Truth be told, a lot of us live in the past. We fondly go over great memories, and even go as far as to wish that we were children again, devoid of the issues that come with adulthood and even adolescence. Entertainment plays a big role in such nostalgia, and video games are no stranger as far as that’s concerned. After all, we gamers are known for placing our childhood favourites on pedestals and forgetting about any of their potential flaws.
Seeing a niche that would allow them to both explore their own nostalgia and help others do the same, indie developer Yacht Club Games set to work on Shovel Knight. A retro-inspired platformer that mixes elements of Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man with hints of The Legend of Zelda, it quickly gained popularity and had no problem achieving support from the community.
After debuting on Wii U, 3DS and PC back in 2014, this well-received homage to yesteryear has now made its way to both PS4 and Xbox One with bonus content in tow. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the latter, which I played as a first timer. That said, our original review can be found here.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the last while, Shovel Knight centres its story on two particular heroes (Shovel Knight and Shield Knight), who’ve had great success in defending their land from evildoers. In doing so, they’ve amassed an impressive amount of riches. However, good things don’t always last, and that’s the case here, as the protagonist’s female ally disappears under mysterious circumstances.
Over the next several hours, you’ll find yourself fighting against an elite legion of corrupt knights known as The Order of No Quarter in an attempt to get at their leader, who just so happens to have ties to Shield herself. Think of it as a Mega Man type ladder, wherein each boss — be it Plague Knight, King Knight or Mole Knight — has its own themed level to complete. You’re not going to be working towards stealing each one’s special power, though, so there’s no need to worry about doing things out of order. The game’s over world map features locks that open once you’ve beaten each grid’s knights, but it doesn’t matter which one you tackle first, second or third.
The gameplay is similar to your typical platformer in that Shovel Knight progresses from left to right across a two-dimensional plane. As with the Mario games it’s inspired by, one of your most important assets is the ability to jump, using mechanics that are about as tight as possible. A trusty shovel is your best friend, however, because it’s required for not only digging up treasure, but for both attacking and traversal as well. It allows for a basic swipe attack (which can be upgraded) and can also be used to bounce off of both environmental items and enemies.
Continuing along similar lines, it’s important to note that Shovel Knight is hard. It may have been released in 2014, but it carries with it a difficulty level that is reminiscent of days passed. It’s fair, for the most part, but can be a bit cheap and frustrating from time to time, so you’ll want to make sure to have some healing ichor on you. I’d also recommend keeping all checkpoints intact, as opposed to breaking them for monetary gain. Sure, upgrades and new magical abilities are nice, but so is avoiding the frustration that occurs when you have to replay completed areas over and over again after dying.
Thankfully, death isn’t punished severely here. You’ll lose quite a bit of gold and will have to revisit your last checkpoint, but that’s it. There’s no such thing as ‘lives’ in this game, and that’s a good thing, because if you’re rusty like I was then you’ll die quite a bit. What’s even better is the fact that all of your lost gold can be reclaimed by picking it up above where you last died, though that’s sometimes easier said than done.
Although it’s not perfect, and can become a bit aggravating at times, Shovel Knight is one of the best indie games out there and one of 2014’s most memorable releases overall. It’s beautiful in its 8-bit glory, complete with dated but crisp visuals and fantastic chip tune music, and offers a fantastically nostalgic experience. This Xbox One version also adds an optional boss in the form of the three Battletoads, though they require some sleuthing to unlock.
Needless to say, Shovel Knight on Xbox One is a no-brainer, unless you’ve already played through the game on another device. Even then, you may want to purchase it again, if for no other reason than the Battletoads themselves.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Shovel Knight is a fantastic game, which deserves all of the praise that it's received since launching last year. Now available on the Xbox One with iconic bonus content, it's even better than before and is a no-brainer of a purchase.