Shovel Knight Review
Somewhere in my parent's attic there's a home video of me on Christmas morning, jumping around in my footy pajamas screaming in joy that "We got Super Nintendo." The tape then continues to show the joy on my face as I discover Super Mario World for the first time. Playing through Shovel Knight often feels a lot like that Christmas morning; it's one of the few throwback games that nails what made the 8-16-bit era so much fun to live through but also manages to create an identity all its own. It smartly channels some of the most loved games of the period, and puts it's own spin on them to result in something that feels similar but still feels so fresh that you absolutely must play through it.
"...not only a love letter to a time gone by but a full blown tribute."
Now I know that may be hard to believe since 8-bit inspired games are so easy to come by these days but Shovel Knight is different. It doesn't just take the look and style of the era and hope for the best, it picks and chooses the most important influences and runs with them. With Shovel Knight, Yacht Club games has smartly taken elements from games like Zelda, Castlevania, Mega Man even a bit of Ninja Gaiden to create not only a love letter to a time gone by but a full blown tribute. The Mega Man influence is most apparent here, as each stage has a different theme and you'll have to play through certain way to unlock it. I was a bit disappointed that the game didn't feature the same difficulty as the famed Mega Man series but with new game plus, there's an extra bit of difficulty for those who need it.
In true retro fashion, controls in Shovel Knight are strikingly simple. Your only options in the field of battle are, as you'd expect, movement, jumping and attack and while that may feel like a small amount, Yacht Club games has proven that it's more about how you use the tools at your disposal rather than the amount. Shovel Knight features different types of attacks, from a simple slash attack to a Ducktales like pogo bounce that allows you to break through certain sections of the levels for hidden areas and loot. It was while I was finding these hidden sections that I felt most like the childhood version of me, getting excited each time I found one and couldn't wait to tell my friends (the difference being that I would tell them on Twitter versus on the playground the next morning).
"Even with all of these influences, Shovel Knight manages to feel fresh..."
Interestingly enough, there are a slew of modern day influences to be found in Shovel Knight as well, the most notable being the Dark Souls-esque take on death. You're going to die a lot in Shovel Knight and similar to Dark Souls, you'll dump loot and other objects when you do die but you'll also have a small chance to go through a get these items. This creates an interesting mix of risk vs reward since going back to claim what you lost can mean losing even more. All of this together makes Shovel Knight a strange idea for an NES games, one that's aware of modern day gaming techniques and the result is something special all together.
Even with all of these influences, Shovel Knight manages to feel fresh and unfamiliar more often than not. All too frequently with these retro throwback games you'll feel the initial bit of nostalgic rush and then get let down when ten minutes later you're just grinding through similar gameplay levels one after another. Yacht Club games did a great job keeping me guessing throughout the Shovel Knight experience and balanced old and new very well. Even the old school inspired visuals seem to be given fresh life with a surprising amount depth and detail. The chip tune soundtrack is incredibly fun and is bound to stay in your head all day.
Shovel Knight may look like just another retro throwback title but it's far from it. Yacht Club games has crafted one of the few games that both nails what made the 8-bit era so fun but also creates an identity all its own. Shovel Knight is fun, challenging (though admittedly not as much as you'd think) and nostalgic. It's a game for anyone who believes the notion that they don't make them like they used to anymore because they sometimes make them better.
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