Shovel Knight is one of my favorite games of 2014 so far. It’s a game that manages to nod to all the games I grew up with in the NES era, add some modern game design elements, and somehow feel both fresh and retro. If you were to go by aesthetics and the chiptune audio alone then this game could seem like another old school inspired indie platformer trying to cash in on nostalgia without offering any good gameplay. But man would you be wrong. Yes, Yachtclub’s new platformer definitely takes cues in abilities and enemy placement from games like Duck Tales and level design tips from Mega Man but Shovel Knight is deeper and doesn’t feel like it’s simply taking what it’s borrowed and is throwing them together. Rather it takes the best parts of classic games and adds some depth with RPG elements like upgrades and gold.
And gold in Shovel Knight is where things get interesting. You see, there are no lives or continues. You can die, but what happens is you lose gold with the amount depending on how much you have accumulated in the game overall. I tested this by repeatedly dying and the lowest you can go down to is three pieces of gold. But fear not penny pinchers! When you die money bags of varying value will hover over wherever you perished waiting for you to retrieve them when you resume from your last checkpoint…..if you kept them. Speaking of getting interesting, checkpoints have a neat risk vs reward factor. Each level has plenty available (you’re going to need them) and at each one you have the choice to trigger the checkpoint so that you may use it if you die or you can destroy it which will net you nice amounts of gold but render that checkpoint unuseable. You will be sent back to the last checkpoint that is intact or back to the beginning of the level if you destroyed all checkpoints up to your point of death.
These two gameplay mechanics are brilliant in my opinion. Shovel Knight is not as brutal as the NES games before it like Mega Man partly because you can go back to previous levels and grind so that you can upgrade your gear or buy a chalice (more on that in a bit) but you have the ability to make it harder on yourself if you want to break every checkpoint in favor of gold. So what is a chalice in Shovel Knight? You can buy chalices and have them filled at Troupple Pond by none other than the Troupple King who doesn’t resemble a king like you’re probably picturing. He’s a giant fish which is both as quirky and as awesome as it sounds. Each chalice can hold one ability such as full health and mana restore or the ability to be invincible for ten seconds. There is no cost to fill these chalices although they do have to buy the chalices themselves. If I had one negative or thing to say about Shovel Knight it’s that having multiple chalices filled with powerful abilities made difficult stages and bosses too easy. But the best part is you don’t have to use them although it can be rather tempting. Other than that I have nothing but love and admiration for this Kickstarted indie title. It’s full of humor, tight and fluid gameplay, a solid soundtrack, and great pixel art. I have it on 3DS and Wii U and the only thing that sucks is that you can’t transfer your game save across systems. But that’s a glaring limitation of the Nintendo ecosystem along with a lack of cloud saves along with………Here’s to hoping to see Shovel Knight on the PlayStation platform with cross buy and cross save support!