Shovel Knight is a throwback to NES-era platformers

Battle cries ring throughout the kingdom while knights take up their arms. One knight unsheathes his sword while another brings out a simple shovel.

“Shovel Knight” wants to show how powerful a simple gardening tool can really be and save the world in the process. Created by Yacht Club Games, “Shovel Knight” is an independent downloadable game that follows the journey of a simple knight wielding a shovel as he saves the kingdom.

“Shovel Knight” has an 8-bit pixel art style, but one that offers a distinct level of detail you won’t see on old hardware. It takes a lot of its retro style and inspiration from games on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but the game offers up enough creative design to make the gameplay its own. 

The game is a 2D platformer where the titular Shovel Knight must raise his gardening tool against dangerous foes. During the journey, you’ll pick up items known in game as Relics. Relics give you new abilities such as shooting flames out of your shovel or even turning invisible briefly to avoid a fatal strike. 

“Shovel Knight” is challenging, but fair. Throughout my playtime, I never felt like the game was throwing anything at me that was impossible. 

There are a multitude of ways to increase the game’s difficulty, however, and some of these gameplay features factor into the game’s Feats system. Feats act as an achievement system of sorts, tracking progress made in the game. Though these feats aren’t a mandatory feature, they help players approach the game in new ways to try out gameplay elements. 

One such feat requires the player to complete the game by destroying every single checkpoint in the game. You’ll be rewarded with 200 gold for each one, but each death will return you to the beginning of the stage. It’s a risk/reward system, and one I appreciated as a way to change play styles. 

Stages in the game vary in length, taking around 15 minutes for each level. Along the way, you’ll face dragons, slimes and even other knights. Treasure chests in each level encourage exploration of the entire stage, but chances of death usually increase with more exploration.

Much like the Mega Man series, each boss’ stage fits within an appropriate theme. King Knight waits for battle inside a large golden castle, filled with chandeliers and jousters while Specter Knight fights in a cemetery filled with ghosts during a stormy night.

One of the newest additions in the game comes from its Wii U release. By tapping the Shovel Knight amiibo to the Gamepad, players can access new challenge arenas, play local co-op and create a custom knight that levels up and gains feats and health just by playing rather than buying items. 

Each boss’ difficulty scales when co-op play is activated, making co-op a harder mode overall, but a rewarding one. You’ll not only be fighting enemies, but also each other as the game tracks which knight performed the best after each stage.

Each musical track in the game has its own level of catchiness, and I’ve found myself humming themes from the game throughout the day. Songs from the game are also hidden collectibles in each stage and can be played by the bard in the village at any time.

“Shovel Knight” is a deeply enjoyable game, offering hours of gameplay. It feels like it’d be right at home on the NES, capturing nostalgia while creating a brand new world. The game is available now on a multitude of consoles and PC.

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