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!)