Shovel Knight, in the simplest of terms, is the ultimate Capcom NES game that never was. If you go further defining it, though, it’s much more than a mere retro-styled indie game. Yacht Club Games has lovingly created Shovel Knight to play like an NES game, sure, but their care went well beyond just emulating the look and feel of a game from that generation.
For starters, it plays just like the aforementioned publisher’s games of Nintendo’s golden era console. That is, it’s a level based platformer, with each stage culminating in a boss fight. But even though it feels like an old game, Shovel Knight goes well beyond just borrowing their aesthetics, introducing modern elements into the mix, like the possibility of starting a new game plus playthrough, autosaves, and achievement-like feats.
And while it’d be easy to give Yacht Games crap for putting out yet another retro-styled indie game, given what was previously said about it playing just like an NES game, Shovel Knight is anything but uninspired. It’s a game that would be first in line to go back in time to be part of that console’s official library, but it doesn’t forgo taking into its core design improvements that came in latter generations. Its structure is soundly one of an old school game, although its inner workings are about as modern as any glossy, brand new AAA game you’re likely to play these days.
Hidden secrets are to be expected in a game that follows the formula of Shovel Knight, and it doesn’t disappoint. You’re likely to be well into your second playthrough of the game before you run into all of its secrets. That’s mostly because they’re so well tucked away and protected, requiring later upgrades that might not have been available in that point of your first run through.
The quirky graphical styling of NES games also help give Shovel Knight‘s story beats an extra burst of personality. Sure, the story isn’t exactly a tale to be told for ages, but it’s miles beyond anything you’d see among Shovel Knight‘s foster siblings in the 1980s or 1990s. Every one of the bosses you face are interestingly developed and written, for what little they have to say before facing you in battle. It’s cool little touches like Tinker Knight’s bumbling fighting style that puts extra shine to Shovel Knight‘s presentation.
Also, considering how well the visuals are married with the fantastic soundtrack that spans throughout the entire game and beyond, thanks to hidden music sheets you can collect and activate at your leisure, it’s safe to say Shovel Knight won’t be out of your mind as soon as you finish it. Granted, you’ll be diving back into it for quite a while too if you’re into achievements, because boy, Shovel Knight‘s feats — that work as achievements and trophies in their particular consoles — are incredibly devious.
So if you like making your games even tougher, you can for instance, try destroying all checkpoints and restart each stage after dying or go well beyond that, in a perfect, “deathless” run. Shovel Knight is a game built for increasing amounts of challenge, up to as much as you can muster.
It’s fantastic to see Shovel Knight make its way to even more platforms after starting out as a 3DS and Wii U game. The transition between Sony’s systems is flawless, thanks to a far from cumbersome cross save system that throws your progress into a cloud so you can somewhat seamlessly pick up the game among them. You’ll also want to look out for the exclusive bits of content for Microsoft’s and Sony’s versions of Shovel Knight that feature Battletoads and Kratos. Dig in!