Friday, July 4, 2014

Shovel Knight (Wii U) Review

Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Shovel Knight has been released on the PC, Wii U and 3DS.  It is very inspired by old NES platformer games, which has taken root in the looks, sounds and gameplay.  The visuals are a wonderfully animated sprite display, and I very much like it.  The music is also really good, and feels like it was ripped out of old Nintendo classics.

After the initial stage, you will have a world map that will allow you to move to various places, and gives you some freedom in the order to tackle stages.  The look of the map itself is reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3, and I really like the little bit of freedom it gives you.  It's easy to replay stages and get more money or find collectibles or power-ups that you may have missed.  Beating each set of bosses unlocks new areas to continue your quest.  There's also a town that allows you to purchase relics, health and magic upgrades, and one that allows you to get shovel power-ups and new sets of armor.

While the controls are pretty tight, they aren't perfect.  Sometimes it doesn't seem to register my shovel pogo, and walking near ledges can be tricky.  If you stop pressing left or right in the air, though, you will stop moving that direction, which takes a little getting used to, as usually games have a little bit of momentum to directional jumps.  I felt the attack range of the shovel was just a bit too small, as I misjudged it several times, leading to unnecessary damage.  Using the game pad was ok at best, but the classic pro was the best bet.  The normal Wii remote held classic style was a close second, but the small d-pad was a hindrance.

When you hear "old school platforming", you probably think "ridiculous difficulty", and that's an accurate thought.  Overall, the game has a decent difficulty curve, although the game got really mean near the end.  The last few stages have some very unforgiving parts (lots of instant death nonsense), and just before the final boss there's a very clear homage to the Mega Man games.  Too bad the bosses don't have counter weapons to make that section less painful.  Death results in some money loss and being sent back to a checkpoint.  There aren't any lives, so you can keep retrying as long as your patience holds out.  The game is slightly less stressful than the games that inspired it in those regards.  There are ways to make the game harder if you're a masoch-- I mean, itching for a challenge.  Destroying checkpoints gives money, but then they cannot be used as checkpoints.  You can actually beat the game with no relics, and you don't have to pick up any health or magic upgrades.  So while the game has a growing difficulty, you can make it more challenging if you so choose.

There are 11 stages (8 bosses plus 3 others) for the main story of Shovel Knight.  There's also several extra stages and boss fights to extend gameplay.  Depending on how much you die, it can take awhile to make your way through the game.  My first run was about 8 hours, and of course there are people boasting much less.  The game also includes feats, which are basically achievements.  While you can speed run the game (there's a feat for that), you can also go for full completion by tracking down all the relics, completing every extra stage and buying all the armor and shovel upgrades.  Definitely a good amount of content for the money.  Supposedly, there's DLC coming down the line that adds new playable characters.  Sounds like a good way to get some more hours out of the game to me.

Shovel Knight is a good example of a retro game.  It has the right looks and sounds, while still having several modern upgrades.  It's a great mix of old games, like Castlevania and Mega Man, but for a modern audience.  While the difficulty near the end was very off-putting, I still consider it a good game.  If you enjoy old-school platformers or a good challenge, definitely pick up Shovel Knight.

Bonus Tip:  Make sure to leave the game pad charging or at least nearby while you play (since you shouldn't be using it to play the game), since if it runs out of batteries, the game will freeze.

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