What do Mega Man, Super Mario Bros. 3, Duck Tales and The Adventures of Link all have in common? Unique stories. Imaginative characters. Brilliant level designs. Fantastic music. They are some of the greatest platformers of all time, and helped define the 8-bit era. And now, they have all played a role in inspiring this years smash indie hit, Shovel Knight.
What started out as a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $75,000, quickly blew up up, blowing past its goal. Shovel Knight’s Kickstarter ended up collecting over $300,000, fulfilling all the stretch goals for additional features. Shovel Knight has already received great critical acclaim, with many people describing it as one of the top games of 2014, and, with more stretch goals to be released for free in the near future, should continue to impress for some time.
A thrilling 2D platformer, Shovel Knight pays great homage to some of the finest games from the NES system. The overworld map is instantly recognizable, as it is almost identical to the style used in Super Mario Bros. 3. The various levels appear on the map, and as you defeat certain levels more levels become unlocked. Occasionally a challenger will appear on the map, blocking your path, and moving spots on the map after each failed attempt (reminiscent of the Hammer Bros. from SMB3). Scattered amongst the levels are other areas where Shovel Knight can enter, talk to various villagers and purchase weapon and health upgrades (similar to the villages in The Adventures of Link).
Level layouts are much like those from the Mega Man series, largely linear, but not on a continuous straight line. Shovel Knight must occasionally climb ladders, drop down gaps, and traverse in both directions on the screen. The levels are all brilliantly designed, each with a unique theme and boss. Secrets are hidden everywhere, behind a cracked wall, under a suspicious floorboard. Exploration is crucial in this game, as every level is filled with extra treasures and collectables to be found. Shovel Knight is difficult but forgiving. Every level features several checkpoints, which can either be used as a new starting point should you die, or you can smash them up with your shovel for extra gold.
The games mechanics are simple, yet fun. Again, heavily inspired by Mega Man, Shovel Knight starts with only one weapon, the shovel, but gains various power ups as the game progresses. These power ups cause more damage to opponents, but require magic points to be used. Along with these weapons, Shovel Knight also possesses the ability to pogo on top of his enemies with his shovel (a direct homage to Scrooge McDuck’s cane in Duck Tales), which not only can kill his opponents, but also help bounce Shovel Knight to hard to reach places.
Shovel Knight continues it’s NES homage with brilliant music. Largely composed by Jake Kaufman, the soundtrack is a blast of thrilling chiptunes. Mega Man composer Manami Matsumae even makes a guest appearance, composing two songs for the game.
Visually, Shovel Knight is stunning. Sticking to the original color palette available on the NES, Shovel Knight features, beautiful 8-bit graphics. The screen layout is smart and simple, with the gameplay taking place on the top screen (on the 3DS version) and the various weapon upgrades selectable on the touch screen.
Shovel Knight is an extremely impressive platformer, living up to all the hype it has received in the past few months. A brilliant homage to a bygone era, yet an equally fresh, captivating and innovative game, Shovel Knight brings the past to the future in a beautiful way. Unique characters, brilliant level design, fun gameplay and a perfect soundtrack make this game a must have for gamers of all ages.