Trowel Squire: Shovel Knight Brings Joy

Oof, what a dour Friday it’s been. I feel like every time I’ve opened a tab on this here internet and decided to clatter my fingers across the keys, I’ve been moaning and complaining about something or other. What a delight it was to see Shovel Knight in the Steam new releases. “This’ll dig out the dirt and cast away the cobwebs”, I thought to myself, not really worrying that I wasn’t making any sense.

Shovel Knight is from one of gaming’s oldest schools – it’s a side-scrolling, flip-screen platformer – and it’s a lovely wee thing.

I’ve only been playing for an hour so this isn’t a judgement of any sort, just a few spare words about a game that’s surprised me with its gentle design. It’s fair to say that anything of a retro nature tends to make me a tad cynical and even if I break past that, I expect a difficulty level so hard that I’ll be on the floor crying or smashing my keyboard rather than grinning and chortling. Not that I have been grinning and chortling very much, but that’s just me. I crack a smile less often than Mount Rushmore.

The level design isn’t frustrating though. Enemies and obstacles are fairly placed, and death is not the end. Lost coinage can be collected from the spot where you died, which adds an incentive to experiment a little, knowing that recovery is usually possible.

Along with the tight design, the world is a charming and weird place as well. Animal-human hybrids co-exist with various fantasy stereotypes in peaceful villages, being good natured and cheering on the Shovel Knight. I’m looking forward to digging (HAHA) into it more this weekend.

28 Comments

  1. shinkshank says:

    I’ve beaten the game, and I for what it’s worth I can happily recommend it, it feels like a classic game from the era, and one that would have been ridiculously successful back in the day fo’ realz,, not like a lot of the demi-retro tripe you’d see around.

  2. Great Cthulhu says:

    Gamasutra has an excellent article about how much effort the devs put into making the game feel like a classic NES game.

    • tomek says:

      Thank you for the link, that was a great read!

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      particlese says:

      Ooo… This game’s trailers missed my nostalgia button since they reminded me most of Duck Tales and Mega Mans, which I shamefully never owned or played much of. Between these two articles, though, I’m way more interested. That, and I do love me some VRC6. Trailers are so misleading!

  3. J. Cosmo Cohen says:

    Can’t wait to get my hands dirty with this one.

    Adam, I hope this’ll cheer you up a bit. I bought Depths of Fear: : Knossos today because I noticed it was quite cheap – due to the Steam sale and all that. If that wasn’t good enough, I bought it with money from the Summer cards given by voting.

    • Keymonk says:

      I dunno, seems like shovelware to me.

    • snowgim says:

      Looks like a groundbreaking throwback.

      I stole this from somewhere else, but it was too good not too.

  4. yogibbear says:

    I want this game so badly!!! BUT…. I want to play it on my 3DS (as I reckon it’s the perfect portable game)… sadly there seems to be no release date for the rest of the world in Nintendo’s eShop nor on the devs twitter beyond “soon”… Anyway hopefully it’s only a week delayed for the rest of the world on the eShop. Because my use scenario means I won’t have access to steam/decent PC… I wonder if this game would run OK on a intel CPU integrated GPU?

    • Sam says:

      I looked on their site and they use a custom made engine, so it should work fine on even a very feeble computer.
      Of course it’s always possible to mess up performance, but as they’ve made a multiplatform title that has been approved by Nintendo I very much doubt they did mess it up.

    • GameCat says:

      It works perfect on my Intel 3000 HD graphic card.

  5. Lim-Dul says:

    I am around 3/4 into the game (started playing yesterday) and I have to confirm everything that was said above (and in the article).
    I, too, was surprised to see it is not following the trend of “retro games were all like’ I Wanna Be the Guy'” (Tiny Barbarian DX, I’m looking at you, though I still liked you :P).
    There are a lot of secrets that require a bit of observational skills and skill to get rather than doing something along the lines of making a handstand and farting, the characters have a lot of… uhm… character.
    There are some funny jokes here and there and the pixel-art is very good. Every stage has a unique gimmick and while not unheard of in the gaming world (Ice? Lava? ;-) they still put a twist on the formula even in those levels.
    I am very glad I backed this project and am not one bit disappointed by the end result.

    • J. Cosmo Cohen says:

      Out of curiosity, about how long do you think it’ll take to finish the game?

      • Lim-Dul says:

        Hmmm… 6 hours first run? It’s hard to judge since so much depends on the skill of the player – the game isn’t too hard on you but a good player will be definitely much faster.
        There’s New Game+ though and I guarantee that you won’t find all the secrets, buy all the upgrades etc. on first run.
        Oh, and they will be releasing updates later like playing as boss characters etc. which were mentioned in stretch goals.
        If you’re worried about return of investment, I’d say the game is definitely worth the $15 (or regional equivalent) asking price but if you’re hesitant you can wait till it’s like $10. Then it’ll be a complete steal.

        • J. Cosmo Cohen says:

          I’m pleasantly surprised to hear that amount of time, actually. I missed the boat for the Kickstarter, so I didn’t even realize it had NG+. I also noticed they sell it on their website, so I’ll probably grab it from there. Thanks!

  6. Michael Fogg says:

    Nice but there’s no reason really this Knight has a shovel instead of any other sharp implement, digging seems to be secondary. I expected the game to be some sort of Boulder Dash clone, instead it’s a straigh platformer.

    • Swanny says:

      I think it’s supposed to be the ‘treasure shovel’, a term used in tabletop RPG’s to represent moving huge piles of loot after a battle, i.e. 1000 platinum coins, 7000 gold, 12,000 silver and 20,000 copper after killing an old dragon. In many (most?) campaigns, the referee might allow for unlimited coin carrying, so the game can continue instead of forcing the players to solve logistics/supply problems.

  7. dethtoll says:

    The look of it reminds me very much of Capcom circa 1990.

  8. Swanny says:

    Rygar was the first thing I thought of watching the trailer. The bosses look fantastic, I really like the angler fish dangling the chest instead of a light, and the apple/whale thing. I am suddenly excited by this.

  9. Bobka says:

    Perhaps this is a silly question, but how does the game hold up for people who didn’t play the platformers in the era the game was inspired by, and have no fond memories to be rekindled? Most of what I hear about this game is how well it evokes the feeling of these old NES platformers, but that might not mean much to younger audiences, or people who just never played those old NES platformers for whatever reason.

    • SuddenSight says:

      I have absolutely no loving memories of NES games (the first platformer I ever beat was some Flash thing on Newgrounds, and these days I love me some modern platformers on my good old PC).

      I absolutely love Shovel Knight. It is an excellent game. The controls are nice, the visuals are actually very pleasing (no mean feat considering the limited color palette), and all the enemy patterns are well thought out. The chiptune music is very nice (I would compare it to the lovely music of VVVVVV or Cave Story+ in quality and timber) and the sprite work is amazing (especially on the bosses). I have enjoyed every moment of the game. I think it’s neat that the creators went so far towards simulating an older style of game, but I have no nostalgia vibes to be pulled and I can confirm that Shovel Knight is a good game, allusions to bygone days or not.

      I will say that the game ramps up in difficulty fairly nicely. I am apparently worse at the game than many of the other people who played it, because it took me 10 hours to complete (as opposed to the commonly reported 5-7). Some of the later levels were a little frustrating, but none of them got to the point that I wanted to quit, and there is no lives limit so you can keep trying as much as you want.

      [Slightly updated because I finished the game.]

  10. Aaax says:

    Personally I found Shovel Knight very boring, but I did not enjoy original ’90s platformers either. Clunky controls, annoying screen rolling, displeasing graphics. If I should recommend some other platformer to spend time on, it would probably be Iji or Broforce.

  11. Brtt says:

    Obligatory mention of the GoG release to answer to the oh-so regular sole mention of the dreaded Steam-octopod-of-dread:
    link to gog.com

  12. gnodab says:

    But it’s clearly a spade!

  13. electron105 says:

    There’s a brilliant writeup on Gamasutra about how the devs for Shovel Knight tried to emulate the technological limitations of the NES to get the true 8-bit feel: link to gamasutra.com

  14. squareking says:

    Is the in-game music similar to the music in the video? Seems at odds to go through the pains to create an NES-era platformer with a modern soundtrack.

  15. BoZo says:

    This is very much like Faxandu, which is a great thing. Except it has a mapview which works exceptionally well.