and what happened to his Shield Knight.
Shovel Knight captures the look and feel of the 8-bit era but also makes use of a more modern feel and game mechanics that makes it one of the best 2D platformers I have ever played. The gameplay is extremely well done. Shovel Knight moves and reacts quickly and accurately and I always felt like I was in control even during some of the more difficult levels and fights. Shovel Knight runs and jumps and fights extremely well. The game also gives you access to a wide variety of magic using secondary items that benefit the player in a variety of ways. Some add extra attacks, some add ranged attacks and still others might make you invincible or power up your main attack. A shovel turns out to be a very strong and flexible weapon for a knight to wield in combat. He can bounce off enemies heads, deal extra damage all while diffing though the ground and wall alike. Most levels have a theme or look to them that are tied to the boss that you will have to fight at the end of the level. Boss fights have kind of gone to the wayside in the past ten years, but this game makes excellent use of them. Each one feels strong, distinct and reasonably complex so that when you do beat them, you feel good about it. I understand why so many games no longer have boss fights, they very often break up the rhythm of the game, or force you to radically change your play style, but they fit into this game perfectly. The final fight, complete with an unexpected ally, is especially memorable.
The visuals are gorgeous. I don’t know if modern 8-bit or 16-bit games actually limit themselves to what was available to them back then, but this game does a great job of making that classic look feel modern while losing none of the nostalgic charm. The levels and characters are fully realized and brightly colored. Nothing is murky looking or out of place. The character design is also quite strong; the various bosses and returning characters all have a strongly unique look that distinguishes them all from each other. Even rather simply designs, like that of the main character, convey the context and meaning of their characters really well. While I don’t know about the visuals, the music definitely constrains its options to that of the Super Nintendo era. The music is maybe the most nostalgic punching aspect of the game. Hearing that simple sound palate used to such a high degree of effect is so awesome.
Even the story retains that simplicity yet ability to affect the player. With just a few words or actions with each knight, we get a very strong idea of who they are and what their motives are for what they are doing. Small touches like that are completely unnecessary in a game like this one but they make Shovel Knight all the more special. There is a post credits scene that is so simply and yet so touching that it almost makes the whole game all by itself.
It’s so great to play a modern game that retains the look, sound and feel of my childhood in such an excellent way. That era of gaming has aged so impressively well that its kind of mind blowing. The art and pixel limitations forced so much creativity and timeless designs out of creators that it doesn’t look out of place even today. Different yes, but not out of place. The sheer diversity of games that we have gotten out of the past two generations of consoles (& PC) is simply remarkable. Shovel Knight is one of the best games I have played in some time. If you are around my age (30 or so) you will love this game but even if you are younger or missed out of this generation of gaming the first time around, go play this game to see what once was.