Shovel Knight (PSN) Review: Zelda II-Like

by David Sanchez April 27, 2015 @ 4:44 pm

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Zelda II: The Adventure of Link showcased Nintendo’s ability to try new things in the ’80s. Though the game has its detractors, it remains a massively unique entry in the Zelda series and just a fine game on top of that. We never saw another Zelda like it, which is a shame because it was really good. Thankfully, Shovel Knight is almost like a Zelda II quasi-sequel, taking influence from that NES classic while also incorporating its own elements to create a fresh, rewarding experience fitting for any 8-bit diehard.

The game made its debut on the Wii U, 3DS, and PC in 2014. Nintendo platforms were a perfect choice given the Nintendo-ness of Shovel Knight, and the PC was expected as it’s sort of an all-around indie game box. But the lack of PlayStation platform support was odd because, as we’ve come to learn, Sony’s systems are super indie-friendly and market heavily to that particular crowd. Well, all’s been rectified as Yacht Club Games’ debut action-platformer is now downloadable across the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and Vita.

Shovel Knight tells the story of a shovel-wielding hero (the titular Shovel Knight) who embarks on a quest to find a fellow knight and beloved companion. Along the way he encounters several faces familiar and unknown, each with their own agendas and motives. It’s not a grand plot by any means, but it fits the NES standard by giving you a very specific reason to play hero and save the day.

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The wonderful thing about Shovel Knight is how intuitive and inviting it is. You don’t learn a bunch of complex combat systems or memorize anything to successfully pull off attacks. You’re armed with a shovel that acts like a sword, so you’re going to have to utilize it as such. With your tool in hand, you can defeat armies of enemies as well as dig up treasure. You do these two things a lot, but you never get bored.

Just like Uncle Scrooge uses his cane like a pogo stick in DuckTales, Shovel Knight can use his shovel in exactly the same way. This is essential to defeating certain enemies and performing impressive leaps to higher ground. The pogo move also serves a strategic purpose as some enemies block airborne strikes, leaving them vulnerable to a frontal attack if you’re quick enough.

When you’re not defeating baddies or scouring for riches, you engage in a lot of tricky platforming. Shovel Knight isn’t as blatantly difficult as the old school games it draws influence from, but it’s challenging nonetheless. Whether you’re beaten by enemies or fall down pitfalls, you’re likely to die quite a few times. Thankfully, an optional checkpoint system is in place to keep from breaking the action. Rest assured that checkpoints are few and far between, but they let the action flow and prevent you from having to start a level over.

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You come across a ton of gold during the course of your adventure. This gold acts as currency that can be spent in the game’s towns. It’s in these locations that you can purchase armor, magic, and health upgrades. This adds a minor RPG vibe to the game that’s completely optional and never overbearing. In addition to these upgrades, you can also buy new attacks, many of which help you reach collectibles and new areas.

The PlayStation Network version of Shovel Knight includes a cool exclusive appearance by Kratos of God of War fame. This encounter plays out like a boss battle, and to be quite honest, it doesn’t feel tacked-on in any way. In fact, it’s easily one of the best battles in the game. Taking on a pixelated Kratos while listening to a chiptunes rendition of that series’ theme makes for a really cool moment.

Of course, that’s not to say that the other boss battles aren’t noteworthy. With the exception of a mandatory boss rush sequence that just feels like overkill, the boss encounters in Shovel Knight are all enjoyable. You’re in for a good fight whenever a boss appears, and getting through these battles not only brings more rewards your way, but also gives you the feeling of utmost satisfaction.

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A lot of modern titles influenced by the NES era often have a look and sound that’s fitting to that period. Shovel Knight is one such game, but the way it pays homage to the 8-bit days of gaming almost seems more sincere. Character sprites aren’t overly detailed, but they’re big and chunky. In addition, though the color palette is more diverse than most if not all NES games, it genuinely looks like something that could’ve been possible if developers squeezed every last bit of processing power out of the NES.

The themes in Shovel Knight are also worth praising for much the same reasons as the graphics. The music you hear as you travel through levels and take on bosses is nostalgia-driven chiptunes goodness in all its glory. Just like this game looks like a NES title, it also sounds like one.

Like so many cherished classics, Shovel Knight can frustrate you one moment and then make you fall in love with it the next. You can get through it in about six or seven hours, and there aren’t many secrets to discover, which is a bummer because the game is so much fun. There’s a new game+ feature, but it only serves to make the quest more difficult with no substantial changes to the world itself. Still, this is a special game — one that any PlayStation fan with a penchant for quality titles should download posthaste.

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