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Review

Shovel Knight Review

  • Game release: December 31, 2014
  • Reviewed:
  • WIIU
  • 3DS
  • PC
Jeremy Jayne on Google+

Shovelry is not dead.

by

Calling Shovel Knight "old-fashioned" isn't derogatory. Rather, its brazen re-creation of established conventions only proves that some ideas, no matter how dusty they may appear, are engaging no matter what era we're in. There's no expiration date on immediate combat in which smart positioning is as important as deft attacks, or branching stages that hide secret passageways for those anxious to quench their inquisitive flames. Shovel Knight doesn't add anything novel over what we've seen in countless older games; it doesn't reinvent its core concepts into a decidedly new experience. Rather, it shows just how exciting a traditional adventure can still be, making technological innovations seem superfluous when pure fun is all you crave.

Everything in Shovel Knight can be classified as old in one way or another. The story, in which two fearsome knights are separated by a malevolent force and one (the man) must rescue the other (the woman), belongs to a bygone era. Simple aesthetics owe much to the visual design and musical scores from when sprites and MIDI were still the dominant forms of artistic expression. And beyond those surface details lie references to the progenitors of Shovel Knight's exploits. The knights who serve as bosses borrow heavily from the robot masters of the Mega Man series, complete with their own descriptive quirks that dictate not only their attacks, but the traps populating their stages. Towns that you duck into could have been pulled from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (though there is thankfully no one named Error present). And you'd be forgiven for mistaking your pogo attack for Scrooge McDuck's from DuckTales.

Rather than relying on conjuring pleasant memories from a simpler time, however, Shovel Knight is fun because its many components are well realized. Take the combat as an example of where Shovel Knight proves its worth based on its own merits. Combat is position-based because knockbacks are so prevalent. Not only can enemies shove you into bottomless pits with a timely attack, but striking baddies with your shovel also nudges you toward the void. It's a system that demands careful planning even though your repertoire is limited. Attack too soon or late, and you're liable to meet an untimely end, so the precision needed to survive unscathed pulls you in to the life-or-death showdowns.

Some ideas, no matter how dusty they may appear, are engaging no matter what era we're in.

Pits are the number one danger you face. Mistiming a jump is a common occurrence, especially when there are enemies waiting for you to make a mistake, so the majority of my failures came from careless stumbling. Generous checkpoints ensure backtracking is kept to a minimum, and though this eliminated frustration, the prevalence of safety nets meant I was rarely forced to alter my strategy. Mere competence is enough to get from one checkpoint to the next, which was disheartening considering how punishing similar games have been. It's difficult to strike that balance between challenge and accessibility, and Shovel Knight leans a little too far to the latter side.

Whining that Shovel Knight is slightly too easy doesn't seem fair considering how much I enjoyed venturing through every stage. However, because I so rarely feared for my life, I never felt the need to master every item that I unlocked. Sure, I could have made clever use of my invincibility cloak, or figured out a way to use a thunderous punch mid-battle, but there was no need to delve deeper into my tactics. I relied on my standard strike, pogo attack, and fireball for much of the adventure, so though puzzling out how best to defeat each foe was still enjoyable, any variety was my own doing rather than the game's demand. That sadly remained unchanged even in New Game Plus. Patience and precision are enough to vanquish any stage, so much of my inventory remained unused, and my strategy never wavered.

These problems didn't become apparent until I revisited stages. Games cut from a retro cloth tend to hold my attention for dozens of hours as I hunt down every secret and master the many confrontations. But there was no such draw here. Still, during my first time through, the stages were fluid and dynamic, presenting so many architectural and adversarial changes that I was continually enraptured. Seeing disinterested hamsters attached to propellers made me laugh with joy, and matching wits against shield-bearing knights provided many humbling outcomes. Braving the darkness of one level and the wind of another demanded different skills, and never knowing what awaited me in the next screen kept me slightly unhinged. What madness would be expected of me? Would I have to eliminate the spirits haunting a house? Or navigate platforms while magma poured from above? Shovel Knight's bountiful charms are so immediate and satisfying that I couldn't stop myself from forging ahead to see what else lay before me.

The branching level design also beckoned. Shovel Knight is strictly linear, except if you have an inquisitive nature. False walls give way to myriad places where bountiful treasure is stored. A sharp-eyed individual should find half of what's out there the first time through, but even after visiting each stage multiple times, there were still a handful of tricky items that I couldn't locate. The reward for uncovering a secret is mostly intangible--the money from treasure chests doesn't matter once there's nothing else to buy--and though I drew great joy from trying to secure every bit of treasure initially, my interest waned as time elapsed. The core action wasn't as exciting on repeat visits. With so few surprises waiting for me, and no need to vary my strategies, I was lulled by predictability.

So, Shovel Knight doesn't hold up upon a second and third playthrough. That's a black mark if you're keen on starting fresh after the credits role, but there's no shame in lessened impact on repeat visits. There is one element that remained gripping no matter how often I played it, though: boss fights. These are pattern-based affairs that test your reaction time, punish your recklessness, and make you feel incredibly powerful once you come out on top. These encounters are the one situation that I had to make use of my expansive inventory as I searched for an item that would give me the upper hand. I would toss deadly balls to deal massive damage, use a magic sword to glide through the air unscathed, and turn invincible when I needed a breather. And when the difficulty ramped up in New Game Plus, I was brought to my knees more often than I’d like to admit.

No matter which era it had been released in, Shovel Knight would have been embraced. Its inherent charms are timeless. Shovel Knight is a good reminder that game design does age but can never die and that simple mechanics can still be immensely satisfying. But this is not another classic. History echoes forth in everything that Shovel Knight does, but while its inspirations offer compelling moments decades after they were first released, this adventure loses its impact all too quickly. Much of what draws me to games of this ilk are repeatedly playing through them, differing my tactics to become more efficient at whatever challenges lie before me. Without that aspect present in Shovel Knight, I was left with an "is that all?" feeling when the well ran dry. Shovel Knight is a memorable re-imagining of what I grew up with, but doesn't have the longevity or inventiveness to be great in its own right.

The Good
Smart combat that forces you to act thoughtfully
Varied, well-realized level design
Intense boss fights
The Bad
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

/ Staff

The retro resurgence has made Tom incredibly happy because he still believes that much of what made the games from his youth so appealing hasn't been improved upon. After sinking 15 hours into Shovel Knight, he enjoyed but wasn't enamored with this 2D adventure.

Discussion

175 comments
Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

I hope this review is what got Tom fired.  It's a perfect example of why he deserved it.

ewan_sinclair
ewan_sinclair

This game brought out an anger I never knew existed within me. One of the most frustrating experiences ever.

marmotzero
marmotzero

Tom McShea's arbitrary and selective logic continues.

It's really annoying when a game comes out that I want to read a review for, and I discover that it has been reviewed by McShea. Unlike some people in the comments section, I actually really appreciate the rest of GameSpot's reviewers... I think Tom just feels a need to show that he is different and contrarian, and GameSpot's editorial standards suffer for it. 


thewambulance
thewambulance

Agree with a 7. Game is getting overhyped. It accomplishes everything it sets out to do, but is obviously nothing new. Setting aside nostalgia, it's just not an incredible amount of fun. It did inspire me to finally pick up Cave Story on the eShop, a retro outing which I definitely enjoyed more ($5 cheaper too). 

mite000
mite000

I don't think it's fair what so ever to compare the replayability of Shovel Knight with games of the past. Maybe this isn't how Tom did it, but I know that when most people complete a game like the original Legend of Zelda, they won't go back and play it again right away. What keeps them relevant is that people go back to them year after year and they stand the test of time. How can you possibly make any kind of comparison to that with a game that has been out for a few weeks.

nazgoroth
nazgoroth

Could've atleast added negatives like:
Limited replayability
Been there done that feel.

BARRICADE_28
BARRICADE_28

Gamespot, why the f--- do you still have Tom employed at your organization?

AQWBlaZer91
AQWBlaZer91

A 7 out of 10 review and it doesn't even show what's bad about it. What a joke.

DarkE0n
DarkE0n

I don't usually mind a Tom Mc Shea review. In fact, I usually welcome them. But really? The majority of this review is describing a game that sounds like a 9 and then, all of a sudden, the New Game plus sucks. Therefore it is a 7. That's a little harsh.

ohjtbehaaave
ohjtbehaaave

This Shovel Knight review and the Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze inept review makes you lose faith in Gamespots ability to review games.  The low scores are no doubt in protest of the lack of a fat envelope($) accompanying the game ala what EA sends along with Madden etc...

SpiderLuke
SpiderLuke

Just watched the video. Seems like he gets bored too easily. Oh, well. I love the game. That's all that matters.

SpiderLuke
SpiderLuke

Lol ... Gamespot just loves to piss people off

sadface1234
sadface1234

My largest problem with this review is that he praises it for being like old video games, but then knocks it for its lack or replay value in NG+ as the wonder of discovery was lost, but he could play the old games over and over when he was younger... Yet those games didn't even have NG+ so why would they not fall in the same boat? Logic fail,  


I know he brought up stuff about too many checkpoints and how it brought down the difficulty, okay why don't you just say I took some points off due to lack of difficulty because of frequent check points instead of trying to do an awkward reach around about lack of replayability and then contradict your self...  

redikan
redikan

GameSpot  - Where reviewers review games and commenters review reviewers.


If you like a certain game then certainly evil corporations have brainwashed you with Dew.

If you don't like a certain game then certainly you are a candy crushing casual.


A 7 is clearly labeled Good, but unfortunately is not a high enough number to represent it.

lowerclassbrat7
lowerclassbrat7

Most game reviewers hate games. They enjoyed gaming long ago before their hearts turned black. It seems over consumption of anything ruins the taste for things we once loved. I loved Round Table Pizza immensely
until one horrible summer I took a job making said pizza. I ignored to rule of moderation, and even now 20 years later I gag at the thought of eating a slice of what I used to crave.


and oh yes, buy Shovel Knight for the love of God

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

Another outlier review by Tom.  Metacritic's rolling a 85/87/93 on this game for the different platforms.


Does Tom hate fun?  I especially liked him bragging about how good he was at the game.

JCrossJ
JCrossJ

Comes to Gamespot after a long time.

Finds a super-awesome game like Shovel Kinght gets a 7 because.... 
Oh wait, no bad points?, "mmm, whatever it got a 7".
Remembers why wasn't coming to gamespot anymore.
*Leaving*

Tiwill44
Tiwill44

Tom gave this game an 8, but then he noticed that it was also released on Wii U, so he took off one point. Remember, it's the rule with his reviews. There's no other explanation, he couldn't even come up with something to put under "the bad". We're lucky the game doesn't have any panty shots, because you'd be seeing a 6.

Furwings
Furwings

I see my comment got deleted. Hit a little too close to the mark apparently...

man_hammer
man_hammer

I disagree with Tom's take on Shovel Knight's replayability.

However, when he says "I so rarely feared for my life," I agree. The only time I felt anxious is when I was on a 'corpse run' and I didn't want to lose treasure. Once treasure is no longer an issue, the consequences of death are very small. I'm not saying I didn't die, I'm just saying dying didn't always feel like it mattered.

The game does a good job of letting you customize your difficulty, but if you let it, the game can start to feel like playing Final Fight in the arcade with infinite quarters.

hippystank
hippystank

A 7 is way low for this amazingly fun game, like others have said the complaints made in this review are pretty petty/unjustified.

Shovel knights an easy 8.5+ don't pass this gem up.

greycorky12345
greycorky12345

I think this game gets a lower score than it deserves because of tom mc shea's history with shoveling, You see when tom was just a lad his brothers would stick a shovel handle up tom's ass and make him carry an egg around their house and drop it in an egg basket using only his ass, Because of this tom feels that the checkpoints are a problem & gave this game too low a score. Sorry tom, I pray for a better future for you and your ass.

alkimome
alkimome

This is a great game, really!

mattness08
mattness08

Sorry too many unjustifiable complaints.


Too many check points=/= can destroy checkpoints for extra loot if you don't want them. Problem solved.


"can't test different tactics to gain a better advantage" couldn't be more wrong. Grinding levels I found better and better ways to do the same thing.


The score is too low, especially for a game with no negatives.

toakr
toakr

Wow. Tom is really getting taken to task here. Yes, the score is subjective, and he has every right to give it what he pleases, but the reasoning behind the score is terribly flawed and it's obvious to everyone why. I feel like this guy is a total hypocrite. He contradicts himself multiple times in this review and in doing so punishes the game by lowering it's score. You cannot use "subjectivity" as a shield against scrutiny when your reasoning is so obviously messed up. No need to go into examples, there are plenty of people who make this crystal clear, in the comments below.

swedensior
swedensior

Well he didn't like Duck Tales either lucky I read other reviews and bougt it!

ekolite
ekolite

His reasons for giving this a 7 are completely justified.  I would rather see an honest score than an automatic higher score.  And it still made me consider picking it up after reading.

SacredGray
SacredGray

Another review to add to the reviews causing me to not trust GameSpot review staff anymore.  Far too harsh with quality games and far too lenient with flavor-of-the-month fad games like Titanfall.

Shovel Knight is fantastic. Buy it.

Dark_Rage
Dark_Rage

McShea, other websites have rated this game much higher than you, i wanted to get this game for my nephew but now i'm confused.

BigBacon87
BigBacon87

Saw this review score on Metacritic and had to drop by.  I was quickly reminded why I left this site years ago.  Terrible review, Tom McShea is a joke.  Well see you again in 2 or 3 years Gamespot, you sure do suck!

adino86
adino86

@BARRICADE_28 He is no longer with gamespot.  Cry babies getting people fired because of their precious make belief sad world.

SillySkeleton
SillySkeleton

@ohjtbehaaave 7/10 is not a low score, dude. It elaborates this right under the number with the word 'good'. It is indeed good. Many, including myself, would even say it's great, but good is fair.

And please don't pull out the old "I guess the publisher/devloper didn't bribe them enough" excuse. Gamespot, and Tom in particular, gave Super Meat boy a 9/10. You think the two or three guys that made that game could afford to shell out an EA sized briefcase of money for such a glowing review?

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@sadface1234 He completely forgot to mention the extremely innovative feature that you can destroy checkpoints for money if you want to increase that difficulty.


I think he never actually figured out you could do that.  Which says a lot.

kalgert
kalgert

@swedensior I think Duck Tales wasn't liked by a lot of people and I don't really find it that like-able either...They even dragged out Scrooge Mc'duck's voice actor for the voice


Shovel Knight on the other hand is quite a good one and should be liked

Furwings
Furwings

@ekolite So as in he lists positives but no noteworthy negatives (worth summarizing at the end that is) and that equates to a 7? Makes perfect sense...

Furwings
Furwings

@SacredGray Not just "flavor-of-the-month" with Titanfall - how about Xbox One's messiah at last year's E3 to try to defect the debacle that was the Xbox One at that time. The game the western gaming review media (GameSpot being one of them) hitched their wagons to and purposefully over-hyped and overrated to try to help save the "American Made" Xbox One?

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@Dark_Rage How are you confused?  Never listen to Tom and you'll end up playing good games.

JanCarl0
JanCarl0

Buy it for him! He's gonna have lots of hours of fun, I guarantee it. Why are you confused, anyway? This is a great review, it says the game is great

Sound_Demon
Sound_Demon

@BigBacon87 You should see Carolyn... Her reviews include a clear gender bias, it's ridiculous. The only reason I'm here is for Kevin's reviews. At least he knows what he's talking about...

ohjtbehaaave
ohjtbehaaave

@SillySkeleton @ohjtbehaaave You have no reading comprehension dude.  This game and Tropical Freeze are way better than the review score from Gamespot.

ratchet200
ratchet200

@Renoo27 @JCrossJ  That's what the good and the bad points are for, so he doesn't have to read through the whole thing, just to find out what's good and what's bad about it.

ekolite
ekolite

@Furwings @ekolite Well I am not sure why there are no negatives in the review summary, but if you read the main review there are some.

Dark_Rage
Dark_Rage

@JanCarl0 Alright man i will probably buy this a bit later, seems like an enjoyable game.

kalgert
kalgert

@Sound_Demon @BigBacon87 Oh man, you should've seen the GTA5 review rampage...People were acting as if they were betrayed or violated because a...Trans-gender woman decided to give a 9 out of 10 (Which is like... One point below 10) because she questioned the morals of the game and because a lot of women were pictured as something not-so-great. It all resorted to what was basically petitions to fire her, death threats, insults and everything unpleasant.


Personally, that only showed that people who like GTA5 are lunatics if they don't have their "Perfect" game having a 10 out of 10 on a website

AK_the_Twilight
AK_the_Twilight

@mattness08 @ekolite I wasn't "being an ass." I'm just saying that I didn't find the review's argument for that verdict well-supported at all. I wish there were a few more tactile examples, because I believe that the negatives are expressed in generalities. That's my view.

ekolite
ekolite

@mattness08 @ekolite @AK_the_Twilight And the point being he didn't agree with me. So what? Scroll down and read another if you don't get what I am saying. If you don't either it's not going to break my day. I thought I brought up a pretty good point in the initial comment myself.

Shovel Knight More Info

First Release on Dec 31, 2014
  • 3DS
  • PC
  • Wii U
Shovel Knight is a sweeping classic action adventure game with awesome gameplay, memorable characters, and an 8-bit retro aesthetic created by Yacht Club Games.
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Average User RatingOut of 0 User Ratings
Shovel Knight has not been released yet!
Developed by:
Yacht Club Games
Published by:
Yacht Club Games
Genres:
2D, Action, Platformer
Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
Everyone
All Platforms