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Game Info:

Shovel Knight
Developed By: Yacht Club Games
Published By: Yacht Club Games
Release Date: June 26th, 2014
Available On: PC, 3DS, Wii U, PSN, Xbox One
Genre: Action Adventure/Platformer
Number of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: E for Mild Fantasy Violence
MSRP: $14.99

Thank you Yacht Club Games for sending us this game to review!

Shovel Knight is a modern take on the classic dig.  It's a spade of a game.  It plows right over genre conventions.  How about it's a groundbreaking idea?  Here we have a modern game, turned over, and molded to classic gaming conventions, with inspirations like Mega Man, Castlevania, Duck Tales, and more.  With a whole lot of punny humor thrown on top for good measure, Shovel Knight never ceases to delight – indeed, I dig it.

You see, Shovel Knight is a 2D action platformer, where our hero utilizes the mighty power of the shovel as his primary weapon, in the spirit of Shovelry.  He is fighting to save his beloved Shield Knight from the clutches of the evil Enchantress, and her henchmen, The Order of No Quarter.  Old rivals and others stand in his way, and he must keep on plowing through to confront her and save his friend.

This game is clearly an homage to the era of 8-bit gaming of yore.  While the level design, art, and music almost instantly reminds of Mega Man, with Castlevania style additional weapons, the levels tend to be more puzzle based than action based.  Of course there are enemies to slash with his mighty shovel, but just as often, they are needed to bounce off of, in a Duck Tales fashion, to reach higher areas to unlock a secret of some kind: from the musical notes the town bard will happily pay you for, to the ancient relic hidden in each level.  And they are expertly crafted – a combination of subtly leading the character to discover how to play by themselves, to environments that confirm your suspicions of hiding goodies where you think they should be, this game oozes great level design.

Shovel Knight
Highlights:

Strong Points:  Strongly pricks the nostalgia bone; Excellent level design; Great mix of modern and classic design elements; Wonderful chiptune music; Endearing sense of humor if you like puns; Challenging
Weak Points: If you've never experience classic 8-bit games, the graphical and audio style may seem strange
Moral Warnings: Simple cartoon violence; The player can use magical items, and magic is used by the enemy; The game digs itself into a punnery

But in a nod to modern gaming sensitivities, if you miss a hidden item buried deep within the level, you can always buy it later, from a special merchant, for a higher price than you would have paid in the dungeon.  And, despite a solid challenge, lives are also not a concern – there are as many as you like.  But, in order to upgrade almost anything about your character, from maximum health and magic to those item upgrades, it requires gold.  And lots of it.  So, when you die, you lose one quarter of your current gold at the time of death.  Now, you can go get it back – but if you died in a tough spot to reach, or die again in the attempt, that gold is gone for good.

Thankfully, you can replay a level as many times as you would like, so gold farming isn't too bad.  It is not uncommon to have a haul on the level of 3,000+, though most upgrades cost at least that much, with the most expensive being 8,000 gold. But it rarely feels tedious, and a decent player won't have to grind too much to get everything.  You can easily choose where to go next with certain restrictions, as the world map is in the vein of Super Mario Bros. 3, where you move between icons representing enemy strongholds or friendly villages, and unlock access to more areas as you clear them.  There are also random encounters similar to the ones on the map in that same Mario game.  They can all be seen and avoided if desired.

The levels present a pretty significant challenge, though some of that can be mitigated through the use of the relics that you gain throughout your adventure. One in particular, the Phase Locket, allows you a few seconds of invulnerability for just 8mp.  All enemies, spikes, and most other obstacles can be walked on or through harmlessly, and the timer can be reset during the span of the spell, for another few seconds.  It's pretty powerful, and somewhat broken on some levels.

Shovel Knight

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 88%
Gameplay - 17/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 94%
Violence - 9/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Relics vary in type, though most of them can be used offensively in some way.  The Flare Wand, which you get very early on, makes bosses much, much easier.  It basically allows you to shoot fireballs at your enemies, which can turn a very melee battle into one that feels a lot more like Mega Man, at least until your mp runs out.  And mp isn't that hard to come by; you start with 30, and can go up to 100 throughout the course of the game through buying upgrades from the Magicist.  There is also a piece of armor that you can switch to that increases your mp by another 50%, though it also doubles damage to you.  You also earn health upgrades in the form of meal tickets, which you then bring to the Gastronomer, by defeating bosses.  You can also purchase some from the Goatitian.

There are several armor upgrades, including one for those of us who mess up a lot: Final Guard reduces the lost gold per death to 1/8 instead of 1/4.  Others add an extra attack, or have some situational use.  Conjurer's Coat is the one mentioned above that increases your mp at the cost of defense.  Armor upgrades are pretty expensive.  You can also upgrade your shovel, at the Shovel Smith.  There are only three upgrades: Charge Handle, Drop Spark, and Trench Blade.  The Charge Handle is a charged attach that does double damage, and Drop Spark does a ranged attack along the ground when you are at full health.  Trench Blade simply helps you dig up piles faster.

Shovel Knight is, in many ways, a love letter to classic gaming, in all of the best ways.  It also understands where classic games went wrong, and takes steps to fix it, which makes it feel a whole lot less tedious and unfairly punishing.  While it is certainly no cakewalk, it's not unfairly difficult by any means.  It's not a super long experience, as I got every item and beat the game in around 16 hours; I could have easily done it more quickly if I hadn't spent time trying to get every item.  If you are the type who likes to get every achievement, there is plenty to do.  There is little wrong with the appropriateness other than some cartoon violence that virtually every game outside of typing tutor is guilty of.  The hero uses magical items, and the enemies use magic.  Nothing serious here.  If you enjoy classic platformers, and especially if you enjoy cheeky, punny humor, I highly recommend this game.  Calling my kids over to read the silly jokes and laughing with them made it totally worth it for me.

 ***May 2015 Update***

Shovel Knight is available on PSN for PlayStation 3, 4, and Vita for $14.99.  Since it is cross-buy, it becomes available for all platforms, no matter which version you purchase.  Better yet, it also has a cloud save system that lets you upload/download your saved game across systems as well.  God of War fans will dig (get it?) the added boss Kratos to the game.  You can also obtain a new piece of armor after defeating him.

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Jason Gress

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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