(Wii U eShop)

Shovel Knight (Wii U eShop)

Game Review

Shovel Knight Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Lee Meyer

Digging for gold

Yacht Club Games' faux-retro platformer Shovel Knight has become one of the most anticipated titles to come out of the crowdfunding craze. It's frightening to think that Shovel Knight might not have come to fruition without Yacht Club Games' highly successful Kickstarter campaign — games like this don't come around often. Yacht Club Games, a developer made up of former WayForward employees, has more than fulfilled its promise to create compelling new content. A charming slice of pure, fun gaming, Shovel Knight combines a retro aesthetic with modern gameplay ideas to create something utterly satisfying and wonderful.

Shovel Knight is a retro-styled platformer that intentionally recalls character-based franchises of old. While Mega Man is a clear source of inspiration — each level is styled and themed around bosses with "Knight" names and can be completed in a semi-nonlinear fashion — there are callbacks to Castlevania, The Legend of Zelda and other genre-defining franchises. But Shovel Knight is much more than a throwback to gaming's old days. While taking inspiration from its ancestors, it showcases smart, modern gameplay sensibilities and feels totally fresh as a result.

As Shovel Knight, players are tasked with defeating the Order of No Quarter, a group of Knights dead-set against him reaching and defeating the evil Sorceress so he can save his lost love. Though it's a simple, intentionally melodramatic tale, the earnest hero takes his quest very seriously, lending a sweet innocence to the would-be generic setup. Most of the story is told during the levels, with text and character portraits, but we still get a sense of personality due to the stunning artwork on display. Shovel Knight's pixel art is not truly retro; instead, it's designed to look how we remember our favourite 8-bit adventures. The levels are intricately detailed, with each pixel feeling important. Parallax scrolling backgrounds make for a colourful spectacle, and superior sprite animation make the game feel fluid and natural; the bright colour palette is a particularly welcome respite from the dark, gloomy visuals we're used to these days.

The accompanying audio complements the stunning visuals — the soundtrack will eventually be considered a modern classic. Terrific chiptune songs in each level bring to mind those found in other games of this ilk, like Cave Story. From the infectious main theme to fearsome battle music to even poignant, introspective songs of longing and regret, players will be humming these songs long after the adventure wraps up; it seems Yacht Club Games knows this — music sheets are hidden throughout the game, and returning them to a certain character unlocks the songs for repeat listening.

The excellent presentation would be for naught if Shovel Knight's gameplay didn't deliver, and thankfully it does. The gameplay is simple to learn, challenging to master, and highly addictive. Using his Shovel Blade, Shovel Knight can dig up treasure, secret rooms and volley items that are being jettisoned across the screen. His signature move, though, is a DuckTales-inspired bounce that can be used to traverse tricky platforms and kill enemies. Bouncing about is an absolute joy, as is collecting treasure and other items.

Shovel Knight can use the treasure he collects to purchase upgrades to his health, magic, as well as new items, like a fire rod, a "phase locket," and many more useful trinkets. Treasure is such an important part of Shovel Knight that players will often be faced with difficult choices throughout the many levels. While each level contains multiple helpful (and meticulously placed) checkpoints, and they can be broken to unleash a huge amount of treasure; yet breaking a checkpoint also means that getting killed will set you back earlier in the level. As the difficulty ramps up — and it ramps up fast — players will often be conflicted. Dying also causes Shovel Knight to lose treasure, which can be recovered, but if he dies again, the lost treasure will be gone for good. Players who want to revel in their spoils will have to learn how to master Shovel Knight's skills, which is incredibly hard and incredibly fun.

Each boss battle is clever, dynamic and surprising. Early bosses follow familiar behaviour patterns, with clear entrances for Shovel Knight to attack, but later battles will have players scrambling to come up with a strategy. While the boss battles are immensely challenging, they're always fair and never cheap. It's great to finally defeat a boss after several tries, and the game knows this, as the screen slows to a crawl and flashes with bright colours as a visual payoff.

As with most Kickstarter-funded games, Shovel Knight has several nods to its backers. There is a special level that is specifically made to recognize the backers, and it's very easy and fun to ensure that anyone can get through it. It should be noted that the game's many stretch goals will be released as free updates in the future, adding playable characters and new modes. Luckily, and to Yacht Club Games' credit, the main game stands on its own and then some. Yacht Club Games has also added in Miiverse support to the Wii U version, the "Digger's Diary," allowing players to leave messages for each other at specific spots; the Digger's Diary is viewed via the GamePad, which is also used as a touch-based menu throughout. This feature is only available for the Wii U edition; the 3DS version, launching concurrently, has its own special features.

Conclusion

Yacht Club Games has a hit on its hands with Shovel Knight. With brilliant game design, charming presentation and a ton of content, this is a wonderful first title from the fledgling developer. It will only get better with post-release content, and if Shovel Knight becomes the hit it deserves to be, gamers will hopefully be seeing much more of Yacht Club Games — and its plucky mascot — in the coming months and years.

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User Comments (107)

Axed84

#1

Axed84 said:

If someone were to only buy one version — 3DS or Wii U — which would you recommend?

Sonicfan11589

#2

Sonicfan11589 said:

It IS an AMAZING GAME! I got it a day early because i backed it on kickstarter. It has Mario's platforming (and map features) and Zelda's deep RPG-like quality.

SanderEvers

#3

SanderEvers said:

You guys should do a review of the PC version as well :p

I've been playing it this morning on steam (yay for being a backer) and I really like it a lot.

sinalefa

#5

sinalefa said:

I will be getting the Wii U version, probably tomorrow to enjoy it during the weekend. I prefer to play this on the big screen.

Guybrush20X6

#6

Guybrush20X6 said:

Good to hear. I wonder if it would've taken off in an alternate 80's where the NES had a bigger color pallete.

SanderEvers

#10

SanderEvers said:

@Jazzer94 I might be going to tripple-dip. Getting the PC, Wii U and 3DS version :p I already have the PC version because of Kickstarter, so..

outburst

#12

outburst said:

9 on NLife, 9 on IGN. It seems I'm getting this day one on Wii U when it hits Europe.

Edit
Lol it got a 7 on Eurogamer but with the PC version.

arrmixer

#14

arrmixer said:

I'm probably getting it for the wii u just for the promotion points and the big screen but the 3D effect on the 3ds is tempting....

Jahir

#17

Jahir said:

I'm happy it got a nice review. One of the things I love about this game is that it really looks like a NES game, not too artsy, just awesome. I'm looking forward to listen the soundtrack too.

King47

#19

King47 said:

I couldn't buy it on the Wii u shop this morning. I'll see if it's there this after this work.

Spoony_Tech

#20

Spoony_Tech said:

@outburst Unfortunately i can see this not coming out in Europe till all the content is released just like Moon Chronicles. It might all have to go through the ratings system over in Europe.

Action51

#21

Action51 said:

Very nice to see Nintendo platforms develop some good third party indie support and exclusive content.

I have a feeling this game is going to sell very well and open the doors for other quality titles of this nature.

WanderingPB

#23

WanderingPB said:

Downloading the Wii U version as soon as i get home…if its as awesome as everyone says i personally wouldnt mind double dipping and getting the 3DS version as well because being able to play a good quality on the go to me is worth it!

NodtheThird

#25

NodtheThird said:

@Axed84 I have to make that choice too, wish Nintendo did some sort of cross buy or bundle. I would have paid a bit more to get it on both systems.

Reddaye

#26

Reddaye said:

This can't get onto the eShop fast enough! I've yet to buy an eShop release on day one, but Shovel Knight is just the game to make me break that trend.

NodtheThird

#27

NodtheThird said:

@therick112 I read somewhere that the Wii U versions is 16:9 and the 3DS is 5:4, which makes sense given the screen resolutions. So you get to see a bit more to the left and right on the Wii U version of the game.

Mrclaycoat

#28

Mrclaycoat said:

My first kickstarted game to be delivered! I cannot wait to get home and start this one tonight!

ChrisT99

#29

ChrisT99 said:

Darn it! I only have $7 in my eShop account.

What's the best game below $7 on either the 3DS or Wii U eShop?

AyeHaley

#30

AyeHaley said:

Europe still hasn't gotten a date yet, right? I'm itching to play this game on both Wii U and 3DS. HD visuals+Miiverse or awesome 3D+Streetpass, how can one choose? Not. :P

ricklongo

#31

ricklongo said:

Getting it for Wii U tonight as soon as I get home. Which is saying a lot, because Mario Kart 8, Vintage Masters on Magic Online and the World Cup have been sucking away pretty much all of my free time these days.

WaveWarlock

#32

WaveWarlock said:

Will be getting both versions! But i'll be going through the Wii U version first. This game better do well in sales or there will be no hope in pixel humanity. :PThe creator of shovel knight must be Fido dido extatic over the fantastic reviews, fingers crossed that their game becomes a big seller....but in this day and age, with where we're at in this blood soaked realistic 3D'd carnage riddled war zone interactive movie dooder' industry i can't really see it happening.

However, Mega Man 9's sales were a big success, so who knows!

Shiryu

#33

Shiryu said:

Will pick up both versions. It will be hard having to wait until European release.

ToxieDogg

#38

ToxieDogg said:

Can't wait for this in Europe :)

I have the nasty feeling we're going to be waiting at least another month though. :(

SavoirFaire

#40

SavoirFaire said:

A 9 for an indie game, not bad. I don't care how embarrassingly large my backlog is, day 1 purchase for me!

HAL9000

#41

HAL9000 said:

I am so excited to SHOVEL SOME JUSTICE! I will buy it first on Wii U, and by end of the day I predict I will have downloaded it to my wife and my 3DS as well if it as good as everyone is saying :)

Hikingguy

#42

Hikingguy said:

A 9 is great, but normally for a game not to be a 10 there would need to be some scrutinizing. Did I miss something Nintendolife thought could be better? I have not played the game yet so I haven't formed an opinion. But what more could a retro inspired 8-bit game need to get a ten? Maybe make it free?
Or is it the mindset that nothing is perfect so nothing could be a 10?

PuppyToucher

#46

PuppyToucher said:

Does this support off tv play? Also I keep seeing people around the internet talk about how the 3ds version doesn't have input lag but if this game has off tv play wouldn't that mean playing just on the gamepad has no input lag as well. Either way I will probs get it for the wii u just because I like playing on my big screen and if it does have off tv play then that is a even bigger plus.

aaronsullivan

#47

aaronsullivan said:

Can't wait for it to go live on the Store. :D Feels good to have helped kickstart it from early on but they didn't really need my help.

It really just presses all the right nostalgia buttons without feeling outdated at all to me. I'm glad to see it seems to be living up to how good it looked.

aaronsullivan

#48

aaronsullivan said:

@PuppyToucher
I'm pretty sure playing off the GamePad introduces more lag than off the TV screen because it is streaming wirelessly through radio rather than a direct wired connection.

dumedum

#49

dumedum said:

Such a cool console exclusive for Nintendo. Best rated game this year I think :) and all time for the console basically.

Kirk

#52

Kirk said:

What did the game lose that final point on?

I mean if Mega Man 2 on the VC is a 10, as one example, then what exactly is Shovel Knight missing or not doing quite right that it never scored a 10 too?

I'm genuinely curious because the review doesn't seem to point out a single issue with the game.

WaveWarlock

#53

WaveWarlock said:

@Kirk
Yeah really....The same could be said for mega man 9. There was virtually nothing wrong or negative about it, but it still couldn't muster up that 10. am i missing something? is this the fate of anything that isn't cutting edge?

I'd really like to know why it didn't receive a 10.

NintyMan

#55

NintyMan said:

I think I'll get this Wii U version. My sister is getting it for her 3DS, but I want to see a game like this on the big screen. Glad to see it turned out very well.

Kirk

#56

Kirk said:

"is this the fate of anything that isn't cutting edge?"

Yeah, that seems to be all I can think of that they must be holding back the 10 score for here but if some 30 year old NES games can get a 10 (and surely we're not just giving these games 10s based purely on nostalgia but because they are actually worthy of 10s by today's standards) then I'm not quite understanding why a modern game that's mimicking and apparently doing everything just as well as those older games, indeed maybe even better in some areas where the modern tech comes into play, isn't worthy of a 10 too.

I'm just curious what held it back from getting that extra point...

jariw

#60

jariw said:

@Kirk NIntendoLife has no consistency in its review scores IMO, and they should perhaps redesign their scoring system. However, when there are enough reviews available, the MetaCritic score or the average will give a good approximate anyway. Shovel Knight has currently, by far, the highest average score of any indie on the Wii U.

jariw

#61

jariw said:

@PuppyToucher @aaronsullivan The "lag" for playing off-TV is purely superficial IMO as long as there are one single video stream. The communication is made by firewire, and loads of games (such as DK: Tropical Freeze or Mario 3D World) are using it without any problems.

unrandomsam

#62

unrandomsam said:

@jariw Yeah that is the problem. The Out Now list is basically useless for that reason. (It could be some sort of consensus between all of the Nintendo Life people on the order to get them in).

WaveWarlock

#63

WaveWarlock said:

@jariw
You're going to have to put up with 1 frame/16ms of lag with off-play on the game pad itself, or whatever present lag there is on your HDTV. personally i'd much rather play shovel knight on a lag free SDTV tube TV, this will make it even MORE authentic to the NES-era. ;)

SparkOfSpirit

#64

SparkOfSpirit said:

I'm not one to say this too often, but I would totally give this game a 10. It does everything so well, and doesn't mess anything up.

Kirk

#65

Kirk said:

@jariw

Yeah, despite what many people think, sites like metacritic are actually pretty useful in that regard.

JaxonH

#67

JaxonH said:

@Axed84

Everyone's gonna tell you something different, but I'd get the Wii U version for several reasons. You get TV play and "handheld play" in one purchase (in case you prefer playing retro styled games on a smaller screen). The D pad is also positioned better on the Gamepad than on the 3DS. And the visuals will look better than on 3DS.

I'm getting both versions but yeah, Wii U would be my first choice.

Oaf7724

#70

Oaf7724 said:

Is there a demo? I really don't understand the obsession with this game and would like to try it out before buyin'

SleepyCrossing

#75

SleepyCrossing said:

I'm going to get the Wii U version this weekend to support Yacht Club Games and the Wii U. I had intended on getting this but the review made me all the more eager. Good job @ Yacht Club for making this game, hopefully we see more of them in the future. Happy shoveling, lol. I /really/ hope this game is a success because I've been following its development for a while and it really looks like a deserving title that should become somewhat of a beacon for this particular genre of indie.

leemeyer26Staff

#76

leemeyer26 said:

Hey guys! Thanks for reading the review. Regarding the score: I can't speak for Phil's individual thoughts on the matter, but typically a perfect 10 is a defining, groundbreaking (no pun intended) title that changes the way we look at the genre, platform, character etc. Shovel Knight takes platform conventions and refines them beautifully. A 9 is by no means a bad score! Super Mario 3D Land got a 9! :-P

Anguspuss

#79

Anguspuss said:

only one question are they releasing a limited edition nes cart version as well.

Amazing with the new super consoles people are looking to play actual games with gameplay & parralex scrolling as well

jariw

#80

jariw said:

@Anguspuss The limited NES cart bundle will be released on the same day as the Mario 3D World/Pikmin 3 bundle cart for NES. ;-)

Dave24

#81

Dave24 said:

Bought for PC, because it can take a long time before they add localisation's that I don't care about at all.

Played it for nearly 2 hours and I like it, but there are few thing that could've been better. Sometimes platforming is incredibly cheap and so far all the boss battles (hat master, short guy, big kiss fan and 4 knights) were all the same - kill them before they will kill you, which is kinda dissapointing and it makes the game little easy.

For all from EU out there, buy it from their site and not on Steam, you will save 4 euro and have 2 versions of the game - Steam and DRM-free.

theberrage

#82

theberrage said:

@leemeyer26 a reasonable defense of your scoring thoughts. I do feel that the game sets a new standard for the retro genre. If this game were released in the 90s I think we would still be giving it a 10. Mario 3d world got many 10s and I don't think they really reinvented the 3d platformer with it, but I guess that's the power of Mario. Anyway, good review.

Henmii

#83

Henmii said:

Nice review and nice score! I think I go for the Wii u version, but I guess I wait till the price goes down.

odd69

#86

odd69 said:

I agree with everyone here, this game is the shiz. The review was spot on too.

brandonbwii

#92

brandonbwii said:

The use of the second screen is amazing on Wii U. I'm surprised fewer reviewers mention this. I'm in awe of how I can upgrade everything and even "yeah" Miiverse posts without the game ever stopping or even slowing down. Talk about polish!

Genesaur

#93

Genesaur said:

@PuppyToucher Yes, of course it supports off-TV play.

@aaronsullivan I have no idea what anyone's on about with suggesting that there's any lag when playing on the GamePad. I've never had any input lag on the TV or GamePad, and I've only known the former to be an issue when using like a switchbox, or something.

aaronsullivan

#94

aaronsullivan said:

@PuppyToucher @jariw @Genesaur
On the GamePad lag:
Don't get me wrong, most people aren't going to notice or care. The GamePad video streaming is amazing. It's just that with precision platforming games some will notice. With Mighty Switch Force I did notice.

Also, some TVs introduce a lot of lag on their own if they aren't in "Game" mode because they are trying to finesse the image through some processing. So it's still possible for the TV to introduce more lag than the GamePad. :)

Going through a projector can make it even more pronounced.

Again, it's minor and most people won't notice and I never meant to suggest otherwise.

This game is top notch though. If you've ever loved the old NES platformers or even SNES, you are going to — almost said "dig" — enjoy this game. For those that don't have that nostalgia or experience, it's still a great game, but it might not have that wow factor.

aaronsullivan

#95

aaronsullivan said:

@Dave24 Platforming hasn't been cheap at all in my experience so far. Seems incredibly accurate and it has always clearly been my mistake when I fall and I could see things coming if I was careful. Feels just about perfect to me. YMMV. ;) It has Mega Man style jumping where letting go drops the player straight down, which can be an adjustment.

I don't understand what type of boss battle you were expecting that isn't "kill them before they will kill you". I found Black Knight and King Knight to be a little similar at first but I used a completely different strategy on each. Specter Knight was a very different type of boss style, I thought, where learning the patterns and placing yourself carefully was best.

It's true that you can grind your way to higher power and make it all a bit easier in boss battles and obviously those that have tons of platform gaming experience are going to find it easier, but that's why you have a NewGame+.

I haven't played that far yet, though, so maybe I haven't seen what you are seeing.

Dave24

#96

Dave24 said:

@aaronsullivan from boss battles I expected something more than, you know, change of sprites. Pattern recognition is a waste of time, if you are fast with your shovel, it's pointless. And it worked for every single boss for now.
With cheap platforming you will know what I mean once you will make it to the submarine.

Overall though what I like about this game is that you can make it as difficult as you want (which some reviews fail to mention), because of the checkpoints, because you can destroy them and eventually do a whole level all over again if you want to, which in my opinion is a good balance - it is not so hard that new comers will throw it out the window, but you can make it harder if you wish. Although I still think there should be something like difficulty setting, but I didn't play NG+ yet, so maybe there the game is really hard

TheAtariKid

#97

TheAtariKid said:

I might get this if it's cheap. But, it would mean I can't get Mega Man 4 at the moment... DX

VIIIAxel

#99

VIIIAxel said:

I thought it was going to end up being a 10 reading the review. However, a 9's still fantastic, as well! I intend on picking the Wii U version up as soon as possible, and I'm considering getting the 3DS version as well. It's great to hear that this game's doing so well!

aaronsullivan

#101

aaronsullivan said:

@Dave24
Now that I've played through the Iron Whale (submarine) stage, I can say that my definition of cheap must be very different from yours. If you don't blindly forge ahead there is nothing cheap, just stuff that requires quick reaction time.

There is the green eel that appears out of nowhere when you are jumping through an area of the air, but it has a long period where you can pass through it. That's the closest I can think of.

That stage has the fun of getting used to the super high jumps and there was a place that had spikes on the ceiling and I way underestimated how high I'd jump. There was plenty of stage for me to get used to the jump, so again, not cheap.

So we are going to have to agree to disagree on that one, I think. To me cheap is when you can't possibly see something coming and there is nothing you can do possibly do about it because there is not enough time to react. That hasn't happened to me in this game yet. In my experience the design carefully gives an introduction to every new element before it expects you to survive a life and death encounter with it.

Maybe if someone has a slow reaction time or is just pushing through fast or isn't constantly evaluating how every new element works but is just randomly jumping and hoping for the best someone could think the platforming is cheap in this game. Otherwise, it just has to be a different understanding of the word cheap.

I wouldn't harp on the issue so much if I didn't find that careful design one of the stand out features of the game.

On the bosses, I'll meet you part way. There is a bit of sameness to some of them, but you must be way better at attacking than I am because a blind hit-hit-hit approach doesn't work for me on any of them. :/ The shovel attack is a commitment that freezes you in place and pushes you back as you hit. Every miscalculated attack leaves you open. The down strike is carefully countered by bosses most of the time, though you can often find a good opening and get a chain of hits. For me, I have to study the patterns (which the knights thankfully switch between based on how you are attacking so it doesn't get stale) and work on counters.

Maybe the difference is that I often fail to refill my hits during a boss battle or that you did more grinding to get hits and upgrades early on. I don't know.

In the end, I just found your complaints to ring very differently from my experience and I thought it was worth showing a counter point. It felt like exaggeration to me, at first. Obviously, it feels the way you say it does to you and I'm not trying to invalidate that.

Dave24

#102

Dave24 said:

@aaronsullivan The only question I have know is that what version are you playing? If U one, then I don't know how that works. I play it on PC (that's the only way to play it in days/months to come sadly), on keyboard, and locking up controls or input lag is annoying, especially with that part you climb up and have one sec to attack the shark.

With the bosses, I wished that there were more bosses like Thinker Knight - that boss battle is awesome. But I have to say with NG+ the bosses are better challange.

Also, I hate grinding and didn't do it. Actually, I've got the armor with charge way later in the game. The only 'grind' I did was one stage, only to get to champions hall (in which I liked the boss too)

aaronsullivan

#103

aaronsullivan said:

@Dave24
That's right you mentioned you had to use the PC version. I'm on the Wii U. This type of game is just not meant to be played on a keyboard. That explains our different experiences pretty well.

If you can, find a cheap USB game controller. I used to play a lot of games using keyboard, thinking it was working pretty well. Then I'd plug in a controller and realize how much extra work this type of game is on the keyboard.

HAL9000

#104

HAL9000 said:

@Spuratis
My wife is very technologically savvy and is an awesome player 2 She commented that Shovel Knight could be the next megaman :)
We love the Wii U for the local multiplayer options.

Rezalack

#105

Rezalack said:

Ahh, you sound like a lucky dude. I was just making a joke, the way you said it made it sound like you were literally going to download it into your wife as if she was some kind of cyborg. ;)

HAL9000

#107

HAL9000 said:

The diggers diary is amazing and a very clever use of the gamepad. I love seeing people's quotes as I play.

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