If you haven’t yet heard of Shovel Knight, then you’ve probably no interest in gaming’s glorious 8-bit past. Shovel Knight was created as a homage to the wonder of 8-bit console gaming (with a few minor tweaks). He’s quite literally that: a knight armed with naught but a humble shovel to dig his way out of trouble. I take my vorpal
sword shovel in hand, and off I trundle to seek the manxome foes.
Shovel Knight is a brave, armored hero armed with his trusty spade. Together, he and Shield Knight fought for justice, honor, and
the American Way treasure, but now Shield Knight is missing. It’s up to Shovel Knight to save his beloved Shield Knight, and save the day, and in so doing, defeat the evil forces of Bowser Skeletor the Enchantress.
If there was ever a more tenderly written love letter to 8-bit video gaming, I’ve not seen it. Everything from the color palettes, the chiptune music (some of the music was composed by one of Mega Man 10’s composers, Manami Matsumae), the fonts, the parallax scrolling… all of it is a fairly accurate recreation of a game that could possibly exist on an old NES. Or even a Commodore 64 or a BBC Micro. Well, barring the parallax scrolling, anyhow. The old machines never had enough memory to page multiple layers of background graphics and make them move independently. Just about every aspect of Shovel Knight is lovingly crafted as a detailed homage to a much beloved system…down to the game’s difficulty. I’ve mentioned the term “Nintendo Hard” before, and honestly, if you’ve not bothered looking at the link before, go read it now. Still, Shovel Knight isn’t as completely unforgiving as older NES games, but it’s still harder than most games these days. This game eschews older relics of bygone games—such as lives—for more recent innovations such as checkpoints and autosaves.
Difficulty aside, there is not much wrong with Shovel Knight and so much right with it. One odd thing I did notice about the 3DS version is that the button assignments are still in Xbox/PlayStation mode, with the lower B button being used as “confirm”, instead of the Nintendo-standard A button on the right. However, it’s something you quickly get used to and address as one of the “quirks of the game”. I didn’t encounter anything game-breaking during my playthrough, and the action, while fast and difficult, is smooth. On the 3DS, the game is even in 3D, so it’s an additional perk if you like playing in 3D mode.
Retro games are receiving a massive revival at present, and Shovel Knight is one of the best that the retro revival has to offer. Yes, it’s going to kill you over and over again, but there’s proof that the game can be completed in as little as just over an hour or so (with a little dedication). There are plenty of powerups to be bought to help you on your journey, and you can use them judiciously or not at all as you see fit. Either way, it’s 2D platforming at its best, and one something worthy of playing for the love of gaming.
Final Score: 9 retro prawns out of 10
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Platform: Nintendo 3DS (reviewed), Nintendo Wii U, Steam
Age Rating: 10+