Published on October 11th, 2013 | by G. Bargas, Managing Editor

Shovel Knight Hands-On Impressions

Kickstarter has opened doors for many titles to be pulled from the dreary depths of development. Previously, Shovel Knight might not have seen the light of day without having the flooding support of the internet. Well, that, and the tremendous push from former WayForward employees heading their own title.

A playable demo of Shovel Knight was available at this year’s IndieCade in Culver City, Calif. This was just one of many titles tucked away in Nintendo’s array of tents. Of the other playable demos, it was probably the most popular with many waiting in line to get a glimpse or hands-on of the 2D action-platformer.

Shovel Knight pays homage to a much simpler time. The 8-bit styles of the game showcase a minimal color palette and chiptunes for the taking. With the recent success of DuckTales: Remastered (another WayForward success), there’s no doubt that the 2D elements present in retro titles are still relevant in this day and age. In fact, some might argue that these are the basic building blocks for all games. But hey, that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.

If you were interested in just how Shovel Knight plays, it’s simple: it plays just like it looks. That doesn’t happen often, but that is something remarkable Yacht Club Games has managed to achieve. After watching its announcement trailer and gawking at the screens, it was hard to believe how it controlled with ease. The only difference in controls of SN and a retro game is that the overall stiffness in platform wasn’t apparent. Controls were tight and responsive.

There are three buttons used on the Nintendo GamePad, the ‘Y’, ”B’ and of course, the D-pad. The ‘Y’ is used for attacks and the other for jump. Ah, yes. A simpler time in gaming. No trigger(s), crazy firing reticules, or multiplayer extravaganza. Just good’ol fashioned tough platforming.

down smash

The enemy seen below defends from the front and top. After it attacks, you can either jump behind them and swipe, or smash from above with the shovel.

The attack button of the game serves multiple purposes. The down-attack will allow you to bounce enemies or objects with your shovel. Much like that of Scrooge’s cain in DuckTales, enemies can be bounced on and combo’d multiple times. In fact, to defeat some enemies/destroyable blocks, it is essential. Need to drop that flying rodent thing? Drop’em with your shovel, well, if you can time it right. Otherwise, make like Joaquin Phoenix in “Signs” and swing-away.

The shovel can be used for much more than your basic attacks. Enemies that fire off projectiles can be deflected with your shovel. More importantly, the shots can be catapulted back at enemies in order to defeat them.

Defeating enemies also can be done with more than just shovel work. The developers on hand let us know that gamers will probably be looking at three discoverable power-ups. These are littered through levels and can either be found, or not found. Which, might not seem like a big deal, but it speaks to the replay value and non-linear design of the game. The game and story can progress without the discovery of these items. Also note there is no run featured, further adding to the challenges in finding your way through puzzles to reach these power-ups. This was the case when traversing to snatch the wand in the demo level.


Making my way across these crashing chandeliers, it was no surprise that they did not regenerate. So, charging forward and not paying attention to details of the level may leave you stranded. Don’t worry, if you die during this time you can go back and try and snag your loot that was left behind. (Side-note: Your loot or “GOLD” as indicated at the top is what is collected over the course of the game. It comes in the form of jewels and other riches). These come in the form of string-drawn bags hovering around your former burial plot. Falling off a cliff will no doubt lead to your immediate death, but it will take multiple hits to actually take you down. It is still a challenge to make your way through each area unscathed.

Something most notable about the game other than its already impressive development is the fact that it is true to the NES era. So true that it could run with the same tech behind Castlevania III’s ‘VRC6’ chip. For retro fans, that’s nothing more than nostalgic dream. Also, items and enemies regenerate upon reentering an area.

Final Truth:

Shovel Knight is shaping up to be an impressive platformer. The animation of the game is smoothly coming along with the help of Yacht Club Games. This doesn’t even touch on the soundtrack, which is being developed by Jake “Virt” Kauffman (Double Dragon: Neon, Retro City Rampage).

Shovel Knight is slated for launch on the Nintendo Wii U and Nintendo 3DS consoles. A Steam release is also in the works.

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About the Author

I am Greg, aka LaWiiG. Thanks for coming to take a look around! Retro is the way to go! Do yourself a favor and show love by playing retro games.

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