When I picked up Shovel Knight, I'd already been told it was many things. People promised Mega Man, Zelda, Ducktales, and even a bit of Metroid thrown into the mix. 

The Gameplay

Initially I thought the game would be a bit of a joke with some goofy knight and a shovel as the punch line and I was absolutely wrong. The titular Shovel Knight bounces off of enemies, slams them in the face with his shovel, and later on can charge attack and fire what I like to call a 'shovel beam' at full health. Yes it's that kind of game. I found myself tearing through levels as fast as I could, using chain bounces to explore and smash hidden walls and just overall taking in the joy that is Shovel Knight. Despite the controls being a throwback to the NES (the default settings are two buttons, and the dpad with combinations and context providing everything else) everything is still finely tuned and responds instantly.

Even when leaping off an enemy's head using a downward thrust of your shovel to catch an out-of-reach ladder you're having fun. On top of that you have enough options in fights that just going in with your shovel alone can be a total blast. Relics round out your options with some odder choices such as the Phase Locket - temporary invincibility is a boon when instant death spikes abound - and the Flare Wand - who needs a shovel when you have FIREBALLS. There are some issues with the relics however. For example the Amulet Coin is absolutely not explained well at all and the Chaos Sphere - a bouncing ball, woo! - is a poor choice in any situation you can think to use it.

There's a world map with bonus areas you can collect more gems (to increase your gold total) or towns where you can spend hard earned gold on upgrades to health, magic, and later on shovel and armor.

And then you have this guy:

He serves as a source of magical ichor -- honestly just another name for potions -- as long as you've bought a MYSTICAL TROUPPLE CHALICE or two. Yes, he's a trout-apple tree fusion and he likes dancing. Yes, he's utterly bizarre and just a small taste of how weird the game gets. Honestly, I adore it. It's goofy enough to feel like a classic NES game without any of the problems that plague the real ones.

Oh, and it's difficult. The game can be extremely skill-based and it does not mess around if you make a mistake. Health itself isn't a problem but as a callback to older games there are bottomless pits and spikes abound. Still, while the level design can be brutal, that's where the challenge is. The bosses can be hard but each level is designed to train you for the boss, preparing you for your inevitable victory in a thoroughly satisfying way. Still, it can be frustrating, especially for those not good at platformers. In fact, this is the first time I've ever broken my own code to beat a game before I review it. I reached the last few levels and found out that maybe, just maybe I wasn't good enough. For a guy like me that challenge alone is reason enough to buy this game, but for others it might put them off.

The Visuals

It's been a bit of a fad recently in indie games to use visuals reminiscent of older games from the NES and SNES eras, and this game honestly falls prey to that. It does not, however, follow the same path as others do with its visuals. True, it ignores the graphical hardware limitations of the NES but it only does so when they would get in the way of the game. The developers have actually mentioned that rather than just flat-out working toward visuals they established their own sort of NES+ set of hardware limitations: not as powerful as the SNES but not as weak as the NES itself.

The Audio

The soundtrack itself was created by Manami Matsumae (if you have no idea who she is you might want to play Mega Man or Mega Man 10) and Virt who had an utterly wonderful idea. He made the entire soundtrack in NSF - explicitly the sound format an NES uses - allowing it to play on an NES if you know how. This is an incredible level of authenticity that goes far and beyond what most retro-styled indie games tend to do. Yet somehow, some way, he managed to put together a soundtrack that fills you with constant hype and pushes you forward faster and faster. Absolutely every song in the soundtrack is good. If you want to listen to the soundtrack out of game, you can get it here. Beyond that it's hard to say much about the sound effects, they're authentic yet they're still very recognizable.

The Story

Okay, it's silly and I won't deny it. Still, I can't help love it anyway. The quirky humor, the self-parody, even the melodrama is a joy to play through. Jokes abound and the game seems to take itself as seriously as you can expect from a love letter to the NES and yet even beyond that you start to sympathize with the characters, even the enemies. The mystery at the center of the game compels you to push forward, shovel in hand, while pitying your foes maybe a tiny bit. You're the Shovel Knight after all, and nothing's going to get in your way.

Overall

Play this if you want an old school game with fantastic music that can kick you around brutally but fairly.

Oh yeah and this is probably all over the internet by now but... Enter this as your name for a fun surprise: WSWWAEAW

Don't use this for your main save game, it disables feats (achievements.)