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Shovel Knight - can ya dig it?

July 18, 2014

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Shovel KnightShovel Knight will grab your attention with its name, but it will dig its way into your heart thanks to its charming 8-bit aesthetic and tough-but-fair gameplay.

Shovel Knight harkens back to a bygone era that featured some of the most legendary NES games ever released, and doesn't try for one second to hide its influences. That said, it still revels in its own goofy, over-the-top personality that's plenty original in its own right. After all, how many video game protagonists do you know that don a shovel as their weapon of choice?

Anyone who has played the first few Mega Man games, Duck Tales, or especially Zelda II: The Adventure of Link on the NES should feel right at home with Shovel Knight.

This is a side-scrolling platformer that sees the titular hero taking on the evil Enchantress and her group of hench-things in The Order of No Quarter. Like just about every game from that earlier era, the whole point of questing is to save the damsel in distress, though in this case the damsel is Shield Knight, and she proves to be far more than just a hopelessly imprisoned woman wearing a dress and a tiara.

Shovel KnightYou better believe Shovel Knight is more than just a clever name. The protagonist carries his ShovelBlade - a powerful weapon that can dig up treasure one moment, and down a massive mechanical minion the next.

One thing I love about Shovel Knight is that it eschews the obsession that many current games have with guns. The ShovelBlade is, for all intents and purposes, a melee weapon, and the game is all the more fun - and challenging - for it.

The ShovelBlade is also a defensive weapon that can deflect certain attacks, and it can be used as a pogo-stick of sorts. Anyone who has played a few hours into Zelda II and used Link's down-thrust in that game will be taken right back to 1988 while playing Shovel Knight.

The down-thrust really does open up all sorts of interesting platforming mechanics, and developer Yacht Club Games revels in conjuring up dastardly ways of challenging players.

Shovel KnightWhat's interesting about Shovel Knight is that there are no conventional "lives" that count down. Any time you fall in a pit or run out of health, you drop a certain amount of money you've amassed thus far; the more money you have stored up, the more you'll lose.

You can always return to wherever you died and reclaim your riches, but of course, you run the risk of losing even more money (and being unable to reclaim the stuff you were going after in the first place). It's a risk-reward system that works wonderfully.

Those riches, by the way, allow you to buy all sorts of things, from magical power-ups, to new armor, to ShovelBlade upgrades.

What makes Shovel Knight so interesting is that it can be as simple or as challenging as you'd like. Money, and the power-ups that you can buy with it, isn't all that difficult to come by, but no one is forcing you to buy those upgrades.

Shovel KnightSimilarly, in a genius move, the generously-placed checkpoints - illustrated as lamps - found throughout each level can be destroyed for money. In reality, it's simply another risk-reward venture: do you choose to make a few quick bucks at the cost of having to start far back in the level if you do die?

Regardless of how you play the game, there's no denying Shovel Knight's charms - both the character himself, and the supporting cast. The main character is as honourable as they come, but proves to be no pansy when challenged. Numerous NPCs - human and otherwise - can be spoken to in a couple of towns, and many show off hilarious personalities, including a frog who will have you, er, digging for his puns because of how awfully funny they are.

The game includes several "feats" (read: achievements or trophies), which add a lot to the game's admittedly low replayability. I completed 81% of the game on my first playthrough, but I'd love to play again to earn 100%, or simply to finish the game without buying upgrades.

Shovel KnightThrow in a fairly awesome chiptune soundtrack and a storyline that's more than a little heart wrenching - and offers plenty of possibilities for sequels - and you have yourself a solid first title from Yacht Club Games.

While Shovel Knight oozes retro charm, and players who grew up during the NES' heyday will get the most out of this title, I'm confident that even new players will appreciate what the game - successfully - sets out to do.

 

Shovel Knight
Format: Nintendo Wii U
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Developer: Yacht Club Games
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
Official Site: http://yachtclubgames.com/shovel-knight/

Rating: 8.5 / 10

 
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About G4 in Canada
G4 Canada (formerly TechTV Canada) launched in September 2001. G4 is the one and only television station that is plugged into every dimension of games, gear, gadgets and gigabytes. Owned Rogers Media Inc., the channel airs more than 24 original series. G4 is available on digital cable and satellite. For more information, see www.g4tv.ca.