Slowly, but oh so very surely, the indie gaming scene is becoming more and more exciting to behold. With the unrestrained rise of the Kickstarter phenomenon, studios both expansive and paltry in size can fasten a direct line to their consumers, allowing for games that would have otherwise never seen the light of day a glorious chance in the field; Shovel Knight is one of these titles. Crafted from the meticulous hands of former WayForward developers, Shovel Knight emphasizes many formulas some would consider a lost art, fully utilized only back in the Golden Era of gaming. What’s so important about it? We’ll give you seven reasons, here and now!
If you’re completely in the dark about Shovel Knight, do yourself a favor and head on over to their Kickstarter page. With less than four days to go until it’s fully funded, Shovel Knight has more than doubled its projected earnings, allowing for some ridiculous stretch goals. Of course, what else would you expect from a studio called Yacht Club Games?
Now that the pleasantries are over, let’s do it:
Let’s begin by focusing on the most obvious answer – the title. The eponymous main character is a friggin’ knight whose weapon of truth and vindication is a shovel. Taking a look at the character models, each enemy knight contains caricatures that emphasize a silly albeit still ultimately serious opponent. If you can’t laugh at the fact that you can fling magical spells back at enemies with a well timed shovel-attack, or that Polar Knight is a viking-esque dude sporting a snow shovel as a weapon, you should check yourself for a soul.
Why this is important: While you may scoff at this fact and maybe even roll your eyes in protest, the exaggeration in Shovel Knight is what gives it a large portion of its charm. Back during the days of the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) some of the best games utilized exaggeration and humor like Shovel Knight does. Remember EarthBound? In that title, you could equip yo-yos as attack devices. Let me state that one more time: A YO-YO IS A WEAPON. Accepted as yo-yos are to combating evil forces from destroying worlds, it’s choices like that which aid in making a title a memorable experience. What about The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Link’s infamous pink sock-cap you run around with all game? I think that’s evidence enough that you can still have a successful game that’s serious with humorous bits sprinkled throughout.
Some of the most notable music from video games comes from the age of the 8 and 16-bit eras. Completely discounting the music from the likes of Castlevania, Mega Man, Zelda, etc is not only a mistake it’s just plain wrong. Shovel Knight utilizes that wondrous 8-bit love through legendary composers such as Manami Matsumae, the original composer for Mega Man.
Why this is important: Though we’ve graduated to a more advanced time where full-scale orchestras and other sweeping scores defy the boundaries of where video games can go, sometimes going back to your roots is the strongest move to make. If done right, even now, an 8-bit soundtrack can be a thing a beauty. It’s a bold reminder that millions don’t need to be dropped to gain that one song that truly resonates with a game. Also, if it wasn’t clear already Matsumae will be composing tracks for Shovel Knight along with…
BONUS – Jake Kaufman
The man, the myth, the legendary Jake Kaufman is also aboard for Sir Shovel Knight’s journey. Responsible for the ridiculously good Double Dragon: Neon soundtrack and many others, Jake has already composed a song in front of hundreds of viewers for Propeller Knight’s stage entitled The Flying Machine. Listen at your own risk.
As we’ve touched lightly on the subject of Mega Man, it’s clear that Shovel Knight grabs influence from an assortment of titles. From Mega Man, to Castlevania to the under-appreciated Zelda II, Shovel Knight picks the best from all worlds, wraps them in bacon and stares into the waning sunset as he devours the tasty treat. When your entire game is conceived on the notion of Zelda II’s downward thrust, you know something special is brewing. Or shoveling. Whatever.
Why this is important: The gaming industry is predicated on learning from your mistakes as well as taking from others. Where would we be now if Halo: Combat Evolved never existed? Would the stigma Call of Duty is associated with still exist if Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare never released? Would cover in most shooters ever be fully utilized if Gears of War was just a mere thought? This just goes to show that learning from titles, no matter when they released, is a humble gesture and one that should be practiced more. By following and building off of the game design in those titles of yore, Shovel Knight is bound to showcase how a modern 8-bit title can be successful using the strategies of the past.
I don’t think there’s any title that’s more synonymous with secrets than Castlevania. As we’ve already discussed Castlevania’s influences on the knight wielding the shovel, know that Yacht Club Games is over-obsessed with these damn things. Secrets are a treasure within itself, allowing the player to feel a sense of accomplishment when they stumble upon a room full of diamonds or, perhaps, a giant venomous moth who was raised by your rival and sent to kill you. Er, secrets! They’re great!
Why this is important: Exploration is a key factor in understanding the world you’re involved in. Few titles, with some notable exceptions like Dark Souls, reward contemporary gamers for taking the time to fully observe their surroundings. Shovel Knight is bringing this emphasis back tenfold, encouraging players to pay attention to what they’re doing and what’s going on around them. It’s too bad more titles don’t feature exploration as a key element to their respective worlds, but thankfully Shovel Knight won’t be joining them. So what if you just started the game? There’s a secret you passed already (and they’re good secrets too)!
PIXEL PERFECT GAMEPLAY
There’s a saying that still rings true today; graphics are nice, but the gameplay is what really matters. The 8-bit aesthetic might not please every gamer out there, but if there’s anything that will win the people over, it’s the gameplay. Well-timed attacks, flying jumps, every single movement in Shovel Knight holds weight over where you might and might not get to. Not feeling cheated is the key to getting people excited and coming back for more. It’s safe to say that Shovel Knight will not be underutilized in this department.
Why this is important: Super Meat Boy is a very tough game, but if you keep at it you’ll eventually persevere (maybe). If it’s so hard, then why was it so successful and why do people continuously come back time and time again? The short answer is mechanics. That game is so stable and contains such good controls, you know you’re responsible when you crash into that meat grinder for the eleventeenth time. How do you think Dark Souls ended up getting such prestigious recognition? While on the outside it seems rough beyond all reason, once you get in and understand the controls, you won’t find a finer example of how combat should be done. Shovel Knight draws directly from these same experiences as the Yacht Club are players themselves. Remembering what you did to get where is infinitely more appealing than experiencing being accidentally headshot from a dude firing wildly. For 62XP!
Drawing from all manner of titles, it can be pretty tough for a game to come out being fully, honestly original. Going back to the first example, all you need to do is take a look at the title – Shovel Knight. Grabbing ideas and mechanics to make what you need is one thing, but that doesn’t automatically make anything an original idea. Yacht Club Games has taken these ideas, weaved them to work for their game and their game alone, but still made it recognizable from whence they came. It’d be a little different if Shovel Knight had a whip and had to hit candles to grab currency.
Why this is important: Among anything else, being original is one of the most important things any game can do. If we wanted to play the same game over and over, you’re probably going to play that same game again and again. Even when a sequel to your favorite game surfaces, you expect there to be original concepts and other new features. While Shovel Knight draws heavily from a select few titles, it’s different enough to feel completely fresh without losing the spirit of the titles it borrowed ideas from. Games like Enslaved and Mirror’s Edge were original ideas that were successfully inspired using various titles, which is why they’ve garnered so much attention over the years. Shovel Knight isn’t a game with a budget of those titles, but it’s a seminal idea that plays to the nostalgia of gamers like myself and for that I’m truly thankful.
While it might not affect the game internally or perpetually, Yacht Club Games has been having fun with their stretch goals and seemingly, are able to journey to their own game world in order to give their backers some of the world’s dirt. Yes, actual dirt.
Why this is important: Trust me. It is.