The Ninjabot

Shovel Knight Review: 8-Bit Gaming Done Right

Posted on July 5, 2014 at 12:29 am by Andrew Nisargand

Shovel Knight Cover

Shovel Knight as a concept seems a bit…shall we say, traditional from the indie game market right now. “An 8-bit platformer with chip tune music and classic NES style difficulty? How original!” I can hear you sarcastically thinking. Yeah, I can hear your thoughts. What of it? But trust me, there’s more to it than just that. Best way to think about it would be to imagine transplanting Mega Man, Castlevania, Duck Tales, and Zelda 2 to the PC and then blending them all together into one giant 8-bit, nostalgic, rage inducing smoothie. That’s Shovel Knight in a nutshell. Classic style platformer with a new coat of PC paint and some serious upgrades. While that sounds like something rather standard for the Indie market right now, trust me, the polish is so good it puts the game into its own league.

Shovel Knight 3

A Blast From The Past

The story is pretty basic, as you might expect. The plot tells of Shovel Knight, an adventurer who gave up adventuring after his traveling partner, Shield Knight, disappeared during their climb of the Tower of Fate. The two located a mysterious amulet while there, which caused Shovel Knight to black out, waking up outside the now sealed tower without Shield Knight. Sinking into a state of depression, Shovel Knight started a farm and basically lived out his peaceful existence for a time. However, a new enemy called the Enchantress appeared and took over the land with her Order of No Quarter, a group of eight powerful knights who are completely loyal to her. Shovel Knight decides to pick up his shovel once more, and fight against the new threat. The story, while pretty NES basic, does what it needs to do, even throwing a few twists in here and there. The Order of No Quarter are all pretty well characterized in their opening battle speech and their fighting style, while the Enchantress mostly just stays menacingly in the background for the majority of the game. It reminds me a lot of Dr. Wily, which is likely deliberate.

Is Shovel Knight Too Easy?

The gameplay reminds me a lot more of Mega Man than any of the other games mentioned before, with platforming side-scrolling levels which change their attributes based on which member of The Order of No Quarter you’re fighting. However, unlike Mega Man, the game has some very heavy RPG upgrade elements. The more loot you collect, the more cash you have to spend on training, armor upgrades, health upgrades, etc., all of which change how you play the game. While this is definitely cool, establishing greater meaning to the usual generic “points” one usually collects in platformers like Super Mario Bros., it does make the game a bit too easy. Once you find your favorite play style of armor, combined with health upgrades and power-ups, the game plays pretty much identically from the fourth Knight onwards. This would be fine, if the difficulty scaled up along with you. However, the difficulty is all over the place, never staying consistent. The few difficulty increases there are mostly come from the level hazards, or from absolutely bullshit boss attacks.

Shovel Knight 2

My death counter had a nasty habit of being hilariously low for about three knights, just to have one section kill me 20-30 times over because of frustrating level design. The bosses also have this same frustrating habit, sailing past all of them except Propeller Knight, who destroys his arena. Now don’t get me wrong, it makes him difficult, but for the wrong reasons. The rest of the game is pretty easy, until the final Tower of Fate, which is perfectly constructed difficulty-wise. It angers you just enough to make it personal, while still remaining possible. The Tower of Fate’s design just served to make me frustrated as to why the rest of the levels didn’t have the same level of care put into how difficult they are.

Jukebox Hero!

The soundtrack is usually one of those things I never mention in my reviews, unless they’re extraordinarily high quality. And my god, the composers on this game need some kind of award. No joke, I need to find this soundtrack. It’s made in a chiptune style (duh), and the sound quality is fantastic and emulates everything that those old NES style soundtracks did. Every tune is well made and amazingly catchy. The game even bases a loot mechanic around this, making musical sheets a collectible item that you then sell to the bard of a local village for 500 gold a piece. You can then have him play songs that you’ve found. I’ve hung around more than a bit in town just to listen to the song and watch the bard go absolutely nuts on his lute.

Shovel Knight 6

Final Thoughts

The simplest way I can summarize this game is that if you’re from the 8-16 bit era of gaming, Shovel Knight will be right up your alley. The gameplay, look, soundtrack, everything is perfectly constructed; and despite being a bit easy on the gameplay, just damn fun. I completed it in under 5 hours, and I really just want more. That’s the awesome thing about Yacht Club Games—they are giving us more! Campaigns based on three members of The Order of No Quarter (Specter Knight, Plague Knight, King Knight) are on the way. No idea on the release date for these yet, but it should be great. If you’ve never played a classic 8-bit style platformer, this game will likely not convince you of their quality. But then again, if you’ve somehow managed to make it through life, consider yourself a gamer, then found this review, on this website, without playing Super Mario Bros., I’m curious as to how you exist. That’d be like calling yourself a cinephile and not watching Citizen Kane.

Presentation: 10

Gameplay: 8

Replay: 8

LEGACY SCORE: 8.6

Geek Legacy’s review scores are on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest possible score.

This review is based on a steam download of the game I received from Yacht Club Games for backing their Kickstarter Campaign.

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