Funded through Kickstarter and developed by a team of less than ten people, Shovel Knight was one of 2014's unexpected Game of the Year contenders. Indeed, the retro jump-'em-up was met with praise from game journalists and YouTube personalities alike, and now that it's finally made its way to PlayStation, not much has changed – it's still pretty great.
The developer behind it is Yacht Club Games, a group of former WayForward employees who decided to pack up, leave, and start something new. If our interview with the team's David D'Angelo told us anything, it's that what the studio's crafted is a labour of love: a playful salute to the legendary NES titles of days gone by.
Players are tasked with running, jumping, and shovelling their way through stages, fighting bosses and snagging loot as they go. It's a combination of winning formulas ripped straight from the 8-bit handbook. There are a few new ideas, too, but what this game does best is copying and editing. It borrows ideas left and right, from its Super Mario-inspired world map to its Mega Man-esque bosses who occupy thematically matching levels.
What sets this title apart from the current sea of retro indies, then, is that it understands the shortcomings of its predecessors. For every meaty idea borrowed, about a pound of useless fat has been trimmed. Simply put, obnoxious quirks and nuisances – like ridiculous amounts of backtracking or obnoxious leaps of faith – have all been cut to keep the experience free of any drivel.
Furthermore, every aspect of the game has been designed in a way that it can appeal to both old-school veterans and newbies at the same time. For example, multiple checkpoints occupy each stage, but if using one in an 8-bit game makes you want to throw up, then you can just as easily smash it open and grab some extra loot. You'll be thrown back to the beginning of the stage if you die, but the choice is meant for those who want a challenge.
There's no lives system in Shovel Knight; instead, each time you fall in battle you'll lose a substantial amount of your gathered treasure. There's still time to get it back, but if you die trying or just pass on the chance, your plunder is gone for good. This system promises a swift and appropriate consequence for dying, but the punishment is never severe enough to induce a temper tantrum.
You'll still want to hold on to as much currency as possible, though, as it allows you to buy everything from new suits of armour to magic and health upgrades. Of course, if outside help isn't your cup of tea, then you can just as well beat the game without any assistance – but be prepared for the hell that waits ahead. The game isn't Ghosts 'n Goblins hard, but trust us when we say that your reflexes will be put to the test, especially in later levels.
Not much has been added or changed since the title has come to PlayStation, but Sony's hardware has been put to good use. Cross-buy and cross-save are both supported, so you can put down your DualShock 4 and pick up where you left off on the Vita. Other expected features like Light Bar support and a Platinum Trophy are all present and accounted for.
Just as Xbox owners are getting the chance to square up with the Battletoads, there's a boss fight with God of War's Kratos in Sony's versions. Honestly, the Ghost of Sparta doesn't add much: there's a short and simple puzzle to unlock his fight, and from there the actual brawl takes about fifteen minutes. You can snag some nifty armour if you beat him, though.
Either way, there's no shortage of content to be played. All things considered, you could easily clock in at about 12-15 hours if you went through the entirety of the game, visited shops, and then tried out the New Game Plus mode, which throws you back into a more challenging setting, but with all of the acquisitions from your initial playthrough.
As far as presentation goes, Shovel Knight stays true to its 8-bit look, but does so with a level of creativity that '80s gaming never saw. The backgrounds vary from dark and lamenting graveyards to bright, colourful pastures. Using old-style visuals hasn't held the developer back; if anything, the sheer simplicity of that approach has given it an advantage.
There's a phenomenal chiptune soundtrack to jam out to as you bust baddies and break through blocks, too. It's been composed mostly by a guy named Jake Kaufman, who is amazing in his own right, but we think that you'll be especially intrigued knowing that Manami Matsumae, who is responsible for the music in first Mega Man, has thrown in some tracks as well.
It's unfortunate that this new version of Shovel Knight doesn't add much, but that doesn't stop it from being one of the best games on Sony's hardware. If you haven't already, now's the perfect time to jump into Yacht Club Games' 8-bit masterpiece.
Eh, when ypu see 9 for indie, you should think 7.
@Gemuarto You're entitled to think that, just like I'm allowed to think you're an idiot for even writing that!
@Gemuarto Nope. A great game is a great game.
Nice review. I've waiting for this game to come to ps4.
This game is fantastic. So many indies try to recreate the magic of the 8/16 bit classics, but few succeed. Shovel Knight not only succeeds, it sets the bar.
Great review btw...
@get2sammyb Sorry, but 9 for indie from pushsquare means nothing to me. Because most of the time if indie is playable it gets 9 here. Also, thanks for that insult, very nice of you. Makes you look really smart.
Good games are good games. If I was reviewing Mario 3 today I'd give it a 10. This is just as good as say, Bloodborne, but in its own way.
Blazing saddles is a masterpiece. So is The Shawshank Redemption. Just because they're different genres and different budgets doesn't make them any less great. Same with games.
@get2sammyb whilst I think Gemuarto is wrong there is no need to call him an idiot. I'm sure you would have a dig at someone else for doing this
I'm with xVAKAR1ANx on this one. I think name calling should have no place here. If you don't agree with him, you can always ban him, but this doesn't look good for your site, Sammy.
Anyway, I somewhat agree with Gemuatro. I feel like pushsquare's scores for indie games have been a bit high, so when I see a score for an indie game I deduct some points, because my score is usually about 2 lower than yours.
Also, I don't care for these retro graphics. They don't have to be mind-blowing or anything. Mutant blobs or Guacamelee are fine for me. Anything else, I avoid since there are other equally good games I could be playing with acceptable graphics.
Even in the 8-bit era I wasn't very fond of 8-bit graphics.
For what it's worth, most other reviewers seem to agree with us on this one. Polygon, Nintendo Life and IGN all gave it a 9 as well. The only review I've found so far with a score of less than 8 was GameSpot's, which was a 7. But from the looks of things, a lot of the readers really got on the author for that.
Not trying to defend myself or the review, just pointing out that most people seem to agree that this is a game worthy of the score we gave. Everyone has opinions, though! That's what makes this worthwhile.
@xVAKAR1ANx I agree. Nice review, but insulting isn't necessary.
I don't see anything wrong with the review. It's excellent just like your previous ones. I like the content, but I disagree with the score. That doesn't make the review bad at all. Its purpose is to help someone decide if they want to buy a certain game.
For example, The Unfinished Swan got a perfect 10 and I bought it instantly. It sounded like a gem. Turns out I didn't really like it, but I still thought that the review was great. It just wasn't my cup of tea. Same thing happened with other reviews/games as well. Just because I disagree with the scores, doesn't mean I think I'm right and you're not. I just know what I like, which is not always what reviewers do, especially when it comes to indie games.
@naruball well said
@get2sammyb @gemuarto I think sammy wasn't intentially meant to offend you, the comment was hinted towards a bit of banter.
However if sammy had meant to intentionally meant to cause offence then indeed that's not on, we are all a part of the same clan, lets keep the childish trolling for the other sites besides got rom the spider boss down today, woot woot
@Gemuarto You say that, but this site gives almost all indie games 6's. So that's telling you something.
Now, now guys - I was obviously being a bit flippant. Let's focus on the review, and not my unitentional de-railing, please!
Bank holiday Sunday = late night ps4 and beers, beers, beers.
This really is a great game! Love it on Wii U. Was considering double dipping but probably not worth it.
Pure Xbox gave it a 9/10 as well. That's how you KNOW it's good.
For some reason I just could not get into Shovel Knight. Which is strange becasue its just the sort of thing I normally like, and its reviewed universally well as far as I know. Yet after a couple of sessions I just never went back.
@get2sammyb Right on man! I'm totally in the indie corner too, but no matter what type of gamer you are, Shovel Knight is tons and tons of fun.
But mostly, I wanted to comment to say that I kinda feel sorry for people like Genuarto. Anti-indie (and anti-retro!) consumers are absolutely missing out on some of Playstation's most unique, intriguing and downright awesome experiences. Seriously, there's more to gaming than 60fps and millions of polygons.
For me – based on sheer fun-factor alone – Shovel Knight is right up there with Bloodborne and Destiny, etc and merits it's 9/10 rating all day long.
I have a real problem with retro 8-bit-graphics. I realize that it lets developers focus more on fun, gameplay and balance ignoring the flair, but if office space taught us anything, you just have to have flair. Seriously though, the eye-candy does enhance the experience and I don't find any retro appeal in the 8 bit graphics. I have held off playing this and several other titles because of the 8-bit graphics, and I don't feel shame in that. Noteable exceptions are velocity 2x and Fez.
Let's put it this way. Some people like going back and watching old black and white or even silent movies and I won't take that away from them, but the majority of people would judge them against modern standards and move on.
I feel like ratings should take into account the crappy graphics to a degree. I mean, it shouldn't be the only factor (don't throw the baby out with the bathwater) but the developer saying they did it on purpose doesn't make it good.
@AcesHigh73 I am not anti-indie, I just want reviewers be as strict with indies as they are with big games. I beat platinum out of Bastion recently and while I liked it, I think it's at most 7 out of 10 game. Transistor is 8 out of 10. They got some flaws, you know. And according to pushsquare they are totally excellent. Ii think it's not good for indies when people give them too much credit. I really don't know what to think if indie gets 9. Maybe it's good, maybe it's total bs... who knows.
Will be getting on this after Axiom Verge
@Gemuarto agreed - the standards should be consistent across all types of games, since the term "indie" is completely artificial and meaningless anyhow.
@Mega-Gazz me thinks if you are concerned about meaningless things you should be a little less bothered by the numbers at the end of reviews.
I don't care if it's 8-16 bit graphics, frankly I find such games gorgeous and rate them much higher than some generic soulless snooze fest powered by Unreal.
@Mega-Gazz Some people just honestly like the 8-bit look.
I quite enjoyed rogue legacy, I'm not sure I'll be bothering to try another 8 bit type game for a while so I'll perhaps keep it on the radar, the problem is that I don't really want to spend 10 quid on a game I'll be done with after a few 1-2 hour play throughs
@ryanorly @get2sammyb People saying that Indies need to get deducted points for not having "teh ebic grafix" and that we need more objective scores... Are you thinking before typing?
Scores are subjective, they are the opinion of one person, don't get bent out of shape if you disagree. I personally don't like heralded games like Jak, Sly Cooper and Kirby, but I'm not ignorant enough to think that everyone should agree with my mindset.
Sammy obviously jokingly called that guy an idiot, but text sometimes gets lost in translation and I'm sure this serves as a lesson to the staff to not pull something like this again. This site is great, let's keep it that way.
Onto the review itself, I like Push Square and their reviewing style, but I'm feeling like these are lacking substance and prose, don't churn out fast reviews for the sake of content, not saying that the review is poor, just saying that it seems to safe in its structure and wording. I'm willing to help out with some reviews of older games if you guys want.
@ryanorly And that is fine, in my first comment I mentioned that I have no intention of trying to take that away from them. I don't think they are the majority, and everything in the end is case-by-case.
@kyleforrester87 No doubt a single number is not sufficient to sum up a something so complex. That is another long discussion, and one that I'd love the industry to have so that metacritic stops pushing executives to homogenize the industry... However, we are talking about those numbers and how they are applied across the indie/AAA barrier which makes them not meaningless in this context.
Speaking of the Indie/AAA barrier.... the absurdity of said barrier is further highlighted by the fact that there is nothing really in between (Except maybe Knack?)
To further clarify my point in regards to substance, I feel like the reviews should go more in depth about the pros and cons.
For example: I feel like this review is just giving us an overview of info regarding the game, things most of us already know since the game's premise is simple and it's been out for a while, I want to read more of you in the review if that makes sense. A bit more subjective writing I guess. Not trying to make you feel bad, you shouldn't, the review is good, but I think it could be better and like I said before, I like Push Square and want it to grow, for that to happen articles and reviews need to be a bit more meaty, imho.
will wait till is free on PS+
This is one of my most trusted sites for game reviews, I love the fact you enjoy a great indie game, and if you say it's great and it's a 9/10, then I think it most likely is. I have quite a few games to play at the moment, but will definitely pick this up for my Vita when it goes on sale.
I have been addicted to this game for months now. soooo good!
I've been waiting for this review to come into play! Thanks for the review, and now...onto the playstation store to purchase!!!!
If I wasn't poor at them moment this would be in my library. Maybe next week.
Looks great on the vita's screen - best way to play!!
Shovel knight is a great game, beat it twice on the wiiu. Don't let the 8-bit fool you its a great title to add to the library!
Crossing my fingers this will come to PS+ at some point
Zubaz (Or rather, Baz Knight) in the same game as Kratos?? Two Best Friends officially have a character that is in the deep lore of Kratos.
Such a great game I'm going for the platinum! On my NG+ runthrough at the moment!
Complete the game without dying will be a major headache!!!
Nice, i might get this after finishing Bloodborne.
@DM666 Yup although i might get this on PS4 but 8-bit graphics look phenomenal on Vita.
I got it on the WIIU - and I simply cant recommend it enough, really glad all the other plattforms and therefore many many more players can actually enjoy this brilliant 2D masterpiece.
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