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Wii U Review: ‘Shovel Knight’

Shovel Knight is a darling neo 8-bit satire with genuine retro affections. Pixel painted on a tapestry of limited color depth, Yacht Club Games dazzles with their development treat which exists above the idea of vintage replication – this has brought themes and rhythms jettisoned from modern design into a different cultural situation. With a call of, “It's shovelin' time,” a blue armor clad Knight sets forth with his mere yard utensil. Streaking through fantastical lands of capable nonsense, the daring and benevolent Shovel Knight proceeds with a slaughter of propeller riding mice, undersea jesters, and other contortions of nature.…

Review Overview

Reviewer's Rating

Summary : From everything Shovel Knight does properly, it's peculiar difficulty polishing is the most commendable.

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shovelknight

Shovel Knight is a darling neo 8-bit satire with genuine retro affections. Pixel painted on a tapestry of limited color depth, Yacht Club Games dazzles with their development treat which exists above the idea of vintage replication – this has brought themes and rhythms jettisoned from modern design into a different cultural situation.

With a call of, “It’s shovelin’ time,” a blue armor clad Knight sets forth with his mere yard utensil. Streaking through fantastical lands of capable nonsense, the daring and benevolent Shovel Knight proceeds with a slaughter of propeller riding mice, undersea jesters, and other contortions of nature. The enemy slate is spellbinding in its appreciable weirdness, delivered without fear of the illogical.

Purpose is irrelevant, although a wicked Enchantress and an Order of No Quarter are responsible enough narrative pillars to build upon. Shovel dictates a pacing in conjunction with a blistering chiptune score, adhering tightly to the ways of Nintendo’s seminal nostalgic hardware. Each movement is loaded with both fluidity and determined purpose, beyond the images which spawn hokey bravery behind the blade of a shovel.

Yacht Club’s work is defined by lessened exactness, outside of trends which demand such perfectionism. Shovel Knight is afforded leeway for error unlike the popularized digital masochism which tends to infect other redrawn throwbacks. Rivals are placed with a smile inducing cleverness, enough to arouse tensions if not supply controller slinging irritation. Snippets from a multitude of period correct standards are rented for their effectiveness, creating background sentimentality for classics we’ve snootily tossed aside. From everything Shovel Knight does properly, it’s peculiar difficulty polishing is the most commendable. It’s as if ages of play testing are issuing results as progression occurs.

Overhead mapping allows for a contained sense of freedom, with a wider reveal occurring when in-game demands are met. When completed, slick pattern based boss scuffles will push a low-hanging cloud of its masking duties, opening Shovel Knight to commerce happy towns and specialized, hilariously brutal runs for gold currency.

Casting doubt on Shovel Knight’s frame, that of something characteristically frozen in outmoded concepts, is an unfortunate discrediting based on surface level mechanics such as head bouncing downward shovel thrusts or platforming mastery. What Shovel Knight is doing is an enhancement of those, molded by the decades of study and sophistication. Further cleverness is bred through animation as the Knight scrounges haplessly through treasure chests. Ingenuity is applied to breed gibberish worship to a fish king and his synchronized dancing minions. Intelligence is utilized when applying it all to such effect.

This is a videogame, but it’s also a performance of cherished, kooky art outside of the more comfortable wrappings of emotional storytelling. Shovel Knight’s creation of controller gripping jitters is the nature of its exhibition. Level design – and thus the reactions to it – is as much a talent, skill, and art as developing empathy through digital scripting.

Yes, Yacht Club’s endeavor is an oddity and devoid of substance. It half exists in an era which is the industry equivalent of silent film, while another half rises to ingest qualities expected of refined, contemporary software. Those smartly strewn checkpoints and carefully spread pockets of life-giving wall turkeys are crutches ignored by traditional arcade based distractions.

Distractions are usually temporary though, or a manipulative tool. Most of what Shovel Knight is using to piece together its worlds of inexplicable lava flows or unnaturally slippery ice were passing, substitute entrainment. This gem of astute 2D finesse is six hours of earnest design savvy and anything other than a distraction.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.