Digging into the Newest Indie Sensation: Shovel Knight!

Intro

After Yacht Club Games made their Kickstarter project successful last year, this game finally made its way to Steam over a month ago. Since this game looked so enticing, Isaac and I have decided to grab our shovels and dig into this game and see what this game is truly about.

He's... so... FABULOUS...

He’s… so… FABULOUS…

Isaac: Look at him. That swagger, that swank. This dude is not afraid to save the world, and do it in style.

Jake: In case you have yet to hear about this game and you came across this post because you thought “What? Shovel…Knight? A knight that has a shovel? What blasphemy is this?” Well, you play as a knight that wields a shovel that embarks on a quest to defeat The Enchantress and her knights of The Order of No Quarter (Isaac: I guess that’s what happen when you lose arcade games… no… quarter? Get it?). That’s the gist of this game. Its almost its like an NES game…oh wait, that’s right because its a love letter to the more well known NES games. You have the baddies moving in the overworld map like Super Mario Bros 3. You have Shovel Knight’s downward stab like Scrooge’s Pogo stick move in Duck Tales. You have levels/bosses that are structured like Mega Man NES games. There are so many references you can’t look at this game and tell everyone that its creators did not breathe NES into this game!

Isaac: Indeed. I definitely felt a distinctly Megaman feel from the whole game, with its themed levels and interesting, unique baddies. Not to mention, there are huge NES references all over the place. The control options are even built for an NES controller! (More on that later, though.)

 

 

Controls

Jake: Speaking of controls, they have never felt so simplistic and smooth. In modern games that I have played its usually like “Hold right trigger and press A for a super long jump” or “Press A+Y to use the character’s special power”. If you are looking for a game with these kind of controls. Then I’m afraid that you went to the wrong game. Because Shovel Knight is all about simplicity with the controls. You just move, jump, and attack with your shovel. The most complex control is to press up and then X to use a special item, which is the only complex control you’d have to worry about. But other than that, the controls definately scream NES simplicity. Controllers are recommended when playing PC versions for maximum simplicity!

Isaac: They even put a picture of the NES controller next to the control options, just so you KNOW there are only 2 buttons and a D-Pad to get you through this joyride of retro awesomeness! The control scheme really does borrow a lot from the olden days, but it gives it a novel spin and allows you to challenge complex tasks with as few button combos as possible. Be warned, though, if you’ve ever played Rogue Legacy: the controls are different enough to make you jump to your death while trying to bounce across gaps on enemies. Just saying. The best thing about the controls, however, is also the worst thing: because they’re so simple, you can’t blame anybody but yourself when you accidentally leap to your death and have to go through the whole ordeal again (again again again).

 

Time to dish out the dirt!

Time to dish out the dirt!

Music

Jake: How can I talk about the music without geeking out? Well, the soundtrack is definately a masterpiece without a doubt. Yes, there are soundtracks from modern games that I enjoyed very well. But listening to this definately took me back years ago when I used to play NES games with my friends/neighbors. Each soundtrack makes an excellent representation of what music developers would do if this game were made back in the NES era (Isaac: Not to mention, they even hired the original composer for Megaman, Manami Matsumae, to do two of them. Leeeeeeegit.) Even the boss fight with Plague Knight was made even more chaotic and more awesome with a well crafted track! Its definately the soundtrack that I can dig into (pun very intended). As a matter of fact, I’m listening to the entire album I bought at Bandcamp while writing this article. It is…GAWD SO AMAZING I CAN PLAY THESE IN THE BACKGROUND ALL DAY!! I just geeked out didn’t I?

Isaac: I’m not even going to TRY not to geek out. I love me some good old retro-sounding chiptunes. “But, Another Gamer,” you wheedle. “Hi-def audio is so IN right now! How can you like beeps and clicks more than EPIC LOSSLESS ORCHESTRAL ACTION?” Listen to the first 5 seconds of this and tell me you don’t have a soft spot for the old-fashioned music.

That’s right. You love it.

The nicest thing by far, however, is that you must collect “music sheets” in the different levels through which you travel, to bring them back to the bard in the village for a reward. I LOVED this mechanic for a couple of reasons: 1. It makes the player value the music. 2. It provides an unlockable soundtrack, one song at a time. 3. It puts the music in the foreground! It makes the player pay attention to the music that was going on in the background of their level, makes them listen to it, and then makes them realize how completely and utterly AWESOME IT IS. Mission accomplished. THAT is how you do a soundtrack (Jake: Agreed! Even though I didn’t attempt to collect all of the music sheets, it’s pretty awesome that you could do that in the game).

 

Art

Jake: Now that’s pixel art! Never have I seen these kind of colors in a NES game. Well then again there’s a reason why. Did you know that Yacht Club went beyond the NES color palette and added some colors that didn’t exist on the original NES palatte to begin with? That’s right, The game had 58 colors as opposed to the original 54 colors in the NES. And man, they did a great job going beyond the color palette and making rebellion look so sweet!

Isaac: It is a pixel-art dreamboat. I can’t imagine how much time it took to draw, animate and put together all of the different levels and enemies, but Shovel Knight’s retro graphics just gave my rapidly aging self a huge nostalgia atom bomb to the feels. It manages to be in different scenes cute, adorable, terrifying and awesome. And there’s this guy:

 

And he dances, too.

50% apple, 50% trout, 100% gansta.

 

Difficulty

Issac: This is the hardest game I’ve ever played. I beat Ninja Gaiden. I beat Hotline Miami. I played Dark Souls until I stopped. I beat Final Fantasy Tactics and Diablo III on Hell and etc. etc. etc. This is the most punishing, miserably difficult game I have ever played in my short span of existence (with the notable exception of I Wanna Be The Guy, which I don’t count as a game so much as an adventure in masochism).

Jake: I’m not sure if I can account for the difficulty that Isaac faced. However, I can agree that levels do have their challenging aspects. Just like in Mega Man. If you love making missteps in your jumps and dying in the same area over and over, then you are going to enjoy some of their levels. Because the level design definately reflects back on how the levels were designed in Mega Man or any NES platforming games. I have certainly would have purchased one more armor piece if it weren’t for the gold that I lost. Speaking of which, They added a nice touch to the difficulty by making you lose a portion of your gold stash every time that you die. But you can recover the portion that you lost. Making the gold float around the area that you have died in has never looked so tempting to get the gold. And it’s not always easy recovering all of the gold that you’ve lost. I can also say one of the more difficult things I had to face in this game.

 

Final Thoughts

Jake: If I were to sum up the experience of playing Shovel Knight (based on what I’ve said), I would have to say these developers knew exactly they were doing when building a game with the NES mindset. With everything designed perfectly as an NES game, it certainly showed us on why we fell in love with NES in all aspects. Some good chiptune music, simplistic controls and story, and with a good difficulty that challenges the players the way the NES games did back in the day. I can truly say that it is indeed a “classic”. Get it? Because NES? Ah nevermind…

Issac: I think Jake said pretty much exactly what I’m feeling, too. It’s funny and witty, complex and rewarding. It’s worth its price tag and more.

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About

Isaac Smith is a lifelong gamer and musician. He is deep into the indie game scene, and is a dabbling programmer who enjoys making games and writing music for them. As a writer, he began at Another Gamer's Blog, a blog dedicated to the discussion of video games, their history, construction, social impact and artistic merit. He does much of the same at his new home, here at Last Token Gaming!

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