Shovel Knight is a retro platformer with an enticing protagonist. Unfortunately, the game’s developer, Yacht Club Games, seems to have done very little with the character.
Usually I wouldn’t bother with platformers. They’re really not my cup of tea. I always associated the genre with weak storytelling, frustrating gameplay and innocuous mascot characters. The Knight, however, sparked part of my imagination, sense of humor and willingness to try something new. All in all though, it never felt that much different from games such as Castlevania, Mega Man, and Super Mario. For some, that will be a good thing, but I wanted something more. A few modern touches did little to distinguish it from other games in the genre and thus resulted in my eventual loss of interest with Shovel Knight.
The visuals of Shovel Knight are 100% old school. The game looks like one of the titles I was stuck with as a child; not really liking the game, but playing simply because I had nothing else. I avoid platformers today, but this one has a charm I’ve never seen before. The story isn’t particularly compelling, sporting the standard save the world world plotline. This time, the villain of the day is an evil enchantress. The world you’ll be saving is weird, wonderful and very retro, but fortunately without the mascot characters and relentless upbeat feelings that usually tag along. It lacks complexity or seriousness, but it’s convincing and immersive enough to keep you interested.
As an azure knight with a shovel, your main skill is digging. You dig for gold, treasure and items. Of course, you’ll be able to use your shovel to hit many creatures and villains you encounter while traveling the land. Jumping is the most crucial skill to master, with a lot of the challenge coming from difficult sections that require precise timing and a solid grasp of the finicky controls. My issue with the controls might just be based on my lack of skill and experience with the genre, but I often wondered if there’s more to it. Some moves require awkward button prompts and seemed to provide inconsistent results. This lead to inevitable deaths and in some situations, added to the frustration of an already challenging game.
An awesome retro soundtrack kept surprising me with its catchy tunes. The soothing melodies and fast paced action music helped try to keep the repetitive gameplay from going stale. Unfortunately, it didn’t help enough for me, as Shovel Knight doesn’t do enough to keep things fresh. By the end I was failing out of boredom, trying to do things on autopilot. The monotony was becoming hard to concentrate on. Shovel based mechanics are cool, but it would’ve been nice to see the game branch outside of it’s own gimmick.
I was drawn to Shovel Knight because it looked charming, fun, old school and original. For the most part I was right, but the charm wears off quickly and the originality is only on the surface. It doesn’t actually do anything that hasn’t been done before. Story matters to me, so while the clichéd “save the world plot” was a bit tiresome, I actually enjoyed exploring the crazy world it takes place in. For the first time I understand why people are fond of the platforming genre, but personally, I still want more from my games. If Shovel Knight 2 is coming, I hope it amps up the quirkiness and tells an ambitious tale. If so, I’ll give it a go. Otherwise, I’ll go back to Dark Souls for my challenge and world building.