GAME REVIEW: Shovel Knight

written by David Steffen

Shovel Knight is an 8-bit styled platformer action game published by Yacht Club Games in 2014.

The playable character of the game is the eponymous Shovel Knight who is as you might expect, a knight who uses a shovel as his weapon instead of a sword or other more typical period weapon.  Until very recently he has always worked as a team with the also-appropriately named Shield Knight.  Their partnership came to an end on an excursion into the Tower of Fate, wherein a cursed amulet wrought a terrible (but only vaguely mentioned) fate–when Shovel Knight awakes he finds that he has been expelled from the now-sealed tower, and Shield Knight is nowhere to be found.  His spirit broken by this loss, Shovel Knight retires and becomes a hermit, only returning to combat when the defenseless land is seized by the Evil Enchantress and her Order of No Quarter, a league of evil knights.  Shovel Knight returns to battle to combat these new villains.

The game has an 8-bit aesthetic that would’ve fit in perfectly well on an NES.  Some of the game design elements have definite nods toward games of that era. The overworld map has some similarities to Super Mario Bros 3, but the closest analog is that the individual levels and boss characters are in a style that seems to be directly inspired by the original Mega Man series–8 villains with themed powers that live in levels that fit that theme, and from those levels the hero can gain some theme-appropriate power.  The main difference in the style is that there is no equivalent of the arm cannon–Shovel Knight can learn some long-range special abilities that use MP as fuel, but his MP-less attack is only his short-range shovel attack.

2015-12-23_00003The levels are longish and progress is lost if you quite the game while you’re in the middle of one, so it’s best to have a little longer stretch if you want to sit down and play the game.  But the levels do have checkpoints that help make the levels easier to progress through if you need them.  Each level is very different in style and contains very different enemies, which nicely keeps the game fresh throughout the playtime.  Each boss requires you to learn his patterns to be able to avoid and find opportunities to attack.  The game is reasonably challenging and if you want to make it more challenging there are ways to ramp it up, such as avoiding collecting the magic weapon items, breaking checkpoints to make extra money instead of using them as checkpoints, avoiding health meter enhancing items, etc.

This game is a lot of fun if you enjoy this kind of action platformer game.  I highly recommend it.

Fun graphics appropriate for the Mega Man era of games it is in a style of.

Some fun audio bits, but nothing necessary for gameplay (handy if you want to play quietly).

A good level of platformer challenge, not easy but not insurmountable.  If you want to escalate the difficulty significantly you can do so by avoiding purchasing health meter boosts and weapons (which will also get you achievement badges)

Lightish on story, just enough to justify a straightforward action quest, but plenty for this kind of game.

Session Time
Longish, because you can’t save and quite mid-level without losing your progress within the level.  If you can’t leave your computer running you might want to aim for 30 minutes or so of playtime.

Easy to get the controls down, challenging to master the game.  The level of challenge escalates well as the game progresses.

There is some potential for replaying in that you might want to go back and collect all the collectibles.  Or you might want to avoid collecting collectibles (which include all ranged weapons) to increase your challenge.

Felt  original.  It had a familiar format/style, and familiar elements, but something can feel new if it’s a mix of familiar but disparate things.

About 8 hours to finish according to Steam, though I was spending extra time exploring and trying to unlock things, and since I couldn’t save mid-level I left the game running from time to time so I’m not sure how accurate it is.

Fun look, fun game, challenging gameplay.  Especially appealing for those who like the style and challenge of games like the original Mega Man series.  Each level’s design and enemies and boss were varied enough that the gameplay never felt repetitive and there are plenty of ways large and small to increase the difficulty level for those who want to challenge themselves. $15 on Steam.