Shovel Knight made its console debut on Nintendo 3DS and Wii U back in June 2014 and was met by critical acclaim. Thankfully, a year later, it’s now made the move onto home consoles that are still relevant.
Now, I’m more than aware that some of you will have had a quick scan down this review, looked at the pictures and have said in a whiny little voice “Urgh, more retro styled games. I didn’t buy an Xstation 4One to play games that look like they’re from the 90’s”. If you did this, you’re a bad person and you should feel bad. Shovel Knight is a masterpiece in platform gaming, drawing influence from the best of its predecessors and combining them into one magnificent package dripping with 8-bit excellence.
Taking control of the titular Shovel Knight, the game plays out as an action platformer. The most obvious influence in terms of gameplay is Duck Tales. Instead of a cane, Shovel Knight uses a shovel to clout his enemies and also as a pogo stick style implement, allowing you to attack from above, break through objects or to get an extended jump. Aside from the variety of different enemies that you’ll meet throughout the different zones, your other adversary are the platforming sections themselves. While never soul-crushingly difficult, they can get tough and require sharp reflexes and precise jumps to pass. Thankfully the game is generous with its distribution of checkpoints.
There’s two other stand out reference points for me. Navigation around levels and zones couldn’t be more Super Mario Bros 3 unless it contained a somewhat rotund Italian-American plumber. There’s also ‘friendly zones’, depicted as small villages teeming with NPCs, which reminded me of Zelda II: The Adventures Of Link.
As an added mechanic, the Shovel Knight has some RPG-(extremely)lite elements. Throughout each level you’ll collect a variety of gems and items, all of which add up to a total monetary value, although it’s worth remembering that every death robs you of a certain amount of your purse, although it’s possible to get your cash back if you collect the floating money bags left behind where you previously died. The money you’ve retained can be used to buy upgrades in the friendly villages, such as health and magic boosts, or alternative equipment such as shovel upgrades or new armour.
The story, whilst never going to win any awards, is perfectly possible and carries the game along nicely. Shovel Knight and Shield Knight are exploring the Tower Of Fate when an amulet places a curse upon Shield Knight and seals Shovel Knight outside of the Tower. Our hero then must fight across 4 zones, defeating 8 knights from The Order Of No Quarter and the key antagonist, the evil Enchantress, to free Shield Knight from the curse.
I touched on presentation before, but to come back it; Shovel Knight is a stupendously beautiful game, soaked through with NES-era influences, from the level design, to the sprites, even down to the slightly over saturated colors. The chiptune music also is another hark bark to the third generation of home consoles.
One bonus is picking Shovel Knight up on PlayStation is the addition of a Crossbuy copy on the Vita and PS3, which also has cross saves across your platforms. Despite the Vita being pretty much sent to it’s death by Sony, platformers feel like a natural fit on the handheld console and Shovel Knight plays superbly.
Whilst Shovel Knight is a perfect game for those wanting a flashback to the earlier days of console gaming, that’s not to say I think it’s solely for the nostalgics among us. The gorgeous art design, pin-point action platforming and, most importantly, a simple sense of being overwhelmingly fun, makes Shovel Knight a worthwhile purchase for all gamers, no matter what era defines them.
Midlife Gamer Rating: 8/10 Format: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided with a copy of Shovel Knight for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 10 days. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.