Shovel Knight review: as compelling as any 1980s classic

£12.99; Wii U, 3DS, PC, Mac OS; Yacht Club Games

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The Independent Tech

Unashamedly retro adventure Shovel Knight sees our titular warrior set off on an 8-bit chase to rescue his former partner Shield Knight from the grasp of the evil Order of No Quarter. Revealed via static cutscenes in true NES fashion, the plot isn’t complex but the game itself is as compelling as any 1980s classic.

Taking inspiration from platforming paragon Duck Tales, Shovel Knight can use his spade as a pogo stick to bounce on enemies and traverse tricky jumping sections. It’s also perfectly capable of swiping enemies just as a sword would, and various creepy crawlies, flying mice and bubble-blowing dragons all yield eventually in the face of fierce shovelry.

Treasure is hidden in rockpiles or behind blocks, and some of the game’s best moments arrive when you finally figure out a route to reach oversized gems hidden around the various stages. These allow you to stock up on goodies to aid Shovel Knight in his quest. Buying food enlarges your health bar, whereas relics can be obtained for magical purposes.

 

Throughout each level checkpoint globes can be lit to save your progress, although confident players can smash the glass and collect more gold instead. This risky strategy can cause consternation if you die before reaching the next checkpoint though - respawning enemies make fighting your way back through tough sections a real test.

A loving attention to detail is evident throughout, as encounters with NPCs in various towns offer both hints and humour to help you on your quest. In true Zelda fashion, talking to everyone possible yields the best results.

 

 

Collecting song sheets for the town bard also allows the soundtrack time to shine. Mainly composed by Jake Kaufman, catchy chiptune melodies accompany your adventures, the music even boasts a couple of contributions from Mega Man maestro Manami Matsumae to hammer home the retro feel. Shovel Knight’s colour palette has also been appropriately limited to reflect the game’s initial inspirations, lending the whole project a keen sense of authenticity.

In a marketplace crowded with grimly realistic titles, it is heartening to see Yacht Club Games free themselves from the shackles of most modern gaming, nobly chasing down a lost gameplay experience with a passion that’s strongly felt.

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