4cr Chime In: Shovel Knight

by 4cr Staff

It’s no secret that we are all pretty enamored with Yacht Club Games’ new title Shovel Knight; most of us backed the project and have been following the development closely. Greg and T.J. already shared their in-depth thoughts via their massive double-review. But everyone else seemed to have something to say. With the generous addition of a few review codes from Yacht Club Games we had the critical mass necessary to all spend some quality time with Shovel Knight and chime in with our thoughts:

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Sean

Shovel Knight is an instant classic. I kind of just want to stop there, because in just playing it that statement becomes self-evident. But I suppose I need to qualify such praise.

While it’s really obvious to me that elements of Shovel Knight evoke the feeling of other NES games, I won’t go so far to say as those elements are cribbed from other games, or even that they pay homage — Shovel Knight is its own game that just happens to be done largely in an NES style. It is additive to the genres it represents, not subtractive, and not merely a copy of other things that are also great.

It has an infectious sense of humor that I appreciate very much. The moment I ran into a townperson who was an anthropomorphic mare in a dress, I knew I loved this game.

The controls are fantastic. I haven’t slipped off ledges because of bad collision detection, motion is smooth, input is responsive, and I don’t feel like enemies get the better of me because I just can’t execute a move fast enough. In this way, it actually is greatly improved over NES games.

As pixelated as the art appears, and as much as it adheres to a limited color palette and a rockin’ chiptunes soundtrack, Shovel Knight often breaks out of the hardware restrictions of its supposed contemporaries. Despite the text looking blocky and low-resolution, animation effects are applied (shaking, rolling, etc) that give away that this is a HD game trying to look 320×240.  I’m pretty sure character and background sprites break the confines of the hardware of the time, to say nothing of the multiple layers of parallax scrolling. Style is important here; in addition to being addicting to play, Shovel Knight is also a work of art, and it breaks those self-imposed restraints when it makes sense and is effective.

It has the music, level design, and boss battles of Mega Man. It has moves and endless gems like Duck Tales. It has towns, townfolk, stores, and powerups like Zelda II and Faxanadu.  It has an overworld map like Mario 3. It’s populated with endless Knights, like Castle Crashers (Okay, that one is a bit anachronistic). And so what? The new generation likely won’t know the difference, and once I noted the similarities, they just blended into the background without affecting my expectations or inviting endless (and typically damning) comparisons.

I mentioned it’s hilarious, right?

I could watch that Troupple dance all day.

I was a backer of this project since the first day I found out about it. I was hoping for at least something as neat as Battle Kid, but Shovel Knight has wildly exceeded all of my expectations.

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Gabriel

I’m not sure what I could add about Shovel Knight that hasn’t already been said by my 4CR colleagues. Like them, I absolutely loved the game even if, I must admit, I was a bit skeptical at first as retro-styled indie games are now a dime a dozen.

However, unlike many of those modern fake-8-bit games, Shovel Knight isn’t blindly copying  old-school mechanics or using pixelated visuals only because retrogaming is the flavor of the week. Yacht Club’s first game is an impressive balancing act. It feels like it could be a classic from the 80s, and yet it’s modern in the way it handles aspects like difficulty. It’s very challenging, but it ditches old concepts like limited retries and Game Over screens to remove the frustration and tediousness that usually accompanied old-school platformers.

The game is incredibly fine-tuned, and everything in it, from visuals to level design to music, is an obvious labor of love. I didn’t give money to the Shovel Knight Kickstarter as I saw it as just another one of those pseudo-8-bit platformers that Kickstarter is full of, but now that I have seen that I was completely wrong, I’m ready to open my wallet for Yacht Club’s next project. These guys have a deep understanding of what people loved about the NES classics without being blinded by nostalgia. I devoured Shovel Knight in a couple of days, and I’m already craving more!

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Dave

Like everyone else, I’m totally enamored with Shovel Knight. Unlike most of the rest of the team I played it exclusively on Steam. I think it says a lot about the maturity of Yacht Club Games that compared to the WiiU and DS versions of the game the Steam version is highly polished and just as feature rich as the rest of the releases. The game features card drops and the achievements are fully linked to steam achievements. It’s clear that despite the name the porting job wasn’t treated as shovelware. They even stay away from the treasure trove of available puns!

From a more game design-centric perspective, what can I say that hasn’t already been said about Shovel Knight? It does a nearly perfect job of balancing difficulty with fun and rewards success to drive play. The game feels as though it’s been play-tested into the ground and there is very little that doesn’t look polished and specifically considered. Plus the Soundtrack is totally awesome. Jake ‘Virt” Kauffman really went above and beyond by composing tracks that elevate 8-bit sound design sensibilities to a modern standard in the same way that Shovel Knight elevates gameplay and graphics. It holds its own against classics like the Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and early Mega Man soundtracks while simultaneously being original and refreshing in its approach.  If you’re interested, Kauffman has both the original soundtrack and an arranged version of the OST available for download at his bandcamp site. I’ve been jamming to them all week and really digging them.

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Eden

Shovel Knight is just awesome. It takes elements from great NES games such as  Mega Man, Ducktales, The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Castlevania III, Super Mario Bros 3 and many others, and polishes those elements close to a perfect shine. The pacing is great and most of the relics (special weapons) you find as you journey through each level or purchase between levels in town add a new layer to the combat mechanics.

I’ve been on board the Shovel Knight train since day 1, which is why I loved doing a feature on the Kickstarter campaign to show my support. I’m a big fan of WayForward, so Yacht Club Games had me at “a group of former WayForward devs.”

Like most of the backers I would have loved to play the game a few months earlier, but the extra work on the game in the past couple of months really shows, so I think delaying the game was the right call. After playing Shovel Knight for hours and hours, I can’t wait to see what Yacht Club Games has in store for us for their next project.

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Francois

I haven’t had much time to play Shovel Knight, which is a shame because as a backer of the Kickstarter campaign (my first crowd funding experience), I’ve been looking forward to playing it. But, for the small amount of hands-on time I have had with the game, I’ve been immensely impressed. It’s way beyond what I’ve imagined Shovel Knight could be. This is clearly a labor of love from people who clearly understand how a 2D, classic action-platformer is done. No, I take that back, how a video game is done.

Shovel Knight is clever, with a perfected take on the concept of checkpoints – so clever in fact that I would encourage many developers to pursue the very same idea in their upcoming games. It is fluid with classic mechanics mish-mashed together in a way that revives the pleasure of old 8-bit classics but without sacrificing its own novelty. It is well-designed with nicely paced levels and the classic “I know there is something hidden there” secrets. It is beautiful, almost true NES pixel art. It is funny, filled with strange NPCs. It’s challenging but fair. It is perfectly suited for the Wii U (my platform of choice) with a clever Miiverse integration.

Yes, Shovel Knight is many things. But beyond everything, it is an awesome video game.

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Calen

I was late to the Shovel Knight party. Like some of the other rebels, didn’t see much in the kickstarter that differentiated it from another retro platformer. I didn’t pick it up (for 3DS) until after I’d read some reviews, and heard some friends’ impressions. It is totally amazing. Everyone else has already pretty much covered everything, but I’ll just reiterate that the game totally nails the retro feel without screaming “RETRO.” It’s a genuinely excellent game that also looks like an NES game, rather than a game that preys on nostalgia.

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Vinnk

Shovel Knight is a love letter to an 8-bit era that never was but should have been.

The game is done in an NES era 8-bit style that all the hipster indie games are aiming to do but rarely capture well. It is clear these guys wanted to make an action platformer like the best of the late 80′s early 90′s classics but also with being able to use the knowledge of game design we have learned since then. Unlike a retro new-retro game like Mega Man 9 which is just a throwback, Shovel Knight brings new ideas to the table. It does this while at the same time bringing back so much nostalgia I could swear rented this one from the grocery store when I was 10.

I really can’t wait to see what these guys do next.

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