For the uninitiated Shovel Knight is a crowd-funded 2D platformer from indie developer Yacht Club Games. Most people know what it is and have likely played, knowing that it has a new DLC out “Spectre of torment” on most platforms. It has received 9’s out of 10 almost everywhere, its critically acclaimed. With the games success it seems vital to then analyse where it came from, and what it does right in an age of micro-transactions and unfinished games.
In this video game climate it was made clear from the beginning that Shovel Knight was a wanted, no needed, concept. It started out as a kickstarter with a goal of $75,000 but managed to reach an astounding $311,512. So obviously people liked the sound of this game, and the only reason for all it’s extra content, polish and achievement come down to this.
Developer Nick Wozniak says that the game came from a genesis of NES classics, like Zelda 2, the mega man series, Castlevania 3, Mario 3 and even the modern series Dark Souls. So the games style is clear then, a modern reinterpretation of classic platformers of a bygone era. Wozniak has gone on to say that the game started as a “sort of as a joke conversation over lunch that kind of got too serious.” Which tells the player that the concept of a knight with a shovel isn’t even taken seriously by the developers, they just wanted to illustrate their own unique style through a homage to classic games. You might think that a mighty number 9 situation begins to unfold at this point, however Shovel Knight acts as a Guardians of the Galaxy mix tape to classic games, with a new lick of paint.
On the surface Shovel Knights game play is simple, you advance in levels with a shovel, along with a Ducktales style Pogo bounce, an array of Castlevania type weapons and a colourful cast of characters and enemies to kill. The things that make it so special don’t just come down to ‘tight controls’ (a phrase thrown around all too often) but more. For example the art style is accessible even to me, someone who was not born in time for the NES and further, hell even when I look at the original mega man games it hurts. They adapted modern techniques and technologies to help provide a look into the past, but still have the modern feel. I also think one reason a lot of older players like it is it’s difficulty curve (Dark Souls?). It starts out teaching you the basics and by the end you’ve mastered these when the credits role, but the challenge of the final level befits the 10 or so levels you previously conquered. Yacht Club Games also do something I find very special in a well designed game, each level has a sort of mini-mechanic designated solely to that level, and the same applies, they teach it, make it harder, reinvent it and make it the levels staple. Shovel Knight takes it’s overall gameplay very seriously despite being a game about a Shovel wielding Knight.
The recently released ‘Treasure Trove’ Edition of Shovel Knight illustrates how Yacht Club have taken their extra money and used it… for free content. So after you’ve finished the game as Shovel Knight the story isn’t over, you can play as the boss characters Plague and Spectre Knight. Both these characters have retooled stories, mechanics, level design and completely different playstyles. It is literally two free games. Not to mention the fact that the boss King Knight is going to also get a free campaign too. You might be thinking that’ a lot of free content, but there’s more. Different versions of the game on different platforms get characters too. Playstation users can play as Kratos, Xbox users as the Battletoads and with Nintendo’s Amiibo support you can play Co-op!
Jake Kaufman’s chiptune soundtrack will also take you back to classic era tracks, but the thing is, the music isn’t limited anymore to cartridge space (remember, the whole game isn’t susceptible to these limitations either). So the overlapping and incredibly catchy tunes for Shovel Knight can shine in all their glory. Whilst not every track is as memorable as the main theme when you play you realise how well each song is made and fits its purpose.
In the end Shovel Knight speaks for itself, being nominated for a bunch of awards and winning around half of them. Selling thousands of copies and being appreciated by those that play it. Shovel Knight is a testament to fulfilling a developers dream and having a game made for the players, by the players.