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Review: 'Shovel Knight' is an instant classic

Shovel Knight is an instant classic. Highly recommended.
Shovel Knight is an instant classic. Highly recommended.
Yacht Club Games

Shovel Knight

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There are plenty of recently-created games that feature visuals, music, and gameplay from the classic 8-bit era of video games. Developer Yacht Club Games adopted those retro elements for its first title, Shovel Knight, creating a remarkably charming and memorable video game.

Shovel Knight undoubtedly has its own identity with vibrant artwork, unique characters, and clever level designs. The world of Shovel Knight is as rich as Mario Bros’ Mushroom Kingdom, and the bosses are keenly inspired by the classic Mega Man series.

Players will find that the controls are thankfully simple and precise in this side-scrolling platformer. Shovel Knight makes good use of his main bounce attack to traverse through various platforming challenges, and other gameplay mechanics help change things up enough to be continuously interesting to play through each level.

There are also RPG elements in the game which allow Shovel Knight to increase his health, magic capacity, and gain new attacks and spells by acquiring new armor, weapons, and relics. Fortunately, you can find some of the more powerful tools early on in the game, so you won’t have to wait until the end of the game to be an effective knight.

Levels don’t feel overly long and aren’t filled with contrived, impossibly difficult designs. Instead, they are varied, and possess the right amount of difficulty (although new game plus mode ramps up the difficulty of the enemies that fill the levels). Yes, you will die enough times in order to get through levels, but there are forgiving amounts of checkpoints to make things just shy of frustrating.

When you get to the bosses at the end of each level, you’ll find that your basic pogo bounce attack will be most effective, but your magic relics will come in handy as well. Bosses and their patterns are cleverly designed and varied. They also seem to have their own, interesting backstories.

And speaking of stories, the main story of Shovel Knight is quite wonderful, and most importantly, modern. Although you won’t get much of the story until the very end of the game, it is still impactful.

Even though it took me about six hours to complete the campaign, I only managed to discover 65% of all of the secrets and unlockables. And amazingly, the game never felt stale, and never got old.

Many will see aspects from Castlevania, Mega Man, Duck Tales, and Super Mario Bros. in Shovel Knight, and rightly so, but Shovel Knight is an instant classic in its own right. This is a nearly perfectly-crafted game that captures the joy of playing the classics, and blends them with modern sensibilities.

Shovel Knight is available today for PC, Wii U, and 3DS for $14.99.

This review is based on a review code (Wii U) provided by the developer.