Every year, hundreds of 2D side-scrolling games are developed and released. Most of them fall by the wayside into the swathe of generic and uninspired releases. To bring something genuinely fresh to the genre is no mean feat and yet somehow, developer Yacht Club Games has done just that with their 2014 title, Shovel Knight. This project was originally crowdfunded, with many backers becoming intrigued by the prospecting proposition.
The art style here features classic 8-bit pixel visuals, with a very colorful palette and beautiful environments. This extends to the main protagonist himself, clad with distinctive bright blue armor which has resulted in one of the most recognizable video game characters ever designed!
The game features four separate campaigns, each offering a unique story, locations and enemies to battle against. We’ll break down the story of these campaigns before discussing the gameplay and other features that Shovel Knight has to offer.
In the Shovel of Hope campaign, you’re introduced to the titular protagonist as well as a secondary character called Shield Knight, a female hero brandishing a comically large shield and a red suit of armor. While exploring a mysterious tower, she is cursed and sealed within, cut off from Shovel Knight and the outside world. After some time, Shovel Knight gives up trying to get into the locked tower, going into a prolonged period of grieving over the loss of Shield Knight. However when a powerful enchantress takes over the land and unseals the tower, you are tasked with making your way back and reuniting with your lost loved one. Facing off an antagonist known as the Black Knight along the way, there are some interesting twists and turns that we won’t spoil here!
In the Plague of Shadows campaign, you play as another character called Plague Knight, who is attempting to craft a potion that will grant his every desire. In order to create this concoction, he needs to steal the essence of various characters, including Shovel Knight himself. This is a darker campaign that runs parallel to the Shovel of Hope storyline, intertwining at various points.
The Specter of Torment campaign is actually a prequel to the original campaign, where you play as an undead character called Specter Knight serving the enchantress. You are tasked with defeating several knights to increase the power of a magical pendant which will resurrect Specter Knight into a living being upon completion. There are again some interconnections with the other campaigns and some plot points that are best left unspoiled.
The fourth and final campaign is titled the King of Cards and is again a prequel storyline set before the other events of the game. The game is centered around a card game called Joustus and a hero called King Knight who is attempting to become the King of Cards by defeating three judges. Probably the most unique campaign of the bunch, there are many regal characters introduced here as well as some familiar faces.
That is most of the story out of the way, without going into any spoilers. So how does the game actually play? Each of the previously described characters have distinct playstyles and mechanics. Shovel Knight attacks with his shovel and digs up treasure throughout the many environments. If aimed down while jumping, the shovel can be used to bounce on enemies or obstacles, resulting in some interesting fights and platforming sections. Throughout the game, you will encounter a merchant called Chester who will sell you a range of relics with various magical effects such as projectiles, gloves that punch through surfaces and a necklace that grants invincibility.
Treasure accumulated can be spent in intermittent towns to upgrade your character through increased health, enhanced magical abilities and additional skills. If you’re breezing through levels, destroying checkpoints will give you a big boost in treasure but you run the risk of losing a lot of progress upon death. The other characters have slight variations in how they operate, such as Plauge Knight’s double jump ability and bombs, Specter Knight’s levitation, and King Knight’s dash attack. This makes each campaign feel unique, as the playstyle for each knight is slightly different and you need to employ their abilities to overcome platforming sections and boss fights alike.
We had a blast playing through the various Shovel Knight campaigns across many beautiful pixel environments! With intriguing storylines full of twists and turns, we were hooked from the very beginning. The characters are distinctive not only in their design but also in their personality, goals and ambitions which gave us the sense of a connected universe. Some of the platforming sections can be repetitive and frustrating but there is always a pay off at the end with thoughtfully crafted boss fights. This game both looks and feels timeless, somehow managing to be a breath of fresh air in this overly saturated genre!
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