Sometimes, a game comes along that reminds you that the retro days of ol' still has an influential grasp on modern gaming... a game that, no matter how much it ticks you off having to go back to a checkpoint (or the beginning of a level) all because your timing was off for that jump, you have the strength and courage to go back and do it again. A game that makes you want to see every last bit of greatness that it has to offer.
Shovel Knight, for all intents and purposes, is one of those games. The wonderful side-scrolling adventure from Yacht Club Games released on Wii U and 3DS in the Summer of 2014 and became a critical darling in the indie scene. And for good reason, too--the game is good. Damn good.
The game starts off with a little back-story to set the tone for the rest of the game. In a nutshell, the eponymous Shovel Knight, along with his companion Shield Knight, used to go on many adventures together. Then one day, an evil enchantress infiltrated the influence of Shield Knight through a cursed amulet. Shovel Knight decides to take up his trusty shovel and rescue her. But first, he must face off against "The Order of No Quarter," a legion of knights sent by the enchantress to stop Shovel Knight dead in his tracks.
The many smiles this game leaves the player with start right in the game's opening moments. The music is upbeat and perfect, the controls are smooth and natural, and the difficulty is just right. Shovel Knight is able to dig up gold pieces to add to your currency, and he's able to bounce off of enemies with his shovel, much like Scrooge McDuck's cane in DuckTales. The levels have no specific time limit, and allow for limitless exploration within each level.
There are several goodies to pick up along the way, such as music notes which can be traded to the village bard in exchange for 500 Gold and access to pieces of the game's soundtrack. A salesman is found within each area that will sell you secondary items that can be used to access bonus areas and other parts of levels that would be otherwise inaccessible without this item. These items cost magic points, which can be upgraded throughout the game. In addition to magic upgrades, there are health upgrades in the form of meal tickets.
After the main quest has been completed, a New Game Plus option becomes available. Unlike your typical New Game Plus modes, this one makes the game much more difficult in exchange for access to your previously-gained items, health and magic. And I mean it when I say it becomes much more difficult--enemies do more damage, which can quickly become frustrating for the most impatient of players.
In addition, players can enter various cheats in the main menu by inputting cheat codes as the player name when starting a new file. While doing this prohibits the player from earning in-game achievements (oh yeah, Shovel Knight has in-game achievements), these cheats alter the game in various ways that are either advantageous to the player--like being a mammoth giant in comparison to the enemies--or just totally silly--like "Butt Mode," where every instance of "Shovel" and "Knight" in the dialog turns into the word Butt. I can safely say you haven't fully lived until you've played through Butt Mode.
Being a game that prides itself in insanely old-school fun, Shovel Knight is one of the best games that released in 2014. Its mix of Castlevania and Mega Man art styles, along with game mechanics similar to DuckTales, makes Shovel Knight one of those games that every gamer should check out. My only beef with Shovel Knight is that I'll never get to play it for the first time ever again.
NOTE: This review is based on the Wii U version. Shovel Knight is also available for Nintendo 3DS, and will be made available for PS3, PS4 and PS Vita on April 21st, 2015.