Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Shovel Knight (PS4, Xbox One) Review

Shovel Knight enjoyed a brief exclusivity on the Wii U and 3DS, but it has now made its way to Nintendo's competition, Sony and Microsoft.  While the game will only appear on the Xbox One on the Microsoft side, Sony users get the game on PS3, PS4 and the Vita.  Assuming you have heard of the Vita, it is a good little handheld.

If you want a more in-depth look at the game, check out my Wii U review here, as this will be more an overall impression and then in-depth about the additions and differences.  In a nutshell, Shovel Knight is a retro-inspired platformer where the player must guide the titular character and defeat the Order of No Quarter and their leader, the Enchantress.  The art style and music are top-notch retro goodness.  The controls... can be a little loose.  While I'm sure many others will disagree with that, it feels like my attack is just enough past my button press to throw me off.  The movement of the knight also feels a little slippery at times.  That throws the platforming off, which can be very frustrating when you need to be so precise.  It's not insurmountable, but it just feels a little loose compared to the games Shovel Knight is inspired by.

So what is the differences between the three?  First off, getting to the inventory is better on the PS4 and Xbox One.  While selecting the sub-weapons with the touch screen is nice, in practice it is more cumbersome.  Plus, the Wii U Gamepad is not the most comfortable thing to hold, especially for long periods of time.  Among them all, I felt the Xbox One version controlled the best.  Surprisingly, the D-Pad felt more precise than the others.  The sticks work okay on all the systems, but playing Shovel Knight is just better with the Control Pad instead of the analog sticks.  When using the sticks, I had problems numerous times with it registering the "down" press for the pogo.

As for the new and exclusive content, Sony platforms get a bonus fight with the God of War himself, Kratos.  The fight starts off pretty simple, but after depleting Kratos' health, it will refill and he gains new moves.  After depleting that health, it enters the infuriating phase of the fight.  Seriously, I do not like the third part.  You and Kratos must fight while jumping around on falling column pieces.  Falling off the bottom of the screen does a lot of damage, but thankfully won't kill you outright.  You jump a lot higher than normal, which makes it possible to move up and not fall off the bottom.

Trouble is, platforms come from the top, which makes it too easy to bump into one that wasn't there when you started the jump, and then screws it up so you fall off the screen.  Hitting Kratos in this phase wasn't the hard part, nor was dodging his attacks.  All of the difficulty was contending with the random platforms and trying to not fall off the screen.  At least there is a checkpoint after the first two phases.  If there wasn't, I probably would have just left it alone and given Kratos his trollish victory.  After the fight, you get an item that gives you a new set of armor that looks really cool.  Plus, it gives you a nice flaming combo and a shovel drop attack from the air.  A nice reward!

Over on the Xbox One side, players will have a whole new stage that is an extended boss fight with the Battletoads.  The first part is taken right out of stage 2 of the original Battletoads, and has you fight Zitz (I think) while hanging on a rope going down a long shaft.  Movement of course feels a little loose, which makes it harder than it has to be.  Halfway through the fight, Zitz takes off and you have to dodge hazards and enemies until he shows back up.  Dying at any part of this fight sadly has you re-do the whole thing.  Oh, and you can't use items, so no ichor cushion.  Yuck.

Once/if you make it past that, then the real fun (not really) begins.  You must fight Pimple while riding on a speeder bike in a re-creation of the infamous Turbo Tunnels level.  It is much easier than the one in the original game, simply because it is possible to beat it (the original Turbo Tunnels is the only gaming feat I actually consider impossible to do legit).  This section thankfully has several checkpoints, which helps keep your controller intact.  The final phase of the fight, which unlike the Kratos fight, is the easiest.  It is just a showdown between you and Rash... and whatever else he throws at you.  The whole stage can be downright infuriating, but at completion you get a sweet set of Toad Armor.  It gives you a combo attack and a nice dash attack, all in a lovely green color (of course).

This next bit is more of a personal peeve than a problem, but I really dislike the achievements for the Xbox One version.  I'm not a achievement/trophy hunter, but I really hate zero point achievements.  I can understand some of them, like running away 50 times in Blue Dragon, or losing 10 games in a row on Dead or Alive 4, since you aren't actually achieving something.  On the whole, I think they are just stupid, though.  Unfortunately, several actual achievements are worth zero points on the Xbox One version.  The only upside is they unlock some nice artwork that you can use as a background, but I'd rather see another way to unlock them (maybe tied to the in-game feats?), or just give points and the artwork, if that is possible.  Not necessarily a deal-breaker, but I don't like spreads of achievements being nothing or next to nothing for things, but the hardest ones worth a ton of points.  Again, this won't be a problem for everyone, and I guess it is a step up from having points not ending in 5 or 0, but I don't like it (read that last part in the horse's voice from Ren and Stimpy).

Overall, Shovel Knight is a good game, but the slightly loose controls give a lot of frustration.  While the PS4 and Xbox One versions are similar, I have to give the advantage to the Xbox One version.  The Battletoads fit better with the retro look and feel of the game, and they get a whole stage as opposed to just a fight.  Granted, both are way more annoying that they really should be.  While the Kratos fight isn't as cool, I think the armor gained is slightly better than the Toad Armor.  If you have only one of the systems, then obviously go with that version.  For people that purchased the Wii U version, there isn't really enough extra to grant a second purchase, unless you really want one of those bonus fights, or want to support Yacht Club Games.

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