Some spoilers do lie ahead. Just a heads up. There is also assumed knowledge here. This isn’t so much a review but a story of falling in love with gaming again.
It was somewhere between 6 months to a year. After my fall out with Pokemon (see here) I stopped playing video games. I just didn’t want to play video game anymore. Everything about them seemed to be a waste of time. And as such video games were cast aside. Maybe I had the notion as one gets older video games needed to go, or some other silly and wrong notion.
When returning to something, it’s good to go through a safe channel. A sense of familiarity can be of immense help. And it was nostalgia that dragged me back. My earliest gaming memories were of platformers (specifically sonic – I had a mega drive as a kid). Shovel Knight had been out for some time. It managed to catch my interest just long enough for me to make a purchase. The price seemed fair enough, so why not? It would be no great loss if I didn’t enjoy Shovel Knight.
The intense love I have for Bloodborne is all thanks to Shovel Knight. Experiencing the sheer joy that is Chrono Trigger was due to Shovel Knight. The enjoyment I’ve derived from Oxenfree’s dialogue system. The emotional path carved out by Journey. All my frantic runs through the dos houses of Hotline Miami. Every oni I hunted down in Toukiden: Kiwami. All the stories I enjoyed in What Remains of Edith Finch. Basically, every video game I’ve played since. All thanks to Shovel Knight. Shovel Knight not only got me back into gaming, it reignited my love of gaming. This thing that had shrivelled and died suddenly found new life, new joy.
This does mean however I really can’t look at Shovel Knight in any real critical way. I just have too much love and reverence for it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t list some of the things that really got me excited about gaming again. So let’s get to that, and some life affirming happiness. One thing to state right off the bat. The game is mechanically strong. Inputs are clearly registered, the jumping is good (doesn’t float, just the right height) and Shovel Knight himself moves at a good pace. With all of that in place, a good platformer can be built.
Every platforming game needs a strong musical theme for the first level. It needs to be something that carries with it a strong sense of adventure. There is a need to convey the importance of our quest and the need to complete it, to surmount any obstacles that may lie in our way.
I honestly think on some level, after being so jaded with gaming that a level like this one is what I needed, something that could generate excitement and feelings of wonderment.
After that I’m rescuing Shield Knight. I have to. And I want to state, the handling of Shield Knight is brilliantly done. I’m going to refer to Yahtzee Crowshaw’s Zero Punctuation for this. I did intend to write about this, but I would just be rewriting what Yahtzee said.
And it’s not just the opening theme that is that good. The soundtrack remains strong throughout and in truth, on levels I felt the difficulty was getting to me, it was the music kept me going. Wind and spikes aren’t best when mixed together.
Gears can also be of something of an annoyance. Again, the music carried me through the challenging times. The soundtrack came through so many times. The whole score is a great achievement.
Shovel Knight doesn’t have a live system. I hate the lives system. There is a more elegant way to write that, but I feel like being direct. It really should have died after arcade games came to home consoles and such, but it didn’t. I don’t mind games being challenging, and I don’t mind being penalised for mistakes. Making me repeat the same bit of a level over and over again is really annoying. It gets particularly annoying when part of a level becomes rote, and having to repeat that over and over ceases to be a challenge, and merely an annoyance. A long drawn out annoyance.
Shovel Knight has a check point system. These check points can be broken for additional resources and an added challenge. In addition there is a Dark Souls style recovery system. Well spaced out markers ensure challenges are rewarded which results in a steady sense of progress through a level and those players wanting a higher level of challenge can break the check points. And the recovery mechanic means there is always a chance of the player recovering any lost resources. So instead of getting bogged down and frustrated on my return to gaming, I had a nice steady sense of progress. That’s great!
After finishing Shovel Knight’s loving crafted campaign a new set of levels are unlocked. The challenges. These feature platforming gauntlets that require perfect timing while set against a timer. There are also boss fights with severely reduced health meaning one has to play exceptionally well to complete them. The fact I managed to do all of them (backed by copious amounts of swearing) counts as one of my favourite achievements in gaming. After finishing a good and well executed story it felt go to through myself at some gaming purely based on mechanics and challenge. Shovel Knight gave me the best of both worlds.
Last, but not to be the least is just how much fun the whole game is. Shovel Knight’s world is a vibrant one with great pixel art and striking colour. There’s a multitude of great NPC’s with some wonderful one liners and the encounter dialogue with the bosses are super. “You gyroscopic jester” and “Steel Thy Shovel” are two of my favourites but I’m pretty sure I could find many more for you. And the bosses themselves complement their respective areas wonderfully, as well as being both great and fair challenges. Coming back to a game like this really did remind just how good, and how fun gaming could be. Thank you Shovel Knight, and thank you Yacht Games. You’re wonderful. If no one’s told you that already, you’re wonderful.
No gifs today. I played Shovel Knight on the 3DS and I have no means of capturing that footage.