Review: Shovel Knight (PS4/PS3/PSV)

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Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation 3
  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
  • Cross-Buy Yes
  • Cross-Save Yes
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Shovel Knight
Format: PlayStation Network Download (PS4 147 MB) (PS3 145 MB) (PSV 136 MB)
Release Date: April 21, 2015
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: E
Shovel Knight is also available on Xbox One, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PC, Mac, and Linux.
The PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Vita download versions were used for this review.
A copy of this game was purchased by the reviewer.
PS Nation Review Policy

Golden Minecart Award Winner 2015
– Best Action/Adventure (PSV)
– Best Puzzle or Platformer (PSV)
– Best Cross-Buy (PSV)
– Game of the Year (PSV)

Love it or hate it, this generation is one that is populated largely by the indie title. While we, no doubt, have had our share of some amazing triple-A games, the “in-between” is filled with a myriad of games that are developed by a small team, or in some cases, one person.

Of equal note is the fact that most of these titles harken back to a younger age of gaming. Small developers with limited resources (and/or funding) tend to create games within their capabilities, embracing the limitations of a small team or limited overhead. They develop something that might not be visually up to par with the triple-A titles lining our GameStop walls, but offers just as much of an entertaining experience (if not more) than Activision’s last giant offering.

Regardless, the trend has been to develop games that remind one of the NES and Sega Genesis era. An age when every other game was a platformer or side scrolling shooter. When pixelated art was the norm, and chip tunes weren’t “retro.”

Despite these gallant efforts, nailing that true nostalgic experience with today’s hardware is not as easy as one would imagine. As a fan of indie games, I have played games that look and sound retro, but are missing a certain “something” that truly makes me feel like I’m playing a twenty year-old game.

Shovel Knight_20150425130829

So it was a bit of a delight to experience two amazingly genuine titles within a month’s time (and both within Sony’s Spring Fever 2015 deal). First we saw Axiom Verge (a Metroidvania epic little game, that is an early candidate for my GOTY 2015). Now we end the Spring Fever with Shovel Knight.

Shovel Knight doesn’t just look and sound like a game that was developed in 1987. Shovel Knight feels like someone might have forgotten to release the game thirty years ago and simply decided to release it as an indie title today (hoping that we wouldn’t notice). It’s that spot-on perfect.

… venture through the countryside vanquishing monsters …
Gameplay:
If you played Zelda 2 and Ghost & Goblins during the NES era, you will understand Shovel Knight almost immediately. In fact, I would say that certain dormant gaming muscles came to life after about an hour of playing Shovel Knight and I was suddenly down-thrusting enemies à la Link in Zelda 2 with ease.

But I don’t want to convey that Shovel Knight is an easy game. Much like its predecessors, this game is merciless with its precise platforming and challenging enemies (and bosses). Take heart as it never became so difficult that I wanted to quit.

As the Shovel Knight, you venture through the countryside vanquishing monsters and discovering treasure in order to better prepare you for epic battles with tougher monsters. You will visit towns and upgrade armor, speak to townsfolk, raise your magic level, and gather intelligence about enemies that loom in your future.

Shovel Knight_20150425130635

The game is played left-to-right (Ghost & Goblins) with an overworld map to get you from place to place (Super Mario 3). In addition to towns and enemy-infested stages, Shovel Knight also introduces the old (not quite ready to explore) areas that I personally used to love about Zelda games. That is: you find areas that you must return and visit after acquiring certain items or abilities. There are also stand-alone boss fights, haunted museums to explore, and a giant talking fish that helps makes your adventure a bit more manageable by giving you recovery potions.

Stages are divided by safety points (nodes that you spawn from should you meet your demise). But here is the catch: if you choose to do so, you can destroy these checkpoints and get some nice cash. But should you die before crossing the next checkpoint, you will return to the previous one (the checkpoint before the one you destroyed).

Shovel Knight doesn’t take all of your cash when you die but every time you fall in battle some (not all) bags of gold are left behind (a merciful gesture that would have made Bloodborne a bit nicer). You are able to retrieve these bags of gold if you return to the area where you perished so all is not lost. But if you destroy a checkpoint and die before you can retrieve your lost gold you will lose it permanently. Fortunately, Shovel Knight is not brutal in its difficulty and chances are you will earn that gold back relatively quick.

Those that might have played Shovel Knight on the Wii U will find that the PlayStation 4 controller works just as well, if not better than the Wii U’s tablet.

… like it was plucked from the age of Saturday Morning Cartoons …
Visuals:
Comparing a game like this to what people are expecting from the PlayStation 4 is of course, unfair. I will instead go by what I expect from a retro-inspired title such as this. Shovel Knight’s visual style is so accurately reminiscent of the era it’s emulating that it could easily fool anyone who may not know better.

Everything from the animation to the parallax background are recreated in such an endearing homage to games of old that you can’t help but smile as you play it. Dialogue between characters is conducted via text boxes (with important subjects and names highlighted in a different color).

The cinematics and story progression are conducted via full-screen beautifully pixelated drawings (the kind that used to drop our jaws back in the day). Backdrops are diverse and expressed with added detail and attention to the “limitation” of the art.

Shovel Knight_20150425130702

Audio:
As much as Shovel Knight looks like it was plucked from the age of Saturday Morning Cartoons and CRT Televisions, it also sounds equally genuine. Crunchy chip tunes (not at all unlike those old Konami/Ultra games) greet you upon loading up the title screen, and uncanny similarly authentic sounds accompany the menu selection.

Seriously, I dare you not to think of the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle NES game (or the original Metal Gear for that matter) when you make a menu selection in Shovel Knight.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only.

Conclusion:
I played Shovel Knight when it was released on the Wii U. I considered it one of the most authentic representations of the games I grew up with. While nostalgia wears out on some retro-inspired games leaving you with a shell that’s not always very fun to play, Shovel Knight keeps you interested until the very end. It really feels like a game you loved to play in 1987 that still maintains its fun-factor today.

If you played it on the Wii U, there really isn’t anything new going on here although you do get to fight God of War’s Kratos in the PlayStation version of the game. You also have the options of Cross-Buy and Cross-Save between PS4, PS3, and Vita, which makes taking the game on the go easy since you have to buy both versions separately on Nintendo’s consoles.

Shovel Knight is not to be missed by anyone who enjoys a great challenging game and isn’t put off by old-school graphics and gameplay.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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