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Let’s Dig In! Shovel Knight Review (PS3 Port)
It is truly pleasant to see old-school sidescrolling pixel adventures still having a place in the modern game industry. For those who have not heard, Shovel Knight is an indie platformer game in the vein of old NES classics such as Castlevania, Mega Man and Ducktales. It was originally released on Windows, 3DS and Wii U last year, and many critics went as far as calling it one of the best games of 2014. Now with PS4, PS3, Vita and Xbox One ports of the game out, does it live up to that praise? Short answer, yes, although Shovel Knight does have some minor annoyances that might turn off people who did not grow up with the types of games it celebrates.
The gameplay is very simple. You take control of a knight who collects treasure, avoids obstacles and defeats a boss at the end of each level. Enemies can be defeated by hitting them with the shovel, jumping on them pogo-style (also with the shovel), or by using magic. Collecting treasure is highly encouraged, as the player can use gold in towns to buy health and MP upgrades, fire magic, gadgets, and new armor, all of which will not only keep the gameplay fresh by bringing variety to combat and navigation, but also help immensely to get past the tougher levels. Shovel Knight’s relentless difficulty keeps you constantly on your toes, and the boss battles especially are quite intense. Fast reflexes and projectile-dodging skills are mandatory.
Despite the game’s difficulty, it doesn’t go too far to punish the player so as to make them rage-quit. Each level has plenty of checkpoints, and the knight has infinite lives, so the fear of failure is not nearly as bad as in games like Castlevania where dying one too many times sends you all the way to the beginning of the level. All that happens upon dying is losing some of your collected gold. The lost gold becomes a group of three flying money bags that you can ‘recover’ at the spot where you died. However, this isn’t always possible, as the ‘recoverable’ gold may often appear near spikes or at the bottom of a pit, making it impossible for you to get it without dying again.
However, this is just a minor annoyance compared to some truly hellish sections in the later levels. For the most part, Shovel Knight’s level design is excellent, offering a fun and fair challenge to the player. However, there are some hazards that just feel like a cheap way to increase the difficulty. These include darkness, platforms that your character falls through, respawning enemies, and foreground objects getting in the way. Fortunately these are just individual parts on certain levels, and definitely don’t ruin the experience on the whole. Having infinite lives helps a lot.
What might be disappointing for some people, is that the PS and Xbox One ports of Shovel Knight do not have the Dark Souls -esque message system that the Wii U version had. This would have helped several first-time players to avoid Trial-and-Error deaths, and find some secret passages for extra treasure. Instead, the new ports feature one exclusive boss battle each. In the PS version you get to fight Kratos from God of War, and in the Xbox version you can fight the Battletoads.
Since Shovel Knight is an indie game, it is understandably quite short. Personally it took me eight hours to get most of the upgrades, clear all bonus stages and beat the last boss. The game has a New Game + that allows you to start over with all your equipment and upgrades. All the enemies are tougher too, obviously. Since the gameplay is so much fun, I would definitely say Shovel Knight has some replay value.
Overall, I definitely recommend this gem to all friends of old-school games and platformers. Its charming creativity, catchy soundtrack, great level design, and varied boss battles are sure to leave you craving for more. I for one am looking forward to Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows.