Shovel Knight Review

By Marc Hollinshead, 1 year ago
Last year, Shovel Knight was released on several other platforms with a style aimed to pay homage to games of the past like Mega Man and the original Castlevania. Now that the adventure has made its way onto the Xbox One we get to ask if it is a title that we should play and relive the glory days or is it an outdated game that should step aside for the bigger and bolder ones to move in?

Shovel Knight - The most dangerous wielder of a spade that you will ever meetShovel Knight - The most dangerous wielder of a spade that you will ever meet

Shovel Knight's strong point is its gameplay, but there is still a somewhat interesting story. Shovel Knight himself originally had a companion in the form of Shield Knight (three guesses as to what she wielded) but unfortunately she met her demise in the Tower of Fate and with a new threat looming, the knight in blue goes off to thwart the evil Enchantress and her Order of No Quarter. It's a typical good vs. evil story, but the twist is that our lone hero uses a simple gardening tool as his weapon and main means of defense. It's surprising how powerful the shovel actually is, and it's amusing to see the various villains and citizens throughout the game react to this peculiar weapon in different ways. You will learn to love that shovel, and you will overcome obstacles that quickly become rather difficult as you progress further into this knight's quest. At first it feels like an odd gimmick, but eventually you'll feel as though it is an integral part of the entire game.

Shovel Knight immediately causes anyone who plays it to feel as though they've gone back in time. Upon launching the game, 8-bit music and a retro menu screen invite players to dive right into a nostalgic experience. The whole thing is retro in its sound, visuals and gameplay, but that's what adds to its charm. It's a deliberate design choice and it was the right choice to make. Gamers who grew up with these kinds of games will feel right at home here, and it will be a struggle to put down.

Much like the games to which it pays homage, Shovel Knight is not easy. While not feeling overly daunting at first, each level will increase in difficulty and you will be faced with a boss at the end. These bosses require quick reactions to strike down and generate real excitement upon reaching them, as you know you'll be in for something interesting. While a couple don't have as much bite, the majority of the knights of the Order of No Quarter will be deadly and defeating them will bring a great feeling of elation for the player. True to the original nature of a "boss battle", they can be nail-biting and tense duels where one hit could turn everything around. While difficult, they never feel impossible to overcome.

This is just a little warm-up before the real threatThis is just a little warm-up before the real threat

To actually make it to those bosses, though, you will be required to navigate through various levels across the world map. Once a new section of the map unlocks, you will have a choice of two or three levels to take on (so if you're struggling with one level, try another and come back to it) all varying in design. Each level is unique and presents you with different challenges so it never feels like you're going through the same level twice.

Upon entering a new level, you will quickly discover that it's not a smooth and easy run to the end. Enemies will attempt to kill you at every turn, bottomless pits will loom at nearly every jump and tricky platforming segments will come regularly throughout. There's no denying that frustration will ensue if you find yourself dying at the same bit of a level over and over again and it even got to the point where I had a nasty headache when coming off the Xbox. However, Shovel Knight possesses a charm that will cause you to keep going despite the odds. The challenge in games of today has somewhat lessened (depending on the game you're playing) which makes this retro 8-bit title is a breath of fresh air. Making it past another level and unlocking a new part of the map is extremely rewarding.

When you're not desperately trying to evade death, Shovel Knight also has a couple of miniature hubs where you can upgrade your equipment as well as take a breather and talk to the locals. In this sense, you're never pushed into racing through the game, but instead you're encouraged to always stay stocked up for the next level with the use of relics and consumables that will grant you extra aid in vanquishing enemies. These relics all have unique qualities, but you may find yourself sticking to steady choices like the fire rod as a several of them only become useful in very specific spots. The world map also will have wandering enemies to keep you on your toes while navigating from place to place and extra challenge levels with extra treasure. It's possible to swerve past the wandering enemies, but eventually you will either have no choice or decide to face them in one-on-one combat for the sheer thrill of it. These battles and levels are a welcome addition as they help to spread out game progress without acting like pointless filler. Just because they're optional does not mean they are any less challenging than the main fights so always be prepared with your best gear and items.

A well needed break is very welcomeA well needed break is very welcome

After dying more than a hundred times, you'd probably just want to throw in the towel and call it a day. However, Shovel Knight has something that helps to ease the frustration when another bottomless pit claims the shovel, and that's its soundtrack. Two words can be used to describe it: utterly brilliant. The unbelievably catchy tunes spur you on and every track fits perfectly with the level it's tied to. When battling a boss, a chaotic remix of the level music plays and keeps the adrenaline flowing. It's as though Mega Man had a baby. Don't be surprised if one of the tracks loop in your head after playing through a level and you immediately go to YouTube to find it. The soundtrack mirrors the game perfectly and meshes seamlessly with its presentation.

Shovel Knight is a challenge, so of course the achievement list is the same. Some of the achievements can be gained with relative ease as you continue to progress through each of the levels, but others will require a lot of dedication and skill. While fully upgrading your gear and rummaging for gold will help you along, you will have to destroy every checkpoint in the game and even complete the whole adventure without dying. This will be hard for a fair number of people, but with practice, it can be done. The game has a ton of replayability and so getting your completion time down to an hour and thirty minutes will come with time. Just don't expect an easy completion when starting the game up.

Just avoid the giant fish and the huge void below and you'll be fineJust avoid the giant fish and the huge void below and you'll be fine


Summary

It can be challenging, frustrating and cause unwanted headaches, but despite all that you'll keep wanting to come back for more. Not everyone will be drawn in by an 8-bit, side-scrolling death fest in this day and age of gaming that seems overwhelmed by retro aesthetic titles, however, Shovel Knight rightly deserves a place among modern games. The amazing soundtrack and rewarding gameplay will spur you on right to the end, and even then you'll probably want to go back for another round of smacking things in the face with a shovel. The inspiration from 8-bit games of the past has caused a great feeling of nostalgia for many, and Shovel Knight is well worth the money and trip down memory lane if you prefer to be challenged on a regular basis. The game is proof that, although 8-bit side-scrollers look old, they certainly aren't outdated.
4.5 / 5
Positives
  • Challenging and rewarding gameplay
  • Fantastic soundtrack
Negatives
  • Frustration imminent
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent ten hours digging up treasure, smacking many things with a shovel and dying a few too many times. Throughout the journey, 20 of the game's 45 achievements were gained. A copy of the game was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.
Marc Hollinshead
Written by Marc Hollinshead
To summarize Marc in two words, it would be "Christian Gamer." You will usually find him getting stuck into story heavy action-adventure games, RPG's and the odd quirky title when he isn't raving about Dark Souls and Mass Effect. Outside the world of gaming, Marc attends and helps out in his church on a regular basis and has a not-so thrilling job in a supermarket.