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First Impressions: Shovel Knight

Posted by Lee Meyer

We dig it

Yacht Club Games' Shovel Knight for Wii U, which made waves with an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign, was on display at the recent New York Comic-Con. While more mainstream releases were generating huge lines and impatient parents, the deceptively simple-looking Shovel Knight was something of a hidden gem, making a great impression on anyone who tried it. We got to spend some time with the upcoming retro-styled platformer, and came away anticipating it more than ever.

Shovel Knight's pedigree is immediately noticeable. Yacht Club Games is a small indie developer founded by ex-Wayforward Technologies developers, and it shows. The NES-like pixel art is authentic and avoids being nostalgic. The detail in every sprite and tile is a reminder that Shovel Knight is very much a modern game, and the chiptune music score is intricate and suitably epic. Yacht Club has said that their intention is to make Shovel Knight play how gamers remember their favorite 8-bit titles — rather than how they actually were — and they've certainly succeeded so far.

The demo, which featured an early level in a gothic castle that has been showcased in various trailers and demos, was a good introduction to the controls and gameplay mechanics. The controls are very responsive and tight; jumping is precise and doesn't suffer from being too floaty. While the circle pad can be used, the D-pad is much more accurate and reinforces the game's retro feel. The GamePad, meanwhile, serves as a second screen and doesn't appear to have any touch-related features.

Combat is where the adventure truly shines, though. Shovel Knight is an expert with the titular weapon, and Yacht Club Games appear to have thought of every way the shovel can be used. While Shovel Knight can simply use his ShovelBlade like a sword to attack enemies, there are many more strategies that make for a more fun experience. The first, and most publicized, is the downward thrust, which is similar to Scrooge McDuck's main move in Wayforward's Ducktales: Remastered.

To execute the downward thrust, the player simply jumps and presses down on the D-pad. The mechanic takes a little getting used to — it's tempting to press down and the attack button before realizing that doesn't work — but once mastered can be used not just for killing enemies but to reach higher platforms that hold elusive treasure chests and power-ups by using an enemy as a jump-off point. The ShovelBlade can also be used like a baseball bat and hit incoming projectiles back at enemies. There are also power-ups, like a staff that shoots fireballs. Power-ups have limited uses, so players won't be able to breeze through a level without using their trusty shovel.

Treasure is peppered throughout the level. In addition to treasure chests, there are mounds of treasure to shovel, with varying size. Getting hit by an enemy results in treasure loss, which brings to mind the Rings in the Sonic series. In an interesting (and modern) twist, there are no lives in Shovel Knight; upon being defeated, the player loses half of their treasure and can continue until there's none left. Thankfully, it's possible to recover the lost treasure upon playing through the area again.

There is always a risk in backing Kickstarter projects; some games sound promising at first and end up rushed or unpolished. Shovel Knight doesn't appear to have that problem. We're looking forward to its winter release on Wii U and 3DS. Are you excited, too? Did you back Shovel Knight on Kickstarter? Let us know in the comments below.

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User Comments (32)

AMR

#1

AMR said:

I backed this, glad it turned out to be a wise decision. Can't wait for it to come out!

WiiLovePeace

#2

WiiLovePeace said:

I don't back kickstarter games but I have definitely been keeping watch on this game & am greatly anticipating its release :D I'mma be buying it on Wii U. I was a little disappointed it didn't arrive in Sept. but that only means its going to be even more epic when it does get released :D Can't wait!

Geonjaha

#3

Geonjaha said:

Hopefully it ends up being what Ducktales Remastered should have been. Looking forward to this.

Shiryu

#6

Shiryu said:

Shovel Knight: Putting the right "Shovel" in "sholveware"! Can't wait!

Artwark

#7

Artwark said:

Can't wait for this game on PC. I can get it on the 3DS but since its also coming on PC, might as well get it there instead.

Mommar

#10

Mommar said:

"Yacht Club has said that their intention is to make Shovel Knight play how gamers remember their favorite 8-bit titles — rather than how they actually were"

This is how to do it right!

While the downward shovel motion behaves in ways like in Ducktales watching all of the combat used it seems to behave more closely to the downward thrust in Zelda 2. At least where combat is concerned.

unrandomsam

#13

unrandomsam said:

If not I suppose I will get it on PC. (I could use my Streetfighter vs Tekken pad but I don't really like it that much. I presume they will only support Xinput and I really don't want to use a fight stick or 360 pad).

unrandomsam

#14

unrandomsam said:

@Mommar Depends what they mean by that. If it means it is really easy then that is not desirable. I like one hit deaths it means you actually get better at the game. If it is like this and I don't really like it then I might just play it once (Not properly get it but still finish it don't like that).

(I don't like deliberately added sprite flicker really annoyed me I couldn't disable that for Megaman 10).

Azikira

#17

Azikira said:

YCG are so nice to me, they've even featured my art on the kickstarter page. ^^

WhiteTrashGuy

#19

WhiteTrashGuy said:

Really hope Nintendo gets on that Wii U / 3DS game share program where you can spend $1.50 extra to have eShop games on both systems! I WANT IT ON BOTH!!!

ArcanaXVI

#20

ArcanaXVI said:

Backed Shovel Knight at the start, and can't wait to get my hands on it. This game's looking awesome!

bofis

#22

bofis said:

I backed this and picked 3DS as my platform, was the 3DS version also on display or has anyone seen demos of the 3DS version who could compare it with the WiiU copy?

Sir420

#26

Sir420 said:

This was my first game backed on Kickstarter. After all the promising releases this year, I decided against this in the future unless the project is low on funding. With Shantae, Ghost Song, Mighty No. 9, and more, I'm glad the outlet is there. I'll just be one of those who buys through eShoo/Steam.

sleepinglion

#27

sleepinglion said:

I'm afraid I didn't get a chance to back this one but I'll certainly pick it up on Wii U and 3DS. Looks very solid!

JustinH

#28

JustinH said:

This was the game that convinced me to get into Kickstarter. I certainly don't regret putting my money down on this one!

Pod

#32

Pod said:

I backed Shovel Knight.

I'm looking forward to loving this game.

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