Kids have it so easy these days.  What, with their auto-saves and regenerating health.  Back in my day, you had to write down your save codes and EARN your boss fight wins!

Well, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Shovel Knight is here to bring back the glory days.  It’s made up of ingredients from some of gaming’s oldest franchises.  It’s a game you didn’t know you’ve been pining for, but once you play it, you’ll be glad you did.  Flat out, Shovel Knight is great.

Glorious, pixellated nostalgia.

  • TL;DR: A true love letter to NES platformers of yesteryear
  • Platform: 3DS
  • Score: 9.1/10
  • Hours Played: 6
  • What I Played: Main story
  • Recommended?: To anyone looking for a big slice of nostalgia

Shovel Knight follows the title character on a typical Hero Quest.  He and his long-time partner, Shield Knight, are bested by the evil Enchantress.  When he wakes up, Shovel Knight takes it upon himself to avenge his fallen teammate, defeat the Order of No Quarter, and cleanse the land of evil.

I know that a lot of games like to tout themselves as “throwback” or “retro”, but Shovel Knight really dials it back to the early 1990’s.  The pixellated graphics are a dead giveaway, sure, but the soundtrack is something to behold.  I’ve said before that the soundtrack in a game usually falls into the forgettable or incredible category — Shovel Knight’s definitely falls into the latter.  When I first fired up the game, my roommate immediately popped his head up and said, “holy shit, that sounds AMAZING.  What is that?!”.  Think I’m playing it up too much?  Give it a listen for yourself.  Hell, I’m gonna shut off my Pandora and listen while I write the rest of this.

Alright, enough about sound.  I’ve mentioned in my reviews for Android and Ouya games that I think 3D graphics on non-PC/console devices usually miss the bar.  Shovel Knight hits it out of the park again with it’s low-def, NES-style graphics.  And it keeps the theme throughout with not only a UI reminscent of Metroid or Mega Man, but an overworld map that looks like it was ripped right out of Super Mario Bros 3.  There are so many callbacks and hat nods that it’s hard to keep them all in line.

It’s like I’m eating Fruit Roll-Ups and watching TRL all over again.

The callbacks to games gone by continue right into gameplay.  Kotaku nails it right on the head by calling Shovel Knight a mix of games like Mega Man and Castlevania.  Levels are your typical platformer fare, with platforms to jump on (WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?!), pits to clear, and stage bosses to beat.  Each boss from the Order of No Quarter has his own special twist, whether it be Plague Knight’s throwing potion attacks or Polar Knight’s snowballs and ice spikes.  The screen shifts one screen width when you exit the side.  Spikes are auto-death.   It’s got all the calling cards of the games you played as a kid.

But, Shovel Knight isn’t your typical knight in shining armor because he… well, he wields a shovel.  Treasure isn’t found by throwing pots or slashing bushes, no.  Instead, it’s dug up from the ground.  Attacks consist of poking your shovel out or pogoing (is that a word?) a la DuckTales.  Pogoing (if it’s not a word, I’m making it one) is used pretty often, whether its to clear gaps by bouncing off enemies or destroying bits of the environment to progress.

Pogoing — catch the fever.

Gold collected in Shovel Knight’s travels can be used for upgrades, like max health/mana or improvements to either his shovel or armor.  One of my few gripes with Shovel Knight is the lack of upgrades for the shovel and armor.  On one hand, you don’t want to get too crazy with upgrades that they feel necessary, but of the three weapon upgrades, I never felt like I even wanted them.  There are a few different armors to buy with different effects, but only one, maybe two, seemed useful.

Your arsenal doesn’t consist of just a shovel, though.  Most, if not all, of the boss stages have a relic to be found.  These items can be swapped in and out at any time, similar to Castlevania games.  Almost all of the relics are useful, from the flare wand to the propeller dagger.  Pro tip: buy the fishing rod ASAP.  You’ll be leaving a lot of easy treasure around if you don’t.

Bonus treasure courtesy of the Troupple King. Dude’s just drippin with swagu.

Level diversity is another huge positive in Shovel Knight.  While one level has you trudging through a forest, another sets you in an underground city.  Yet another puts you on a floating airship.  There are also levels that put your relic usage to the test in a run for treasure and mini-bosses to test your combat prowess.

Shovel Knight even comes with New Game+ and a wide array of achievements to strive for.  Also, don’t think for a second that Shovel Knight is some walk in the park, since it only takes about five or six hours to beat.  It can be pretty damn hard, especially during the final stage.  Holy sweet Lord, what a gauntlet.  Want to make the game a bit more challenging?  Try destroying every check point you find so each death is essentially hardcore mode, putting you back at the start of the stage.

I was going to say that my second negative with Shovel Knight was it’s length, but I’ve talked myself out of it.  Adding more stages and length to a game can make it feel watered down, and I completely stand by Yacht Club Games’ decision to keep Shovel Knight as a concise, polished product.  Kudos.

Disappearing platforms, lava-filled cauldrons, helicopter rat enemies — Shovel Knight hits all the right notes.

If you played video games as a kid, you’ve played games like Shovel Knight.  It’s an ode to the past with great level design, a chiptune soundtrack, and a flipbook/image intro.  Mega Man?  Castlevania?  Super Mario Bros?  Each have their own nods in Shovel Knight.  Whether it’s on PC or 3DS, plop down the cash and play Shovel Knight.  Your inner child will be so, so happy.


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