Shovel Knight Preview

I love a success story. Rags-to-riches, zero to hero, dream to reality. There is nothing more uplifting than a story of someone who followed his/her vision and fulfilled his/her wishes. Kickstarter has done a lot to bring a lot of these visions to life, and independent video game designers have had stunning successes with it. This winter, Yacht Club Games will be releasing their own Kickstarted project, Shovel Knight, on Wii U, 3DS, PC and Mac.

Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight is an action game in a retro 8-bit style. Using a limited colour palette, blocky sprites, and two-button controls, it provides a beautiful world with engaging gameplay. Players control Shovel Knight, a blue-clad knight wielding a ferocious shovel.  The shovel is both a weapon and a tool. Using the Y button you can use it to strike enemies or to strike at dirt, breaking up sandy blocks and dusty piles that conceal gems. If you push down on the joystick or D-pad while jumping, Shovel Knight shoves the shovel down; you can bounce on blocks and enemies in this way, like using the pogo stick in DuckTales.

Shovel KnightThe simplicity of the game allows the developers to focus on fun scenarios. Players get a small number of tools and moves, and have to use them in clever ways to pass obstacles. The enemies in this game all require a different strategy for you to win. There are mechanical horses on wheels that charge at you with lances drawn; you can’t attack them from the front, and have to decide whether you’ll avoid them or come down from above. Golden knights parry your blows and protect themselves with a shield, lifting it above their heads if you try to attack from above; fortunately, they are slower than Shovel Knight, who can outmaneuver them in a duel.

There are very cool set-pieces as well. Backdrops can turn out to be booby traps. Magic books, when struck, conjure platforms made of pages. Statues can turn out to be enemies in hiding. The boss of the first stage, King Knight, is an impressive character. His throne room is full of danger as well; he can call out enormous trumpets to blare for him, spewing deadly confetti around the room. Dueling with the King is a grueling challenge, but is not a real hazard for a valiant Shovel Knight.

At the end of the demo, the game tallied up players’ scores, listing the high scores of treasure hunters that had come before. Past the high score screen was one that showed off other characters, waiting in the later stages for you to meet them. The sprites are large and detailed, using their limited palettes to provide shading and texture to their designs: a loose giant, a creepy plague doctor, a shady sorceress, a dandy knight with a helicopter-helmet, and more.

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The music promises to be much fun as well – Manami Matsumae, one of the original composers of the Mega Man soundtrack, will be providing two tracks for Shovel Knight!

Shovel Knight is a very attractive and promising title, with stylish characters and, most importantly, solid gameplay at its core. It’s a great pick-up-and-play title, and appropriately enough it can be played entirely on the GamePad.  It will be available on the eShop for both the Wii U and 3DS, at $15.


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November 7, 2013 - 4:16 pm