I distinctly remember the launch of Shovel Knight in 2014. Even prior to its launch, Shovel Knight seemed to be quite anticipated: its retro stylings in particular seemed to draw interest. Post-launch, Shovel Knight was lauded as a brilliant platformer in its own right, blending modern and old design philosophies in interesting, unexpected ways. What resulted was one of the most highly-rated indie games of 2014.
And I...didn't play it.
I was raised on the platformer genre, and the love of platformers has never left me. Indie games like Super Meat Boy, or even titles like Super Mario 3D Land/World, have helped me retain a love for this classic genre well into adulthood. While I spend most of my time playing shooters like Team Fortress 2, the fun of precision platforming has never eluded me.
So when I got Shovel Knight on a Steam sale in late 2014, I expected to instantly love it.
I didn't. I didn't "get" Shovel Knight yet. What everyone else was praising as a new, venerated member of the platforming genre just seemed to me like a pretty-but-frustrating mess. This was more due to my own ignorance and short attention span than anything else, and not something I fault the game for. Regardless, Shovel Knight as it was at launch simply failed to capture me. Which is a shame, because it's a game and I wanted to like and have since grown to like.
But the game never left my radar. Even if I was able to get into it yet, I knew I was dealing with something special, especially when I learned of its stellar post-launch support.
Even as far back as 2014, many people (myself included) viewed DLC as a plague on the industry. It almost never seemed to be good for the consumer, and with then-infamous examples like horse armor, the idea of DLC turned off a lot of gamers altogether. When I heard Shovel Knight was getting DLC, I wasn't surprised. Wasn't everything?
But come 2015, when I learned that the DLC was free and added a significant amount of content to the game? That caught my interest. I'd purchased this game a year ago at this point, and not only was it getting critical praise, but it was receiving free expansions at no extra cost to consumers like me? I'd never heard of anything like it!
So I had to appreciate Shovel Knight, at least from a value perspective. But that still wasn't enough to get me to play it- to really play it and start making progress.
The seed for that wouldn't come until I saw a video of Specter of Torment, Shovel Knight's second free campaign, in action.
The first time I saw Specter Knight was in a gameplay video. Pretty sure it was this one.
It caught my interest for a number of reasons. From the color scheme, to the scythe, to the cool-looking combat and movement mechanics...everything about Specter of Torment seemed like it would be worth playing. But when I saw this video, that expansion was a timed exclusive for the Nintendo Switch launch of Shovel Knight, so I wouldn't actually be able to play Specter of Torment for a while yet.
It took a long time- nearly a full year later, the end of 2017- for me to finally launch Shovel Knight again. Part of what caused this was because I'd noticed that the name had changed to "Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove" in my library, and I wasn't totally sure exactly what that meant. I got back into Shovel Knight, though, enduring a bit with the game I hadn't quite gotten a grasp on yet because I wanted to "unlock" that sick Specter Knight character I distantly remembered seeing gameplay of.
My sessions were still short- especially due to a lot of real-life stresses related to moving into my own apartment for the first time- but they were gradually getting longer and more enjoyable.
I was trying to "unlock" Specter Knight for quite a while before I realized I didn't have to do that. On a whim one day in late January 2018, I played around on the new game screen and realized that I could select a campaign to start with...Shovel Knight's...Plague Knight's...
SPECTER KNIGHT! FINALLY!
I dived into Specter Knight and didn't stop.
Compare my roughly year-old Shovel Knight file to...
My roughly one month-old Specter Knight file.
Specter of Torment shares a lot of elements with the main Shovel Knight game, but it was finally expressing them in a way that I more easily interpreted, understood and enjoyed. In the past few weeks, I've found myself finally enjoying a purchase that I made nearly four years ago. Specter of Torment has also improved my enjoyment of the main campaign, Shovel of Hope.
This is an unusual tale, and maybe not even one particularly worth telling.
But for a game to spend four whole years, on-and-off my radar, in my Steam library but not actually being played...only to receive my wholehearted love and appreciation all this time later?
That's something truly special, and it's Yacht Club's unique handling of Shovel Knight that made it possible. It was them being pro-consumer, them genuinely caring about providing a great experience to their fans even if it wasn't always the most profitable decision. And it's paid off in critical acclaim, consumer goodwill and frickin' Amiibos.
Shovel Knight may mean different things to different people, but for me it's a game about delayed appreciation. It's a game about learning to forgive initial impressions, and to give things more time to demonstrate their value to you. It's a game where I can surf on scythes isn't that the coolest thing ever?
Thanks to Specter of Torment and its free post-launch release, I was finally able to dive deep into Shovel Knight four years after its initial launch.
That, I think, is something special.