Mega Man 10 was six years ago.
During those six years, fans have begged Capcom to make a new game starring the Blue Bomber, but to no avail. While Capcom has ignored those pleas, the developers at Yacht Club Games did not. Answering the call, Yacht Club Games delivered a nostalgic romp of action, adventure and unadulterated shoveling action in the NES-inspired game Shovel Knight. A year after its original release, Xbox One owners are now able to experience the spiritual successor to Mega Man on their very own console.
Comparing Shovel Knight solely to Mega Man is a disservice to the game and its developers. Yes, as soon as the phrase “Let’s Get Shoveling” starts blinking onscreen, the game’s main influence is clear. However, Shovel Knight is more than that. Shovel Knight is Castlevania. Shovel Knight is Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Shovel Knight is Super Mario Bros. 3. Shovel Knight is a celebration of the NES era of gaming.
The homage to the game design of the 1980s is remarkable. Visually speaking, Shovel Knight wouldn’t look out of place in the NES’ game catalog. Its 8-bit presentation stays mostly true to the limitation of the era, while gushing over its memorable features, such as the classic “big boss behind a black background” scenario. However, as explained in this Gamasutra piece by David D’Angelo, one of the game programmers, Shovel Knight is an estimated evolution in NES gaming; not a complete emulation of that era.
Storytelling is presented in typical NES cinematic fashion, however, it’s also influenced by the in-game action of today’s games. Shovel Knight must defeat the eight knights of “The Order of No Quarter,” the game’s rendition of the Robot Masters in Mega Man, and save the land from the evil Enchantress. All while trying to overcome the guilt of failing to protect his fallen comrade, Shield Knight, who became corrupted by an evil amulet. It’s a simple story, no doubt, but one that contains a lot of heart. The payoff towards the end-level mini-game of saving the descending Shield Knight from the heavens, for example, is wonderfully executed.
And what of the main gameplay? Shovel Knight offers exhilarating 2D levels to explore, with delightful chiptune music playing in the background, and a clever boss fight waiting at the finish line. True to its Mega Man roots, Shovel Knight introduces new gameplay mechanics in a safe environment first, before unleashing it in various stages of difficulty throughout the level. Controls are easy to understand. X button to swing your shovel. A button to jump. And Up+X to use a secondary item. Or, Y button to use secondary item, if personally customized.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a side-scroller if one couldn’t bounce off the heads of enemies. In Shovel Knight, knowing when to initiate a downward attack makes all the difference. You could chain combo attacks on the heads of fearsome foes, leading to easier wins. Or, use those plentiful minions to maneuver over difficult jumps in a level. It’s a move with an ever-changing purpose.
Shovel Knight is challenging but never unfair. Visual cues on where to strike an enemy, or which platform to safely land on are always clear. If anything, the secondary items in the game, like the ring that makes the player invulnerable for a few seconds, can make certain obstacles uncomfortable to breeze through. A chalice that heals your magic and health is obtainable in the game, along with one that grants temporary invincibility, but rarely are their uses necessary.
This isn’t a damning fault, as Shovel Knight offers plenty of help to casual players unfamiliar to this retro-style of gameplay. But for those expecting each level to progress furiously in difficulty – as the Mega Man games are often characterized as – may be disappointed with the end results in Shovel Knight. However, seasoned players have New Game + to look forward to, providing them with a more difficult journey to play.
While essentially the same game on other platforms, Shovel Knight on Xbox One includes an exclusive level featuring the beat ’em up heroes of Battletoads. In contrast to PlayStation’s Kratos cameo from God of War, the inclusion of Battletoads is more fitting for “Shovel Knight”, due to its NES roots. The hovercraft section dominates too much of the level, but the Battletoads homage is overall an enjoyable tribute to the 1991 game.
Initial release date: June 26, 2014
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Amazon Fire TV
Publishers: Yacht Club Games
Game Review: Shovel Knight for Xbox One
Shovel Knight is a wonderful love letter to the NES era of gaming. Mega Man fans itching for a new adventure of the Blue Bomber will fell right at home with this game. The adventure may seem a little easy, but shoveling on enemies never stops being fun.