Review: Shovel Knight

A lot of games go for that 'retro platformer' feel out of an ease of development and miss the mark when it comes to the charm and feeling of those games.  Shovel Knight is not one of those games.  It's a compelling and wonderful little retro platformer with an amazing attention to the little fine details.

Review: Shovel Knight
Date published: Jun 26, 2014
2 / 3 stars

Shovel Knight is a retro-style platformer developed and published by Yacht Club Games through the money raised through a successful Kickstarter fundraiser.  The question with these Kickstarter success stories is always whether the game lives up to what was promised, and before we dig into the nitty-gritty of the game, let me happily say: this game does exactly that.  I've been spoiled lately with a couple of really good PC platformers which are a genre I like but normally can't really enjoy too much, but both Battleblock which I reviewed as well today, and Shovel Knight, are great PC platformers.

The soundtrack warrants special mention I think because I really appreciated how it wasn't just chiptune that sounded 8-bit with a bunch of effects and such added for embellishment (which can often detract from that initial appeal of a retro-styled music track) but is in fact actually that 8-bit music and most of it is really brilliantly-done for what it is, with the low points descending to merely "good", and when that's the worst you can say for something you're in comfortable territory indeed.  The overall sound design is another thing that nails that retro feel and there's a particular care taken to that feel.

A lot of care and attention has been given to Shovel Knight

Details are something that the game does very well.  From the animations to the sound design and just in general as I mentioned previously, there has been a lot of thought obviously given to the look and feel of the game.  The animations are a particular way where that attention to detail really shines.  For example, when you open a chest the titular character will be animated rummaging through the chest to find their reward jewels.  They very much feel like retro NES animations, and instead of embellishing them to the point where they don't quite feel retro any more, Yacht Club Games instead seems to have used that much greater freedom of the modern PC to add quite a few different animations for all kinds of things.

The actual game mechanics are pretty standard, faithfully recreated from the platformers of yore.  The difference is right in the title: the weapon of your character is the titular shovel, and the additional game mechanics are centered around that.  You can dig up piles of dirt for jewels which are used as currency, dig through certain tiles of the game world, and so forth.  You're also able to jump and point the shovel down to bounce, somewhat like the (in)famous Duck Tales.  It all works pretty well, a faithful recreation with little flourishes all in keeping with that story and theme.

The controls are quite responsive,
but the default setup is clunky

The game's commitment to the 8-Bit feel carries over into the controls which are set up with the same amount of keys as a standard classic NES controller. They offer a great response time with minimal input lag, however the default setup is a bit clunky because accessing magic becomes a bit of a strange key combination on keyboard. You can rebind it to a single key that's more accessible, so it's not a big deal, however.

A lot of games go for that 'retro platformer' feel out of an ease of development and miss the mark when it comes to the charm and feeling of those games.  Shovel Knight is not one of those games.  It's a compelling and wonderful little retro platformer with an amazing attention to the little fine details.</p>