Review: Shovel Knight (3DS)
This review series is dedicated to new games with a retro look and/or feel. It has become a popular trend to develop games with 2D pixelated graphics and chiptune music in hopes of recapturing and reproducing the look, feel, and sound of the games we are so nostalgic for today. Some of these games take the best of the past and fuse it with the gameplay improvements we have grown accustomed to today, while others have simply attempted to cash in on that same nostalgia that keeps us playing retro games in the present. The goal of these reviews is to identify the retro inspired games being released today that are worth your time and money.
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- Title: Shovel Knight
- Platform Reviewed on: 3DS
- Developer: Yacht Club Games
- Publisher: Yacht Club Games
- Price: $14.99
- How the Game Was Acquired: Review Download Code from the Publisher
What can I say about “Shovel Knight” that hasn’t already been said? Much of the press and gaming community have had nothing less than high praise for this game created in the mold of the 8-bit Famicom/NES games of our past. With that being said, I avoided most of the coverage of the game since I was hoping for it to make an eventual release on the Playstation Store and on my main console, the PS Vita.
Now I can honestly say that was a terrible idea. If you listen to “Back in my Play” this game was made for you. Just be prepared to take a deep breath after you die for the umpteenth time when you had the boss on its last bit of life, you fall into that pit, or explode after impacting an impossibly sharp spike. Side note: the 2DS is a TANK of a handheld. I threw mine across the room in frustration and it didn’t have a single dent or blemish on it. Of course five seconds later I was making another attempt to get to the next checkpoint.
Upon first look you will immediately recognize the 8-bit/NES-inspired graphics that construct the world and inhabitants of “Shovel Knight.” “Shovel Knight” feels like a game that was developed for the NES, but Yacht Club Games developed a special custom chip along the lines of the MMC3 and MMC5 to push what was capable on hardware to its limits. “Gimmick!” on the Famicom is a great example of a game utilizing custom chips to do things no one thought the original hardware was capable of.
The stages are laid out on a map similar to Super Mario Brothers 3 (and of course M.C. Kids!)
What is most fascinating about “Shovel Knight” is its blend of retro and contemporary game mechanics and design. Within the first 15-minutes of gameplay it is easy to spot influences from a bunch of 8-bit classics such as “Super Mario Brothers 3” with the level select via over world map and mini stages that appear after completing a level; the “Mega Man” series with its one-hit deaths from ceilings lined with spikes, smooth screen transitions, and inability to run; “Duck Tales” with its pogo mechanics; “Castlevania” with its item select/magic system, and that is just off the top of my head.
Along with those homages there are plenty of refinements and mechanics that gamers have grown accustomed to such as check points (these are optional and can be destroyed for extra gold), the ability to customize button layout, and saving after the completion of each stage. And while you will die…a lot, the penalty is minimal and you won’t find yourself constantly staring at a “Game Over” screen or looking for an infinite continue code.
You will also be able to purchase special items like the Fishing Rod to aid you during your adventure
You are also able to upgrade your character with extra health and/or magic depending on your play style. You can also purchase upgraded armor and shovels. But since the armor/shovel upgrades had pros and cons attached to them, I never felt the desire to upgrade. While clearly their intention, I wish there were more armor/shovel upgrades that were simply better than the standard equipment without sacrificing the baseline abilities.
The levels the Shovel Knight must traverse feel like they are designed by scholars of retro games. New mechanics are introduced on almost every other screen with unwritten tutorials to prepare you for more complex platforming to come. My only issue with the level design was the imbalanced placement of checkpoints. At times I felt like there were long stretches of highly challenging platforming while areas I breezed through had checkpoints very close together.
I get a strong Mega Man 3 vibe from this stage.
With a game as difficult as “Shovel Knight” a great soundtrack can ease your sense of frustration, even when dying inches from a new checkpoint (even more so at the end of the game). Composer Jake Kaufman was dealt the task of creating the 8-bit chiptune soundtrack in the style of Famicom/NES classics. In the past, Jake has composed some of my favorite game soundtracks like “Double Dragon Neon” and “Mighty Switch Force.” The tracks he created for “Shovel Knight” are on par with some of the best 8-bit soundtracks, past or present. The soundtrack is available on Bandcamp and you can “Name Your Price.” It is well worth the $10 I paid.
One of Jake Kaufman’s best soundtracks
Even though Shovel Knight is one of the most challenging games I have played in the last few years (retro or otherwise) it balances the level of difficulty with some optional game mechanics that we have come to expect today. With the diversity of enemies, level design, and boss battles I always found myself learning new ways to traverse the areas and new attack strategies. Perhaps the best way for me to convey my feelings for the game is to report that this drove me to upgrade from my 2DS to a Nintendo Refurbished 3DS XL so I could play through it again on a bigger screen.
- Like a brand new “AAA” Famicom/NES title
- Great soundtrack
- Expertly designed levels
- The possibility of a Nintendo 64 inspired sequel
- Armor/Shovel upgrades were not appealing
- Checkpoint placement felt uneven at times