If you ask anyone what they thought of 2014 as a year of video games, they’ll probably come back with responses such as ‘game delays’ and ‘broken, unfinished titles’ – but most people will mention one particular game when you ask them what their biggest surprise was, and that game will most likely be Shovel Knight.
Shovel Knight was developed by Yacht Club Games, a studio formed by ex-employees of another studio named WayForward. They took to Kickstarter to try and raise funds for the game and it proved to be popular, raising $311,502 thanks to 14,749 backers and proving to be one of the site’s biggest successes.
Upon it’s initial release on PC, Wii U, and 3DS, Shovel Knight was met with praise all across the board – and a yearning for the game to reach other systems began. Then, on December 5th, 2014 it received the Indie Game of the Year award at The VGA’s, and within twenty four hours of that it was revealed to be coming PlayStation platforms. It was at this moment that I realized I needed Shovel Knight in my life, and the wait began; thankfully it wasn’t too long.
In Shovel Knight you play as the titular hero, who one day ventures to the Tower of Fate with his beloved Shield Knight. Upon arrival they are both attacked and his beloved is kidnapped – so (in typical cliche style) the hero ventures forth to rescue her. Upon venturing forth however, he is introduced to the Enchantress and The Order of no Quarter… who happen to be the ones guarding her.
The game takes place on a mini map, which is a gateway to a number of different levels, as well as the way to the villages where you can purchase upgrades and power-ups for Shovel Knight. Power-ups include health upgrades and armour upgrades, though it’s worth noting that not all upgrades will leave you better off than you were.
Each level is based around the boss of that level and his abilities, and as such every level is unique and will offer new challenges and skills to master. That said, the majority of the boss fights seemed rather easy and didn’t offer too much in the way of a challenge – with the exceptions being narrowed down to only two boss fights (for me at least).
In between the game’s eight main stages, there are often random occurrences that appear on the map. These can include treasure dash levels which allow you to grab as much treasure in a level as you can before reaching the end of it, or even random rival encounters with enemies who aren’t members of The Order of no Quarter. These random occurrences don’t really do anything more than add little tid-bits to the story of the game, but are fun to play through anyways.
The top of the screen shows your life bar, where each circle represents two hits – moving only from full, to half full and then to empty. Likewise, the boss bar at the top of the screen also represents the boss’ health – and fills only upon encountering the boss of that level.
You attack enemies by hitting them with your shovel, though some enemies will require more thought and strategy to defeat than just that. This is where one of Shovel Knight’s most interesting mechanics comes into play, as jumping in the air and then instantly pressing down and square will activate the pogo technique. This special technique allows you to bounce off multiple objects, as well as giving you the ability to jump over enemies who are simply too big for your jumping technique.
Each of Shovel Knight’s skills are fun and simple enough to master, but they become ever so useful as you encounter new platforming challenges and enemy types to defeat. Likewise are the other skills that you find, these use the item counter at the top of the screen and come in the form of fire blasts, ice blasts and even a fishing rod! These items are easily replenished as they are dropped by defeated enemies any time your item count isn’t topped off, so don’t worry about using them as need be.
There are also a bunch of different collectibles to be on the look for throughout the game – the main collectible being treasure, which works as currency. Treasure is scattered about throughout every level and is used to buy upgrades, armour and new abilities. The catch with the treasure mechanic however, is that when you die you lose some of it and it gets split into as many as three bags that float around the area where you died (ready to collect again). This is a pretty interesting mechanic.
Along with the treasure, there are also music sheets and fishing spots scattered around each level. The Music Sheets are found in hidden areas and can be sold to a villager in the game’s first village for 500 Gold. What I found interesting about this was that upon selling them, the villager would give you some backstory on the tune as well as allowing you to listen to it any time you talk to him in the village. As for the fishing spots, they require the fishing rod to use and are found by looking for a sparkling area near a bottomless pit. Here, you can deploy your fishing rod and catch a fish – which often will net you a temporary stat boost.
The presentation in the game is very admirable, playing homage to the classic 8-bit era of gaming. You can tell that it takes visual cues from games like Mega Man and Ducktails, one of the characters in the game even joking about the fact the developers used a limited colour pallet to stay true to the retro style graphics that are present.
The soundtrack is one of the standout areas of the game, playing host to a chip-tune style sound. All of the tunes were catchy, fun, and lasted long enough to not get repetitive. They did an amazing job of creating melodies which matched the style and atmosphere of each level, and then increasing the pressure and tension in boss battles by adding a fast paced, devilishly sounding tune.
The thing with Shovel Knight is that it’s almost a perfect game, but there is absolutely a few areas where I personally felt that it could be improved. For example, some of the platform challenges felt just a little bit cheap – like they were deliberately difficult. This was especially true for me in the Lost City level. Also, some of the puzzles required an extra bit of thought and skill, which then slowed down progress in the game.
The main addition to the PlayStation version of Shovel Knight is the exclusive boss fight against Kratos from the God of War series. Unlocking the boss fight is easy enough to do, and unfortunately the same can be said for beating him. It’s not a difficult fight and not quite as epic as I’d have hoped – however the unlock that you get for defeating him is pretty cool, so watch out for that if you meet and defeat him yourself.
Shovel Knight is truly a game that lives up to the hype surrounding it. It’s amazing and frustrating in equal parts, and is absolutely well worth your time if you’re looking to a homage to the days when gaming was fun, simple and all about discovery and platforming. While there are a few small problems that could easily be fixed in a sequel they can easily be looked past, as Shovel Knight is definitely worth digging in to.