Shovel Knight Review

By Brandon Fusco,
At one time, the 2D platform and its various subgenres were king. During this time, games like Super Mario, Ninja Gaiden, Metroid, Mega Man, and more were making their names and setting the mold for those that followed. Recently there has been a resurgence in these types of games with pixel art styles and chiptune sound design. Yacht Club's Shovel Knight is undoubtedly one of these games and it isn't shy about it.

Shovel KnightShovel Knight

For the game enthusiasts most likely to play this game, the easiest way to describe Shovel Knight is by comparing its various parts to those classic games, but doing so is a disservice to how this game takes its place in the modern landscape. Shovel Knight isn't just the sum of parts borrowed from gaming royalty to make a Frankenstein monster, but the marvel of a wunderkind offspring that borrows from the great genes of its parentage while leveraging new hardware to do things that the classics never could.

Far and away what this game has in spades is personality. From the very outset of the game, when a line like "For Shovelry" appears on the screen at the stage start you have a pretty good idea of the duel nature of the game. The entire world is genuine to itself and all of the proceedings are performed in earnest by the characters, but they are done in such a way that it is a bit absurd to any player, particularly to those who remember the goofy premises and worlds of the 8-bit era. It's clear that the various Knights throughout the game feel gallant when they talk smack to each other using occasional Olde English, but it's intentionally hard to take this seriously when your enemies are part of "The Order of No Quarter."

Many times, every aspect of the game is working together to create a lively world.Many times, every aspect of the game is working together to create a lively world.

Presentation is a large part of the enjoyment with delightful pixel art characters and environments. Each stage is colored in a tone consistent with the color palette used to design the various bosses and with unique architectural styles that fit the theme of the boss. The sound design is potentially the least compelling but even that matches the feel of the levels impeccably, even changing the instrumentation for a song throughout the level to fit Shovel Knight's location, such as higher notes when outdoors or subdued bass tones when underground. For instance, King Knight is in a stage called Pridemoor Keep, with golden ramparts, red drapes, a gold clad Gryphon mini-boss, and a joyful, upbeat tune to match King Knight's own golden armor and red cloak. During the boss fight itself, he makes use of giant golden trumpets that shoot dangerous confetti across the battleground.

The variety of the bosses is quite enjoyable; each are particularly distinct with their own engaging attack patterns. Unfortunately, Shovel Knight's own attacks, of which there are only a few, and the special magical relics that can be obtained throughout the game tend to leave these bosses in the dust after a few failed attempts. Rarely was more than three attempts needed to defeat a boss and never were the two refillable potions used in their entirety.

Beware of ghosts!Beware of ghosts!

Enemies and layout of the levels are a different matter entirely. There isn't a huge variety of enemies throughout the game with only a few mini-bosses that are reused on several levels throughout the game. Some more complex enemies with new attacks can be found on each level, but the methods for dealing with them tend not to change that much. By far the most dangerous part of the level is the environment itself. Most of the enemies pose more of a threat by forcing you to maneuver in a certain manner; the variety in combat scenarios is brought on more frequently by the space in which you engage the enemies rather than the enemies themselves.

Mastering the platforming aspect of each level becomes the primary concern. Most trips back to a check point happen by falling into pits or onto spikes. The difficulty of the platforming can be inconsistent. Most of a level can be quite easy, but then it suddenly requires split second precision for a short section. Staying aware, mastering your environment, and learning which enemies to keep alive so that you can bounce off them can lead to uncovering hidden areas packed with new relics and song sheets, the primary collectible of the game.

All told, making your way through the game world is a fulfilling experience. While the story is basic, Shovel Knight's simple chivalry is endearing and gives you enough motivation to find your way to the end. Crossing through the levels and finding hidden areas while defeating colorful bosses is a joy. Playing through the New Game Plus provides an extra challenge, though probably not enough for most players to want to play through again. Thankfully, the world is beautiful enough that going through each level again is rewarding on its own.

Shovel Knight deserves a place on the wall.Shovel Knight deserves a place on the wall.

Shovel Knight boasts a relatively large number of trophies ranging from listening to all of a townsperson's puns to the daunting challenge of completing the game without ever dying. Figuring out how to perform some of these challenges can be entertaining, such as bouncing on a rolling hoop for five seconds on a small stretch of space, but the amount of time that may have to be spent to master each level could make the last few trophies a slog. While the levels are colorful and interesting, playing them enough to perfect them could easily turn into a chore.

Summary

Shovel Knight is not alone in pulling at the strings of nostalgia. Where many stop short at simply emulating classic games, this game goes the extra mile with a charming world that enables the game to be a worthy title in its own right. Gamers who have been playing since the heyday of the 2D platformer will likely get the most out of this game, but its charming art style, simple two-button style mechanics, and colorful world make it a great game for anybody to play. While Shovel Knight has a few flaws, these pale in comparison to the obvious love and attention of those who made it.
4.5 / 5
Shovel Knight
Positives
  • Charming world and characters
  • Fun stage design
  • Puns
Negatives
  • Too easy
  • Lack of enemy diversity
Ethics
Brandon bought this game himself and thoroughly enjoyed playing it for over 12 hours primarily on the PlayStation 4. He won 21 of the 38 available trophies and, after polishing off NG+, he will attempt to get the trophy for beating the game in 1.5 hours.
Brandon Fusco
Written by Brandon Fusco
Brandon is an Editor and TGN's Host with the Most. The most what? The most opinions, the most understanding wife, and the most *funny cat videos. Previously Host of the Trophy Talk Podcast. (*Not Verified)