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Shovel Knight Review

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There is no doubting that the classics are always the best. Does the arrival of Shovel Knight, an 8-bit styled action adventure mean that it’s best to go back into the past and experience the hard edged gameplay that games of yesteryear were renowned for?

Unlike many of my peers, I’m not one to go delving deep into the gaming archives in search of a retro feel, but with Shovel Knight coming across as possibly the most retro title of recent times, it’s gotta be worth a little shot. Hasn’t it?

Damn right it does. For Shovel Knight is, for the most part, an absolute pleasure to play.

You take on the role of Shovel Knight as he goes out on a quest to defeat the Order of No Quarter. After seeing his beloved Shield Knight become possessed by a cursed amulet, our man Shovel hides away in grief. However, with the two knights out of the way, an evil Enchantress starts to spread her wares across the land, unsealing the treasure-rich Tower of Fate as she goes. Shovel Knight is forced back into action in the hope that he can explore the Tower once more and hopefully find his fallen compatriot. The Enchantress has other ideas.

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A side scrolling platformer, the story behind Shovel Knight is, for me at least, neither here nor there. Those who wish to delve deep will no doubt find a tale of love, humour and exploration but for the vast majority of us, we’ll just be going all out in our quests to defeat the Order and find our way to the end of each section as quickly as possible. The quests are well split up and once unlocked can be accessed at any time from the gorgeous map screen. It’s a joy to move Shovel around the map as you choose the next stage to hit and immediately brings back the feel of those games that I played as a teenager.

But the real action comes in once you’ve decided on your next port of call. With a hop, skip and a jump you’re quickly on your way to dishing out some justice to all those who stand before you. Your main aim is to reach the end of stage boss and being completely honest, the vast majority of what is put in front of you is easily navigated through. Whilst you’ll need to bounce on many enemies in order to flip, kill them and raid their pockets (each death sees you given the chance to accumulate gold and treasure), Shovel Knight wouldn’t be much of a champion if he couldn’t use other attacks to his advantage. Initially, you’ll find that he is restricted to a quick prod of his shovel, but as you progress, earn more coinage and find local friendly vendors who are willing to trade with you, then it doesn’t take long before you find yourself fully equipped with relics which make the most of your magic power. Each of these however take a certain number of magic points each time they are used so you’ll have to be sure that your attack with the fire wand or chaos sphere really does hit the mark. Magic points are earnt in the same way as your gold is collected. Explore and kill is the name of the game and those are two things that are plentiful in Shovel Knight.

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You’ll also need to do both in order to make yourself strong enough to take on the end of level bosses. As was the way back in the early days of videogaming, the guardians of the level are tricky customers and will see you needing plenty of attempts in order to finish them off. More than once the old controller went flying across the room, but if you are patient and able to learn their attack movements, knowing exactly when to hit and when to back off and jump out of the way, then things are fairly simple. One wrong move and it’ll be game over and you’ll be thrown back to the nearest checkpoint.

And these are possibly my favourite feature of the game. Checkpoints are there to primarily do one job; give you the chance to quickly get back into the action after death, without having to run through and grind your way past the same old section time and time again. With Shovel Knight however there is a twist that works amazingly well. For each and every checkpoint can, if you so wish, be destroyed and replaced with loot. Do you dare lose your precious save spot in order to grab some extra bounty? The choice is yours numerous times throughout each level and knowing when to take the loot and when to ignore the greed and think with your brain is the sign of a good Knight. With no difficulty options, Shovel Knight plays out exactly how you wish it to. If you want to make it harder, you can, but for those who want a simple time, then you’ll have to expect to take a wealth hit along the way.

With no ‘lives’ as such, each death that is taken on costs nothing more than a quarter of your gold stash and this combined with the checkpoint situation really means that there is much more to Shovel Knight than just blasting your way through each level. With plenty of ways to spend your gold, you’ll need to ensure that regular trips to vendors and friendly village people is a must.

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So, we fully understand that the retro style is in full abundance in regards the difficulty of Yacht Club Games latest title but the real defining 8-bit style must come in the form of the music that accompanies Shovel on his merry way. It may not have all the power and intrigue of a modern day score, but it immediately whisks me back to a day when gaming was about challenging yourself and not worrying about what others got up to. It does this brilliantly and even now, as I type this I’m sitting with the score playing out over and over again. It is that good! The guys behind the original Mega Man have been drafted in to get the audio up to speed and they’ve done a tremendous job.

However, not everything is perfect and the one major letdown is in the controls.

Not only are the default settings absolutely horrendous, but all too often a huge well timed jump just doesn’t come off, especially when we’re seeing a sequence of quick ‘fire and dodge’ events play out. It’s slightly frustrating and maybe it’s down to my overall skill level, but I would have liked to have seen slightly tighter controls in sending Shove around. Thankfully, the default of pushing up on the pad and hitting x in order to shoot can be remapped and placing the shot on the Y button is an absolute necessity if you have any inkling of spending a decent amount of time with the game. Whoever thought it funny to assign the relics the way the default has been set up really does need to take a long hard look at themselves. It’s. Just. Not. Funny.

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But other than that, Shovel Knight is glorious. The older gamers amongst us will be spirited back on a journey that they probably thought they’d never get the chance to take in again, but even those younger Xbox One souls will be more than happy with the addictive nature that comes their way whenever Shovel Knight is fired up and that compelling soundtrack takes hold.

Beware, this could just be your next addiction. The Battletoads demand it.

Neil Watton
Neil Wattonhttps://www.thexboxhub.com/
An Xbox gamer since 2002, I bought the big black box just to play Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee. I have since loved every second of the 360's life and am now just as obsessed with the Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S - mostly with the brilliant indie scene that has come to the fore. Gamertag is neil363, feel free to add me to your list.

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