Off The Grid: Shovel Knight
Allison Winters loves the Knight.
Despite my views on the nostalgia cash-in Grinsia, I have no problem with games trying to recreate the wonders of yesteryear. Many people want to relive a time in gaming’s youth when things were a tad bit simpler, and trying to recapture that metaphorical magic is a path well-trod by many a game, like the recent Shovel Knight.
Released by Yacht Club Games, Shovel Knight is a platformer borrowing elements from a bevy of classic NES titles: the map system from Mario Bros 3, the themed level design of Megaman, even the hopping mechanic from the DuckTales game. That description makes it sound like a mashup of stolen bits and pieces. However, the game blends them all together to create something with a personality of its own.
What makes Shovel Knight stand above most games inspired by past eras, is that it knows what made its forefathers work. Platformers from that time tended to be simple. They set you up with your character, leaving you to figure out their limits and abilities. Shovel Knight does just that and does it flawlessly. Every level is designed around using your move set to dodge hazards and defeat enemies. Every new element is taught to you in a safe environment, before you put your newfound knowledge to the test to conquer the rest of the level. Its top-notch level design shows that Shovel Knight is more than aesthetic nostalgia.
Many games that go for this reverent art style devolve into self-parody and stale gamer humor, but Shovel Knight derives its humor from its premise alone. It doesn’t make any sly meta jokes or takes jabs at the genre. After all, the fact that you are a knight armed with a shovel is funny enough on its own, very appropriate for a callback to the 8-bit era. We bought into a portly Italian man riding a dinosaur and eating mushrooms for power. You say a knight fights with a shovel to save his shield wielding partner, I can dig it. It’s the game’s charming honesty that makes this believable, allowing its simple story to achieve emotional depth through that same earnest belief in itself.
Shovel Knight manages to create a sense of nostalgia for its players while also standing on its own as a game. It’s a testament to why we loved those old titles and how well designed those games were. It’s proud of what it is, with no shame for its ancestors. Go out and buy it right now.