Retro “8-bit” side-scrolling indie platformers have had a real resurgence over the last few years with varying degrees of success. Shovel Knight from Yacht Club Games is not only one of the best in this genre in recent years but stands up with the best side-scrolling platformers of all time.
Shovel knight is a game that feels immensely satisfying, fantastically crafted and has beautiful visual design and flair. Its available on PC, Mac, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS, PS4 and Vita. It clearly takes cues from classic titles like Ducktales, Mega Man and Castlevania to name a few. You play as Shovel Knight, who is a blue knight in search of his partner. Shovel Knight sets out on a perilous journey to a foreboding tower to confront the evil that waits.
Shovel Knight has become completely consumed by despair and during this time the evil Enchantress has taken over the lands. Like most side-scrolling games the story is simple and feels similar to the Mario games. Shovel Knight however has some beautifully crafted cutscenes that look vibrant and quite simply amazing.
The campaign is hugely absorbing and entertaining with a wide variety of rich characters and wonderfully designed levels. Each level also has a boss to defeat that suits the overall theme of each world. Each boss is a member of the Order of No Quarter, and each feels drastically different in ability and personality.
Each boss has unique abilities and attacks that require you to learn and adapt your playstyle and approach in order to defeat them. The bosses are fantastically designed and all have a real sense of personality. The boss battles often reminded me of the Dark Souls games due to the intense action that requires perfect timing and rhythmic combat. These boss battles can get incredibly challenging and certainly takes practice and many runs to succeed. There are also mini boss encounters that can occur whilst making your way across the map. These battles are still challenging but not quite as tough as the main bosses themselves.
The controls are accessible and easy to pick up from the get go. I played the game on PC so you have the option for mouse and keyboard but I would strongly recommend using a controller if you have one. Shovel Knight can move left and right, jump, and swing his shovel. Like Ducktales you can also perform downward strikes that can be used to break blocks, bounce off objects and attack enemies. The game’s cleverness is in how it uses such a simple move set in such interesting ways.
As you begin to make your way through the campaign you will start to unlock various relics that have abilities like fireballs and temporary invincibility. Shovel Knight has a surprising amount of depth in terms of upgrades. You can purchase new shovel abilities like powerful swing attacks. You can also upgrade your maximum health and magic which are extremely useful when progressing to later stages. Aside from the array of items, Shovel Knight himself can also be upgraded, with health, magic, armour and weapon improvements available.
Side-scrolling platformers like this require controls that perform well and Shovel Knight does a great job of having pixel perfect responsiveness. The stages become increasingly more challenging and having good control is critical to succeeding. The game does get fairly challenging as you make your way through each stage, but it never feels unfair and every time I died I could see where I went wrong. It takes plenty of trial and error, learning from my mistakes and mastering each section in order to progress. Every level has checkpoints placed throughout which are vital and sometimes feel a little sparse, but that’s great and adds to the challenge. Interestingly you don’t actually have to use each checkpoint and you have the option to smash checkpoints to gain more money.
Your shovel is your primary weapon and is used to dig, smash and fight enemies in your way. I found that the downward strike was incredibly useful and helped me reach ledges and hidden areas.
Much like Dark Souls if you die you drop all of the loot you have collected, but you get the chance to pick it up again on your next run. Shovel Knight also has a selection of hidden items that can be traded for more coin. The game also has an abundance of secret areas, chests and collectables like music sheets that can be traded for coin in the village. The game encourages you to explore, often to reveal tempting items teasing you in perilous locations. The challenge of retrieving these items makes the reward even more satisfying.
The presentation of Shovel Knight is visually striking with meticulously designed levels that feel unique and genuinely absorbing. The levels do a great job of carefully introducing each new mechanic it all fits perfectly. Each level has interesting themes like ice and water with final bosses that reflect the tone of each stage.
The graphics use a pixel art style that feels reminiscent of NES games. Shovel Knight does a great job of capturing the essence and feel of classic titles on this platform whilst having its own unique ideas. I also want to mention how brilliant the soundtrack is, with upbeat techno beats and atmospheric tunes that are incredibly catchy.
Overall Shovel Knight is quite simply one of the best side-scrolling platformers in recent years and in my opinion ranks up there with the best of them. Not only does the game look and sound fantastic it also plays well and has a surprising amount of depth. The level design is some of the strongest I have come across in a long time and I appreciated the tight and responsive controls that are critical in a game like this. Its clear that this is a game that was carefully crafted with a huge degree of love and care and is easily one of my favourite games in recent years. I can’t recommend this game enough, so if you haven’t played it you should do so right now.
– Wonderful graphics, animation, and music
– Challenging but fair
– Awesome character and level design
– Simple and responsive controls
– Tonnes of depth
– Impressive and original boss battles
– Can have some very challenging difficulty spikes
– I wish it lasted longer
- OS: Windows XP SP2
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.1 ghz or equivalent
- Memory: 2 GB RAM
- Graphics: 2nd Generation Intel Core HD Graphics (2000/3000), 256MB
- DirectX: Version 9.0
- Storage: 250 MB available space
- OS: OS X 10.7.5 or later
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0 ghz or equivalent
- Graphics: 2 GB RAM
- Storage: 250 MB available space