Shovel Knight: misusing gardening tools at E3

I’m not sure this is a game at all you know. Oh make no mistake there is gameplay here; gameplay that is very reminiscent of an earlier time. Shovel Knight doesn’t just play like a throwback from the aforementioned historical period, it looks and sounds like one too. This is what makes me dubious about this game’s status as a game, because, first and foremost, Shovel Knight is a love letter to 8 bit gaming.


The most obvious parallel that can be drawn is Megaman. The game is structured around the elimination of various bosses in levels that test your skills in combat and platforming equally. The influence from Capcom’s seminal series is obvious from looking at any screenshot, but there also seems to be a heavy influence coming from Konami’s Castlevannia. Just like the combat and general structure of the combat was designed around the famous whip, Vampire Killer, so too does the titular shovel of Shovel Knight. You can dig through dirt blocks (in a style similar to Guts Man’s super arm in Megaman), uncover hidden treasure (in a way similar to pulling weeds in Super Mario Bros 2) and even bounce on it like a pogo stick (Duck Tales anyone?).

Yes the game is heavily derivative of other titles, but don’t take this as a bad thing. The game is clearly well away of its status as an interactive pastiche and sells itself well on its old school design philosophy. The game is a melting pot of games long forgotten and the combination of all these elements creates something new, quirky and fascinating.  The most impressive step Yacht Club have taken in emulating the 8 bit era is the way in which they have decided to limit their colour pallet to a similar one that the NES could handle. Shovel Knight uses 66 colours only just trumping the 64 colours used on Nintendo’s classic console.


It’s not all old here though, there are definitely some modern elements thrown in that spice up the retro gameplay. In the WiiU edition of the game, Miiverse posts will be used in a similar style to the warning notes seen in From Software’s Souls games. Information will pop up in game giving the player an idea of what might be coming next so they might better prepare themselves. In the 3DS version of the game the developers have implemented a street pass element that turns the usually single player game into something a bit more competitive. You record a 5 second moment of gameplay in an empty stage: Swipe at thin air, run over platforms and bounce around, then this moment of play is sent into other people’s 3DS’s and both your knights will do battle against each other, following only your previous inputs.

Shovel Knight looks like a blast and will be releasing on Wii U and 3DS eshop on June 26 of this year.