Shovel Knight is a side-scrolling action adventure that encapsulates everything that was good about the Nintendo generation of action-adventure games. From Zelda 2 to Ducktales to Adventure Island, you’ll be constantly reminded of the beauty of game mechanics which originated in the 1980s.
It’s not just the (pristine) graphics which invoke nostalgia, everything about Shovel Knight has been lovingly designed to remind you of the good times. The menu screens, your inventory, the stage select world map all serve as potent doorways into our gaming past.
I say Shovel Knight reminds us of the good times, because it seems to have found that perfect balance between challenge and fairness. You’ll be killed a lot, to be sure, but there are infinite continues which cost you some gold. (think, a little bit of Sonic the Hedgehog mixed with Diablo) If you die, three bags of your gold are left floating at your place of death. If you can make it from the nearest checkpoint back to your gold bags, you lose nothing by dying.
Gold is important in Shovel Knight, and much like the recent Rogue Legacy you’ll find yourself immersed in the classic Ducktales style treasure-hunting side-quests. These are small dungeons or side-areas that reward risk-taking players with coins aplenty, if you’ve got the platforming chops.
Luckily, even tricky jumps are a joy to pull off thanks to Shovel Knight’s tight controls. Everything feels extremely responsive in the best way. There are some extremely punishing jumps and timing-based puzzles, but the controls are so well done you’ll find yourself pulling off shovel pogo-stick combos like a pro in no time.
The over-world map and board-game random encounter system is reminiscent of the one from Mario 3, with a beautifully simple fog-of-war mechanic. Nothing to complain about here, it’s pitch perfect.
The music is well composed and you’ll find yourself swept up in the retro-gaming orchestral sound that permeates every level. There’s even a ‘collect all the music’ minigame which allows you to replay any of the game’s 40+ tunes from the main town.
The towns are straight from Zelda 2: Adventure of Link, including the “house hidden on the roof” bit. A nice touch, and they even included the catapult/cannon travel mechanic from Secret of Mana.
In the end, there’s little reason not to purchase Shovel Knight. You’re supporting a great indie developer, buying an absolute classic game, and experiencing a full on nostalgia explosion from start to finish. I rate Shovel Knight a 96% – Outstanding.