PAX East 2014 Hands-on: Shovel Knight

Friday, April 11th, 2014

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Shovel Knight - Yacht Club Games | oprainfall

Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight is game that many people have been anticipating for a long time. Regular readers will be familiar with it, as we have been covering it since its original Kickstarter days. And while some have been on the hype train since the beginning, I personally had never bought into it. Retro-themed indie platformers are quite common and each one has had its share of ardent supporters. I really saw nothing that made it stand out from the crowd. That all changed when I started to play it.

Shovel Knight | oprainfall

When playing the game, one of the first mechanics I noticed was the downward thrust attack. This immediately put me into DuckTales mode, as I continuously tried to bounce around as Scrooge would on his cane. However, I was told—in fact, all three of oprainfall’s PAX East attendees were at some point while playing—that all you need to do is press down while Shovel Knight is in the air. The attack actually works more like that of Zelda II, where you can only bounce off of enemies and other obstacles.

The Mega Man comparisons go beyond the obvious blue hero. The platforming style itself is eerily similar as well. Besides killing enemies with your shovel, you can destroy blocks and clear passageways to open new areas. There were gaps that required bouncing on floating bubbles to get across. The bosses I encountered were these orange dragons that were easy enough to kill by bouncing on its head; except, of course, the one that was sitting over a pit that I fell into numerous times, once after killing it.

Shovel Knight - Digging | oprainfall

The visuals were amazing. All the artwork, while appearing to be of an 8-bit design, are very detailed and vibrant. The contrast between the green of the grass, the brown of the walls and the blue of Shovel Knight himself was sharp, but not distracting. Everything was crystal clear and blended well together.

The thing that impressed me the most about Shovel Knight is the gameplay itself. While it may look like an 8-bit game, it by no means plays like an 8-bit game. If you were to load up an old NES platformer, movement is often slow and jumping feels like your character is being weighed down. In Shovel Knight, moving actually felt like you were making progress in going somewhere. When I jumped, I was able to reach platforms I thought were unreachable and I was reaching them quickly enough to actually believe the game used real-world physics.

Overall, Shovel Knight was the game that impressed me the most during day one of PAX East 2014. I played the PC version of the game, but there were demos of the 3DS version as well. The game is also going to see a release on the Wii U. There’s still no official release date, but we were promised that it will be out “soon”.

About Eric Chetkauskas

Eric has been playing video games for longer than he can remember. His interests skew toward retro games with an emphasis on Japanese RPGs like Chrono Trigger and the Dragon Quest series.