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The retro-style platformer Shovel Knight and a review roundup

YachtClub Games’ Shovel Knight debuted June 26th as a downloadable title on PC, Wii U, 3DS, and already it’s generating a lot of buzz. And yes, there is a build coming soon for Linux and Mac. The 2D side-scroller gamesplay goes back to the platformers of old, channelling games like Mega Man and DuckTales to create an experience some are proclaiming one of the best games of the year. It is also one of the best-selling games on Steam currently despite not being part of the ongoing Summer Sale.

We should note, Shovel Knight was made with the help of Kickstarter. A campaign was launched last year, as often seems to happen with the games that succeed at crowdfunding, it far exceeded its goal: Despite asking for $75,000, Yacht Club ended up with more than $300,000. That amount caused several stretch goals to be met, resulting in the inclusion of a New Game Plus mode and Linux and Mac support, with things like a four-player battle mode and gender swap story to be added later.

Priced at $15, the game is already available on Steam and will launch on Wii U and 3DS once the system’s weekly eShop update arrives today. (Much to my disappointment, but not surprise, the Wii U and 3DS versions don’t support cross-buy, so you’ll have to buy it twice if you want it on both platforms.)

Over on GameSpot sister site Metacritic, the Wii U version has an average review score of 88. To provide you with a better sense of what to expect, here are a few reviews as a sampling from around the web.

USgamer — 5/5

“I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m legitimately blown away by the thought and care that went into Shovel Knight’s creation, which makes it one of the most enjoyable platformers I’ve played in years. I went in expecting good things because I have a lot of respect for the talent at Yacht Club Games, most of whom got their start at WayForward; but I honestly wasn’t expecting a game that feels so modern while also being a loving tribute to the medium’s past (not to mention hilarious). What a wonderful and unexpected surprise.” [Full review]

GameSpot — 7/10

“No matter which era it had been released in, Shovel Knight would have been embraced. Its inherent charms are timeless. Shovel Knight is a good reminder that game design does age but can never die and that simple mechanics can still be immensely satisfying. But this is not another classic. History echoes forth in everything that Shovel Knight does, but while its inspirations offer compelling moments decades after they were first released, this adventure loses its impact all too quickly. Much of what draws me to games of this ilk are repeatedly playing through them, differing my tactics to become more efficient at whatever challenges lie before me. Without that aspect present in Shovel Knight, I was left with an ‘is that all?’ feeling when the well ran dry. Shovel Knight is a memorable re-imagining of what I grew up with, but doesn’t have the longevity or inventiveness to be great in its own right.” [Full review]

The retro-style platformer Shovel Knight review

Polygon — 9/10

“There is a reason we can all remember so much from games that are almost 30-years-old, and Shovel Knight has tapped into that reason in a profound way. We don’t love the brands of our youth, we love the characters, the settings, the way actually playing those games made us feel. Shovel Knight doesn’t settle for acknowledging those aspects; it includes them around every single corner. Shovel Knight is so much more than a love letter to the genre–it is, in fact, the kind of game people write love letters about.” [Full review]

Joystiq — 4.5/5

“I’ll admit that my glasses are exceptionally rosy when it comes to the games that Shovel Knight is trying to emulate, but the point is that Shovel Knight goes beyond simply embodying the traits of its inspiration. It builds upon them, introducing us to an eccentric world that was clearly crafted with care. The rock-solid core mechanics are supplemented with vibrant art, intricate animation and odd, adorable little characters. Shovel Knight isn’t just inspired by 8-bit classics, it is inspired in and of itself.” [Full review]

Eurogamer — 7/10

“If the continuing appropriation of 2D pixel-art sprites and game styles from yesteryear was nothing more than an exercise in aesthetic nostalgia, then Shovel Knight would be difficult to recommend. But the game offers another demonstration of the enduring power and appeal of this form of play–even if it was forged within a set of technical boundaries that are no longer relevant. The game has a light, fresh appeal, even for those who never played 16-bit platform games the first time around, skewering the old publisher lie that only the latest, loudest, most technologically accomplished video games are worthwhile. There is gold in these old genres, and Shovel Knight is a successful dig.” [Full review]

GamesBeat — 93/100

“Shovel Knight isn’t just a nostalgic act. Yes, nostalgia plays a big part in its charm, but it’s an expertly crafted action-platformer that’s just as enjoyable to play as Mega Man or Castlevania. Old school gamers will love Shovel Knight’s retro sensibilities, but they’ll also appreciate its modern touches. Sure, classics inspired it, but Shovel Knight could soon be a classic of its own.” [Full review]

Game Informer — 8.75/10

“It looks like a simple, straightforward trip down memory lane, but I was surprised by the subtle, emotional story Yacht Club Games delivered. After some boss fights, Shovel Knight rests and dreams of his lost partner, Shield Knight. In his dreams she falls from the sky as he fights waves of enemies in an attempt to catch her. These recurring segments are capped off with a satisfying and memorable payoff that raises the experience
to a new level. Indie throwbacks to video games of the early ’80s are a dime a dozen, but Yacht Club Games successfully rises to the top. The tried-and-true game design principles and elegant checkpoint system make Shovel Knight worth a try no matter which era of gaming you prefer.” [Full review]

From Linux Game News — 9/10

Shovel Knight brings back the days of retro gaming, both in characters, environment, and gameplay. We have been looking forward to the side-scrolling platformer for months. To our delight, the gameplay is fantastic. Being that Windows is the only released platform (for now) we did use WINE, but the controls for simple running and jumping are quite responsive.

If you played Ducktales, MegaMan, or Castlevania, you will quickly recognize aspects of each as you fight through all eight levels. A boss battle happens at the end of each level before you hit the evil villains lair and you only have one life. Not to dispair, you collect gold during your adventures, which can be used to buy new items, armour, attacks,  health and magic upgrades. Which comes in handy as the level difficulty increases. So you have to spend that hard earned gold fairly quickly. But you do not lose that much gold when you die. Actually the whole system is rather brilliant. But do not just take our word for it, play Shovel Knight and see what we mean.

The only downside to the game is the potions. They seem to be a safe haven when you panic in boss battles. Which takes away from some of the challenge  of being truly triumphant. Needless to say, the gameplay does throw a fair bit of challenge your way. Keeping you thinking twice before making your move.

Still, without going into extensive detail and giving away spoilers, we really do appreciate being offered the opportunity to play Shovel Knights. So a big thanks goes out to Yacht Club Games.  And kudos for putting the Kickstarter funds to great use while taking the time to build a unique game.

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