For Shovelry!

Gabriel Silvas, Columnist

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Once upon a time, there was a legendary duo of noble knights that traveled all over the land during their many adventures. These were the stout Shovel Knight and the unbreakable Shield Knight. Together, they found glory and riches with their unshakable bond. One fateful day, when traversing the mysterious Tower of Fate, a cursed amulet attacked, knocking Shovel Knight out. When he awoke, Shield Knight had disappeared and the Tower was sealed. Retiring in despair, Shovel Knight lived a solitary life, but in his absence, the land was besieged by the mysterious Enchantress and her eight knights of the Order of No Quarter. With the land in need of a hero and the Tower of Fate open once more, Shovel Knight takes up his trusty tool once more in order to defeat the Order, stop the Enchantress, and bring about peace once more.

Enjoying a very successful Kickstarter campaign and released on most modern consoles, Shovel Knight was launched in late June of 2014 by Yacht Club Games. A throwback to the old 8-bit days of gaming (with an increased color palette), the player takes control of Shovel Knight as he traverses the land, collecting treasure and battling the knights of the Order of No Quarter. Each stage plays like a Megaman level in which Shovel Knight has to make his way past each unique area, dodging traps and pitfalls in order to reach the boss at the end. Enemies and secrets drop gems of various worth, which can be used to buy upgrades in the two town hubs. On top of that, there are various treasures that can be found, each with its own abilities to better aid the player in either combatting enemies or traveling through the stage.

Shovel Knight, despite his size, has just as big and chivalrous a heart as most honorable knights, doing what he can to aid the people of the land and never relenting in his quest to stop the Enchantress and her forces. Back when they were traveling the land, Shield Knight was Shovel Knight’s most trusted partner and equal, able to block even the most fiercest of attacks with her mighty shield. In town, Shovel Knight can interact with a number of NPCs, such as the jovial Bard (an obvious representation of composer Jake Kaufman), the intrepid treasure hunter Chester, the ever-bored Mona, and the Troupple King, an interesting creature that is a mix of a trout and an apple. Within the wilds, several wanderers will do battle with Shovel Knight to either test their skills, mistaken him as one of the Order, or otherwise, such as the plucky Reize Seatlan, the enigmatic Mr. Hat, the mountain of muscle that is The Baz, and the wandering Phantom Striker.

Threatening the land is the Enchantress, a powerful magic user that has taken up residence within the Tower of Fate. Her end goal is nothing short of complete conquest, but her being is shrouded in mystery. Serving her is the Order of No Quarter, a series of eight knights that serve the Enchantress for their own reasons. The pompous and bombastic King Knight has taken over Pridemoor Keep, yet he is not even a king; Specter Knight is as sinister as his appearance and name implies, ruling over the Lich Yard as the closest thing to the Grim Reaper; Plague Knight is quite the mad scientist as he specializes in chemical warfare deep within the Explodatorium; Treasure Knight invokes the aesthetic of Bioshock‘s Big Daddies as a hulking brute in diving armor, though he is only in search of more treasure to horde; Mole Knight digs further into the Lost City with his fiery-sharp claws, eager to prove that he is the best digger in the land; Tinker Knight is even smaller than Shovel Knight, but this gadgeteer genius has many tricks up his sleeve within the Clockwork Tower; Polar Knight used to be friends with Shovel Knight long ago, but even when he fights against his old comrade in the Stranded Ship, he still offers a hand to his former ally to join him; and Propeller Knight is the last of the Order, commandeering the Flying Machine with unmatched grace and flamboyancy. Separate from the order is Black Knight, a rival to Shovel Knight that wields a spade instead of a shovel and seems to harbor a grudge of sorts to our hero.

The gameplay harkens back to the age of 2D platforming adventures, taking cues from classics like MegamanCastlevania, and Ducktales among others. The player controls Shovel Knight as they progress through the stage, attacking enemies with standard swings or downward strikes, collecting gems to use for upgrades, and finding secret treasures to use in this adventure. Unlike NES-era games of this sort, checkpoints are spread out in each stage, allowing players a chance to regain lost gems they drop upon dying. Lives are unlimited, but every time their health is depleted, a good chunk of gems is lost in flying bags that must be retrieved before another life is lost, or else those gems will be lost forever. Spending these gems in the couple of towns allows Shovel Knight to gain more magic, buy items from Chester, or gain different armors and attacks from the blacksmith. All of this comes together into a fun and challenging game that takes the best elements of classic games and updates them to modern standards.

Currently, a few of the promised stretch goals from the Kickstarter campaign have been implemented, the biggest of them being the first big expansion Plague of Shadows, which makes Plague Knight the central and playable character and brings bigger focus on some of the side cast, especially Mona. The next expansion, Spectre of Torment, is expected for a Spring 2017 release and will focus on Specter Knight. Of the other features yet to be implemented, there’s Gender Swap Mode, 4-Player Battle Mode, and the third expansion that will focus on King Knight. It seems like it will be some time before all of the features will be added in, but there is no denying the quality of everything released so far.

Shovel Knight is a love letter to the 8-Bit era of gaming and it shows. Every aspect is lovingly crafted and polished to bring out the best of the game and make it stunningly entertaining for all ages. Considering that it is available on all current-gen consoles and PC, there is no excuse to not get this charming gem of a title.

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