Shovel Knight Review – An Ace of Spades

If Capcom’s refusal to come out with another Mega Man has shown us one thing, its that people really, really want a new Mega Man game, or at least something like it. Last year, the father of Mega Man, Keiji Inafune, set Kickstarter ablaze when he pitched The Mighty No. 9, a spiritual successor to Mega Man that managed to make $3.8 million in funding from its 67,226 backers.

But even before that, another game made a smaller, but still very significant splash on Kickstarter, when it asked for $75,000 and managed to make over $300,000. That game was Shovel Knight, and more than a year after its successful Kickstarter, we’re finally able to enjoy what is certainly one of the best 2D platformers of recent memory.

Shovel Knight
Platform: PC (reviewed), Mac, Linux, 3DS, Wii-U
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Release Date: June 26, 2014
MSRP: $14.99
Available: Steam

Shovel Knight, developed by Yacht Club Games, is a game that feels like an expertly blended concoction of just about every great NES platformer ever made — A heartfelt love letter to everything 8-bit. But what truly sets Shovel Knight apart is not how much it feels like a NES era platformer, but the ways it manages to modernize its gameplay to meet the expectations of a new generation of gamers, while still sticking to its retro roots. In other words, Shovel Knight manages to do for the Capcom/Mega Man style of 2D platformers, what Rogue Legacy did for the Konami/Castlevania style of 2D platformers last year.

The game stars the titular Shovel Knight, a legendary adventurer who used to hero it up alongside his beloved partner, Shield Knight. But one day, Shield Knight disappeared after the duo encountered a mysterious cursed amulet in the ominously named Tower of Fate. With the tower sealed, a broken Shovel Knight went into a life of solitude. While Shovel Knight grieved, the land was easily taken over by a villainess known as The Enchantress and her Robot Mast… I mean, “Order of No Quarter.” Now it’s up to Shovel Knight to return to his heroic ways and put an end to the vile schemes of The Enchantress.

What follows from there is about what you’d expect from a Mega Man game: Eight main levels, each punctuated by a boss fight against a member of the Order of No Quarter, and once you get through those, you reach “Wily’s Castle,” so to speak, where you’ll be able to take on the final boss. A nice touch is that each of the members of the Order of No Quarter actually have their own personalities that show through in a small bit of dialogue before their battle. It’s not much, but it goes a long way in making each of the boss encounters more memorable than they might otherwise have been. I specifically enjoyed the encounter with Polar Knight, who unlike the other members of the Order of No Quarter, appears to regret having to battle Shovel Knight, and pleads with him to join their cause instead.

The overall structure of the game may seem similar to Mega Man, but the game actually plays more like a mixture of Ducktales and Castlevania. Like Scrooge McDuck, Shovel Knight can use a short ranged melee attack or a pogo bounce in order to dispatch his enemies. It’s very simplistic, but both the levels and enemies are cleverly designed to make the most out of Shovel Knight’s limited move set. Many enemies will block pogo strikes by putting their shield over their heads, others will be situated in spots that will cause you to fall to your death due to the recoil of your melee attack, and some of the more devious enemies are placed under spikes, making it so that the bounce of your pogo will lead to an instant death.

In addition to Shovel Knight’s basic moveset, players can also find and purchase magical relics that grant Shovel Knight a unique special attack or ability, whether it be a basic fireball projectile, or the ability to temporarily phase out and pass through enemies and obstacles without taking damage.

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