Have You Played… Shovel Knight?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every weekday of the year, perhaps for all time.

Shovel Knight [official site] is one of the few retro platformers that’s made me feel I was in front of my NES/SNES again. I’ve missed that. Better still, I no longer have to stop to clean up my room.

It’s not just how it looks, though that’s wonderful, or how it sounds, with its fantastic music tracks, but the loving way that it recaptures the style without the compromise of the actual hardware, or the oddly common misapprehension that all games of this era started out as hard as the Battletoads Turbo Tunnel and then got harder. Hell, I remember when Megaman 9 came out, Capcom sent out a press release practically promising tears, which was never my experience with the series. Aside from a few nasty moments, like the infamous Yellow Devil without The Trick, they weren’t THAT tough.

Instead, Shovel Knight puts its focus on being as fun and fluid to play, with weapons and level designs that reward both exploratory play and crazy speed-run action, genuinely clever ideas like letting you smash the checkpoints for bonus treasure at the expense of longer runs back to where you were, and nearly endless little tweaks and nice touches. Bosses for instance don’t do their spiels when you head back for a rematch. Every level has a distinct feel and spin and custom mechanics, like turning lava into bouncy jelly, or spotting fake platforms based on the splashing of rain.

It’s a fantastic game, drawing open inspiration from a Who’s Who of fantastic Nintendo games – the biggest being Megaman 2, Duck Tales (for the pogo-shovel action) and Castlevania – yet still having a distinct voice of its own. Well worth checking out, especially with a new stretch goal quest starring the villainous Plague Knight on the way. You might also like this speed-run. (Spoilers!)


  1. int says:

    I’ve put it off for fear of it being shovelware, but I’ve heard it’s good.

  2. bonuswavepilot says:

    This game is really good. Tightly designed, lovingly recreating the retro stuff while mostly sidestepping the irritating things that were part of the early platformer era. It rewards exploration, but also allows use of special powers to bypass things that are really giving you trouble. Good sountrack – hell, a class act all ’round.

  3. colw00t says:

    It’s a really fantastic game, and I can’t wait for someone to come in and tell me I’m wrong because they have trouble playing it with a mouse and keyboard.

    • DaceX says:

      It would be an interesting experiment to map something (like attack and sub) to the mouse. And two of my five playthroughs (maybe more)were with keyboard,more than just playable.

  4. piedpiper says:

    The game is great, but some platformer sections are horribly difficult. I was raging a lot on propeller knight level. Still beat it and then beat New Game + mode which is even harder. This game is not for someone who just wants to have some fun – it is a challenge.

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      Yeah those friggin’ Propeller Knight levels… there was one in particular that took an embarrassing number of tries – been a while since I had that ‘platformer feeling’ of rage and frustration making me incrementally less competent while bloody-mindedness insists that I must persist. I realise this doesn’t sound like much of an advertisement for the game, but it really is lovely.

  5. Geebs says:

    I like it, although the bosses feel more like a slap fight than an actual boss battle

  6. aoanla says:

    This, except for me the platforming was too frustratingly difficult (coupled with the lose-gold-on-death mechanic) for me to bother finishing it. It’s a shame, since I enjoyed/love literally everything else about the game… except the game itself.

  7. elnicky says:

    Was skeptical about it, but plays excellently. Really enjoyed the music too.

  8. Enso says:

    One of the few games that doesn’t just trade on nostalgia. Lures you in with it and delivers fluid gameplay, a great soundtrack and some pretty good humour too.

    This and Kero Blaster are my favourites of he last few years.

  9. Turkey says:

    I don’t usually fall for nostalgia, but this game made me feel like was 8 and playing my brand new copy of Mega Man 3 on christmas morning.