Review by Malorkus
Take this job and shovel it.
Indie gaming had been bubbling under for years, but for the most part, love for them was restricted to the nerdiest corners of the Internet. Despite critical acclaim, most everyday console owners had never heard of any of these titles. Even as someone who frequents a game site such as this, I did not learn about a bunch of these games until months after they were released and word of mouth had spread. As word of projects in development got around, so did crowdfunding, as indie developers lacked a big studio budget and relied on fan support. Shovel Knight may have been the great breakthrough that boosted indie recognition and proved these characters had as much place as recognizable mascots as any larger studio project. While on the surface, it appeared to be yet another tribute to 8-bit days that would milk your nostalgia for a buck, Shovel Knight promised a clever series of mechanics and memorable cast that would give it a more significant personality. Instead of merely taking you back to the days of old, it offers up something new that could just as easily exist back then as it would now.
The character of Shovel Knight is literally just that - a knight who fights with a shovel instead of a sword. He is on the search for his missing girlfriend, Shield Knight, while the other knights of the land have fallen under a corrupt influence. Taking inspiration from Mega Man in particular, each stage is themed around one of these knights, culminating in a boss fight against them at the end. For instance, the spelunking Treasure Knight’s stage will take you to underwater depths, while the ghostly Specter Knight will test you with a haunted lair. Though your shovel is your only weapon, it is quite versatile, from stabbing enemies to digging up treasure to using it as a pogo stick to bounce off hazards. Stages are both lengthy and challenging, but reaching the boss is hardly the only objective. Your money total will be tallied after each stage, and you are encouraged to carefully explore each stage to find hidden treasures.
While much of this is standard platform game fare so far, Shovel Knight spices things up with a brilliant reward mechanic. You will be rewarded for how much money you collect in each stage, and if you die, you will lose a portion of it. This will take the form of floating money bags that will appear wherever you died, and you can recollect it if you manage to make it back there on your next attempt. Each stage has multiple checkpoints, but for those truly confident in their skills, you can actually destroy the checkpoints for extra cash. You just might end up regretting it if you make a wrong move, especially with the number of instant-death hazards in the game. In fact, there’s maybe too many, as it renders the health system obsolete in many stages. Shovel Knight also offers an excellent co-op mode, and stages are nicely designed to accommodate two players while still remaining challenging enough solo or with a friend.
While not a very long game, Shovel Knight has benefitted in the years since release by some hefty DLC. Some of the other knights have received expansion packs where you can play as them and learn about their backstory, and while I am not factoring those into this review, their existence makes Shovel Knight more than just a one-off indie title that will be forgotten a few years down the line. Given that it’s already impacted other indie games (including random cameos), Shovel Knight has already cemented itself as one of the most important games in recent memory. It’s worth playing for yourself, being a very solid platform game that requires precise jumps and actions, but rewards perfection and exploration. No matter what platform you pick the game up on, you are bound to have a solid experience, either alone or with a buddy.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Shovel Knight (US, 06/26/14)
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