On a tablet or mobile? Click here for our lite site (you can always switch back)





Game database:   #ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ         ALL     Xbox One     PS4     360     PS3     WiiU     Wii     PC     3DS     DS     PS Vita     PSP     iOS     Android


Shovel Knight  




Review: Shovel Knight photo
Review: Shovel Knight

8:00 AM on 06.26.2014

Can...you...dig it?! Yep, I can dig it


[Disclosure: I backed the Shovel Knight Kickstarter. A review copy was used for this verdict.]

Good things come to those who wait. And boy, have we been waiting for Shovel Knight.

Even though they only just completed their Kickstarter last April, it feels like we've been twiddling our thumbs for eons for Yacht Club Games' debut release. With delay after delay prohibiting us from getting our hands on this love-letter to retro platformers, at one point it felt like it was never going to see the light of day.

Well, it's here now -- and it's everything we hoped it would be.

Shovel Knight (3DS, PC, Wii U [reviewed])
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Release Date: June 27, 2014
MSRP: $14.99

Yacht Club Games has not only crafted a very sound action platformer, but a world worth exploring. The tale begins with Shovel Knight and Shield Knight -- the best of friends, traveling together and defeating evil. Until one day, the latter goes missing, and Shovel decides to become a recluse, living a life of solitude until the realm is completely seized by evil. Shovel Knight springs back into action, with a straightforward, yet interesting narrative that provides a good backdrop to the retro goodness.

Shovel Knight is a simple game to pick up and play, most notably due to its two-button design and masterful tutorial stage. Instead of presenting an in-your-face intro zone that stops the action every five seconds to teach you something new, Yacht Club Games follows the Mega Man X philosophy of just letting you learn everything yourself, with gentle inferred cues to help you figure out a new concept. In order to traverse certain areas or dig through obstacles, you'll have to eventually learn the hero's ins and outs, as well as the power to utilize a downward slash (which is more like Zelda II than DuckTales' continuous pogo).

You'll also come across items throughout your travels, which range from abilities that ape Castlevania's throwing axes, to fireballs, to completely unique powers like a coin flip that can earn you more cash. Everything is very fluid and fine tuned, and all of the items in the game are viable in some way -- not just for situational purposes. There are no "weaknesses" to speak of in Shovel Knight, so you basically play the way you want to play the entire game.

The crux of this open-ended gameplay philosophy is possible due to the currency system, which grants you cash for doing basically everything -- exploring off the beaten path, killing enemies, and even breaking checkpoint signs will earn you more money to use on your travels. It's a clever way to inspire people to not only search every nook and cranny, but defeat every enemy possible. The amount of goods you can buy with coins is astounding, including new abilities (such as a charged swipe), new armor (with new abilities in tow), more maximum health and mana, and more.

Exploration takes place just like Mario 3, in a semi-open "track"-based world map. As you clear off the main castles of each boss (all with their own theme such as death or snow), the fog will clear and more tracks will open up. It's a good compromise between a full open world like Zelda II and straight menu-based levels like Mega Man, since there's some choice as to where you go. There's even roaming monsters at points on the map, which "shuffle" around whenever an area is cleared.

Point blank, Shovel Knight really blew me away with how much there was to do. There are achievements to hunt for in specific zones, secret areas, boss fights in villages, minibosses on the world map, and lots of optional areas that let you hone your skills for a certain item or just earn tons of bonus cash. There isn't so much to do that it's a stressful affair to figure out where to go next, but you almost always have at least two, if not three or four paths to follow to a new area.

The amount of checkpoints in each level feels perfect, as they aren't so forgiving that you can just brute force your way through every stage, but forgiving enough where most players will eventually be able to make their way through. The death system is similarly lenient -- you have unlimited lives, but a portion of your gold is strewn about your death location to recover on your next run. If you fail to make it to said point or can't reach the gold, you're out of luck. Even if you don't recover your loot a few times it's not devastating, but it's an interesting enough system to encourage you to avoid death at all costs.

Ok, so all of this sounds good, but Shovel Knight's true strength is in its brilliant level design. Yacht Club Games has been taking notes throughout the history of retro platformers, and have compiled some of the greatest moments in the genre's history, all while adding some interesting concepts on its own. Every single level is different in its own way, ensuring that things won't get stale after you slowly down each boss and enter a completely new theme. I've seen some tricky jump puzzles, platforming sections reminiscent of Air Man's stage in Mega Man 2, hidden sections that remind me of the DuckTales NES games, and a whole lot more.

There's a constant sense of risk and reward with the game's hidden walls and extra areas, as an untimely death may result in a momentary loss of cash, but I was always inspired to move forward and see what's next. The soundtrack deserves a special mention as well, since every tune perfectly complements the stage, and gets you properly amped up to shovel the night away. There are very few soundtracks that I feel compelled to go out and buy, but this is one of them.

It's the little things that make Shovel Knight shine from a design perspective. All of the tiny bits of dirt hidden on walls waiting to be scooped up, Shovel Knight's adorable animation when he digs through treasure chests, and even the 16-bit laugh from your arch nemesis Black Knight in the intro level is a delight. Even the UI is delightfully old-school, with nine save files showing your complete progress and upgrades obtained. As a general rule all of the main character and boss models are some of the best I've seen in the genre, but some of the lesser enemies aren't nearly as memorable as say, a Metool, and a few are reskinned as "fire" or "ice" variants.

Shovel Knight is rather lengthy for a platformer, and when all was said and done and every location on the map was explored, I clocked in roughly 10 hours of playtime. I still haven't found all of the hidden bard song collectibles, and I immediately embarked upon a second playthrough in the form of a New Game+ mode. After completing the game you'll have the chance to do it again (and keep all your items and upgrades), but this time there are only two checkpoints per level, and enemies do roughly double the damage. Currently I'm also working on ways to speedrun the game -- so it's worth playing again and again.

In the current build of the game (reviewed here), the only Kickstarter stretch goals that were included are the music player (in the form of a Bard NPC), achievements (of which there are 45) and a New Game+ mode.  Everything else, including the gender swap story, extra characters, challenge mode, and battle mode are coming later in the form of free updates. You can read more about the status of that content here.



Shovel Knight is one of the best platformers I've ever played, period. As I sit here with the theme song stuck in my head, I'm realizing that Yacht Club Games has created something truly special, and it was absolutely worth the risk to start their own studio. In addition to a potential Shovel Knight 2, I can't wait to see what they have in store for us down the road.



THE VERDICT - Shovel Knight

Reviewed by Chris Carter

9.5 /10
Superb: A hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title. Check out more reviews or the Destructoid score guide.








Comments not appearing? Anti-virus apps like Avast or some browser extensions can cause this.
Easy fix: Add   [*].disqus.com   to your software's white list. Tada! Happy comments time again.

Did you know? You can now get daily or weekly email notifications when humans reply to your comments.





timeline following:
Shovel Knight



4:30 PM on 03.04.2015
Battletoads join Shovel Knight on Xbox One in April

Shovel Knight is on its way to Xbox One in April, and the Battletoads are coming along for the ride. The Battletoads, who debuted on the NES in 1991, are going to be returning in the Xbox One version of Shovel Knight! It ha...more



10:30 AM on 03.03.2015
Yacht Club Games teases Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows

Shovel Knight was one of my favorite games of 2014, but it's far from over. We still have the multitude of free DLC on the way, including multiplayer, a versus mode, and the new Plague Knight expansion, titled "Plague of Shad...more



11:45 AM on 02.26.2015
Spring Fever '15 might be PSN's best promotion ever

Sony is back with its annual "Spring Fever" promotion, and boy howdy is it a good one. Starting March 3, PSN will have eight solid weeks of hot new digital releases, all of which will be available at a discount for PlayStatio...more



10:35 AM on 02.26.2015
Shovel Knight coming to PS4, Vita, PS3 on April 21

Shovel Knight will release on PS4, Vita, and PS3 on April 21, Yacht Club Games just announced. The retro-style platformer is a part of Sony's "Spring Fever 2015" promotion and will launch at a special introductory price for P...more



7:55 AM on 12.23.2014
Adorable fan-made Shovel Knight Christmas cartoon

It's Christmas time here at Destructoid and what better way to celebrate than this adorable fan animation about Shovel Knight at Christmas. It's short, it's sweet, and it's certainly heartwarming. If you want to see more of their videos you can check out Wind-up Dog Animation on YouTube.more



12:00 PM on 12.18.2014
Yacht Club updates us on Shovel Knight, state of Plague Knight DLC

Shovel Knight was a great game at launch, but a lot of content is still in development. While the PS3, PS4, and Vita versions will be getting the Kratos boss, every platform still needs a ton of updates, including gender...more



1:11 PM on 12.06.2014
Shovel Knight is coming to the PS3, PS4, Vita, Kratos boss teased

Coming off of Yacht Club Games' 300k sales of Shovel Knight on the Wii U, 3DS, and PC, they have just announced that the game is coming to PlayStation platforms. It'll arrive on the PS3, PS4, and Vita sometime in the near fu...more



11:30 AM on 12.05.2014
Shovel Knight breaks 300k in sales

When you're doing all of your community Game of the Year votes I hope you don't forget Shovel Knight. It's what I'd consider a modern classic, and an example of how retro games still aren't out of style, and can be done right...more



5:15 PM on 11.05.2014
Shovel Knight now available on Wii U, 3DS in Europe

Shovel Knight is out now on Wii U and Nintendo 3DS in Europe and Australia, Yacht Club Games captain Sean Velasco announced during Nintendo of Europe's direct presentation. As a special thanks for waiting on the localization,...more



11:00 AM on 10.28.2014
The EU/AU regions are getting a Shovel Knight 3DS theme

Shovel Knight came, saw, and conquered in a few territories. I've even see a few people say that it's their game of the year, which is awesome. But some regions haven't gotten the game yet, and as a result, Yacht Club Games i...more




eShop

12:45 PM on 03.04.2015
Nintendo's big release schedule for Never Alone, Don't Starve, and lots of other indies

Klei's wilderness survival game Don't Starve: Giant Edition is headed to the Wii U eShop this spring with a convenient map viewable on the GamePad screen (or Off-TV play, if you'd rather). Great! Also cool: E-Line's charming ...more



11:00 AM on 03.04.2015
Smash Bros. dev bringing blocky puzzler BOXBOY! to 3DS

HAL Laboratories (Super Smash Bros., Mother) has been busying itself with a couple Kirby games recently, but it looks like someone over there had an idea for a lil puzzle game and rolled with it. BOXBOY! (already released on...more



3:00 AM on 02.27.2015
Pokémaniacs! Gold/Silver starters now on Pokémon Bank

Great news for all you Pokémaniacs out there: you can now receive Meganium, Typhlosion, and Feraligatr along with their Hidden Abilities from the Pokémon Bank, brother. This comes just after the one year anniver...more



View all eShop






Back to Top




All content is yours to recycle through our Creative Commons License permitting non-commercial sharing requiring attribution. Our communities are obsessed with videoGames, movies, anime, and toys.

Living the dream since March 16, 2006

Advertising on destructoid is available: Please contact them to learn more