Shovel Knight was a game which had been on my radar for a while. To me it looked like it was kind of fun, but I also thought that it looked like one of those 2D platformers which focuses too much on being excessively difficult to emulate the style of, say, Mega Man on the NES. I don’t really enjoy excessive difficulty, so that didn’t appeal to me very much. It also looked like it was built on the foundation of NES era nostalgia. While I do like quite a few NES games, I wouldn’t say I was nostalgic for the console. Because of these factors, it took me quite a while to finally give it a chance.
When I did finally sit down and play Shovel Knight, I realised that I should have done so much sooner. This is a game filled with characters I find quite endearing, a setting I genuinely enjoy exploring, a really amazing soundtrack and, most importantly, air-tight gameplay which is endlessly fun. If you’ve ever enjoyed a 2D platformer, I think you’ll love this as it’s one of the best I’ve ever played.
While you might expect the story of a game called Shovel Knight to be a bit goofy, it has some genuine heart in it. Shovel Knight and Shield Knight adventured together for years until Shield Knight became trapped within the Tower of Fate. Years later, torn up by the loss of their friend, Shovel Knight then discovers than an the evil Enchantress has taken over the Tower of Fate and recruited knights across the land to work from her. Shovel Knight then heads out across the land to evict the evil Enchantress from the Tower of Fate, fighting her knights along the way. (I used neutral pronouns because you can decide if Shovel Knight is a man or a woman and even whether or not that affects the story and how people talk to you, which I liked.)
You make your way across a world map, going through several very distinct levels which each have an enemy knight to fight at the end. For example, you go through a creepy graveyard-based level to fight Spectre Knight, you go through a submarine at the bottom of the ocean to fight Treasure Knight and through a fleet of air ships to fight Propeller Knight. Though occasionally a little hard, the game always had a fair level of difficulty and I thoroughly enjoyed every single level. The 8-bit art has been used to create some really beautiful scenery, to an extent which was never possible on actual 8-bit consoles. Every level has its own unique background music too and these 8-bit tunes are wonderfully atmospheric, further adding to the experience.
The game uses check points, but doesn’t have a life system. If you die, you drop some money and go back to the check point. It is possible to recollect the money you dropped the first time, but if you die again, it’s gone for good and you drop more. If you want a real challenge (which I never did) you can destroy the check points to get some extra money.
Money is quite important too. There are a couple of towns and villages you can visit where you can buy new items to attack with (these can also be found in levels), new armour or health upgrades. These are mostly optional, but are well worth tracking down to give yourself an easier time later on. The towns are also home to several little side quests. They’re all populated with bizarre, whimsical characters and they often made me laugh. It was a pleasure interacting with them and it helped make the world feel more lived-in.
I would recommend this game to anyone, even if they don’t like the NES or that era of gaming. I feel like it takes all the best elements of games like Super Mario Bros. 3, Zelda II and Castlevania and mixes them together to create something that surpasses anything that was ever actually possible back in the 80s. It’s like revisiting an old game and finding its aged perfectly and is actually just as amazing as all the people who played it as kids back in the day always said it was.