Friday 26 September 2014

Shovel Knight (PC/Mac/Wii U/3DS)

I normally lead into these reviews by setting the theme or laying the foundation for a punchline, but this time this time I'll cut the (now traditional) waffle I'm famous for by simply saying that Yacht Club Games' Kickstarter-hit Shovel Knight is an absolute work of art. It's not the kind of indie game that wants to be famous for its 'message' or 'deepness of expression', it's instead the kind that polishes an established set of formulas and delivers a diamond-solid package.

The game follows the titular Shovel Knight as he travels the lands defeating his Knightly brothers. Similar to Megaman, he must accumulate new skills along the way in order to deal with the tougher bosses. Upgrades take the form of abilities you purchase from various vendors along the way, and there is even different armour to augment your abilities. There isn't much new here, but it's so well implemented you won't care

The gameplay shines like the sun, super-tight controls mixed with genuinely challenging level design that's a joy to indulge in. The difficulty level is absolutely perfect throughout, like a Super Mario title it gradually trains you to play the game by introducing new ideas gradually and in a way that is never patronising nor brutally unforgiving. As you learn new techniques, tricks or essential skills you always feel rewarded by simply employing them successfully. This game may not push into any new ground, but it doesn't need to, it simply glows with refinement and care, skilfully implemented by artisans of the craft of game design.

Musically the game is a tour d'force. The closest approximation I can describe it with is that the music has the same energy and vibrancy of the (good) Megaman games. A great deal of what is on offer visually and audibly harks back to the glory days of Capcom, and that is no bad thing at all.

Graphically, Shovel Knight is a tribute to the golden age Nintendo games, blending the visual styles of the games it is paying homage to but retaining its own unique style. Sprite designs are distinct and varied, with towns populated by NPCs full of character and super cool boss characters that are exciting to hunt down and vanquish. The game could pass as an early SNES game or a late NES game - never does it feel anything other than genuinely 'retro', there is no overblown pixel art, no arty-farty visual tricks - this is a game forged in the style of the golden-era game consoles and it has the same timeless quality.

In short, Shovel Knight is fucking superb.

Buy the game here (from the developer's webpage).
5 out of 5

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