- Written by Brandon Perton
What’s bad about being old fashioned? It certainly isn’t the same as being nostalgic. There’s a reason why a lot of gamers still enjoy old-school games. It isn’t purely because they have a special connection to them since they grew up with these games either. Some might balk at the idea of old-school games in an age where graphics and technology have progressed so much, but there’s one phenomenon that defeats their argument – mobile games. The success of simple, concept based games like Doodle Jump and Candy Crush, games that could easily have been part of the older era, proves that games work primarily because of one reason – fun.
Using the Retro Feel:
Good ideas, old or new, persist because they are based on sound principles. Shovel Knight is another game that takes a few time-tested principles of gaming – the importance of positioning in combat, the reflex-based counter attacks and stages filled with branching pathways. The fact that Shovel Knight succeeds in being fun despite it not being the most innovative or revolutionary of games shows that tradition is alive and well, and that games should be fun above all else.
If you’ve played a lot of games from the golden era, you will have plenty of déjà vu moments in Shovel Knight. Right from the story, where you are a knight looking to save a woman from a villainous entity, to the sprite based UI design and the delightfully retro music, Shovel Knight heaps on the old school. You might, at various points during the game, recognize characters and locations that would be right at home in a Zelda or a Mega Man game.
The Game Play:
Rekindling your memories isn’t the only card that Shovel Knight has to play though. It works because it executes the gameplay so well. Combat is challenging because you and your enemies are capable of knocking each other back, therefore making positioning crucial. You can shove your enemies back with your trusty shovel, but doing so nudges you back slightly as well. So you have to be careful where you decide to attack, or you might find yourself on the wrong end of a bottomless pit. You can’t just block the entire time to stay alive either. If you’re too late to attack, you might end up eating a death blow. If you’re too early, you might get countered and eat one anyway.
Falling into pits is your number one enemy in Shovel Knight. You require precise timing on your jumps, because if you land on the edge, you might find an enemy ready to shove you into oblivion. On the other hand, if you see said enemy and jump too soon, you might plummet anyway. The game balances out the difficulty by offering you generously spaced checkpoints throughout its levels, so you don’t have to spend 10 minutes getting back to where you last died. However, since checkpoints are so frequent, more hardcore gamers might find the going slightly easier than they would have liked.
While the game might be slightly easy for experienced gamers, the experience of playing it is still fun. The stages are well designed and have plenty of secret areas to explore. However, the low difficulty level means that you won’t really have to delve too deep into your combat strategies to come up with something that works. Once you’ve got the basic fireball, strike and pogo strike combo down, you’ll rarely need to rely on anything more advanced to get you through the game. Sure, you might want to see how the invisibility cloak works or how adding an additional combo attack in the middle of your melee affects your progress, but you don’t really need to. If you’re patient enough and have perfect timing, you’ve already got enough to beat the game.
When you first play through the game, you will be impressed by the transitions and the different scenarios and enemy types the game presents you with. While the surprise factor may diminish in subsequent replays, it still remains fun. You will come across propellers that are driven by hamsters that look like they want to be anywhere but here. You will engage in a battle of wits with fully armored knights. Haunted houses, dodging lava while you try to stay on platforms – Shovel Knight has a lot of charming moments.
You could progress through each level linearly, but that would take half of the joy out of exploring. There are loads of walls that hide treasures and goodies and finding these is very satisfying. While you might reach a point during the game where you already have enough money to buy everything and you don’t need the chests any more, finding these hidden areas is still fun. Shovel Knight also does one other thing all the classic old school games did well – boss fights. Bosses in this game are diverse and challenging. You have to figure out their individual attack patterns and figure out strategies to deal with them. This is the one avenue in the game where you will have to make use of every single item that you are equipped with to ensure victory.
Shovel Knight is a testament to good game design. Even if this game was released 20 years ago, it would have been equally fun, and will still probably be fun to play 20 years from today. While the game falls short on additional playthroughs because you’ve already seen everything and you know what to do to survive. Some of the games that it derives inspiration from remained equally fun no matter how many times you played them because there were always different strategies to master. So while Shovel Knight is certainly a fun and charming game, it is by no means a classic.
Shovel Knight 3DS Review Score: 7.5 Out of 10