June is the one month out of the year where we expect to catch a glimpse of the future of gaming, and sure enough, this year's E3 delivered loads of exciting announcements. But even though most of those games won't be in our hands until 2015, it was still a great month thanks to all the games released over the past few weeks that kept our heads, hands, and hearts busy.
1001 Spikes was an early favorite, with its pixelated charm and enjoyable but punishing platforming, but that same day, we also got WildStar, a colorful massively multiplayer online role-playing game stuffed with character, unusual things to do, and interesting places to see. A week later, a revamped version of the sharp-looking Blood of the Werewolf landed on the Xbox 360, and we were pulled in by its monster-movie lore and lycanthrope-fueled platforming. We were also drawn into the melancholy Valiant Hearts: The Great War, which presented the human side of armed conflict and involuntary enlistment, which is so often ignored or omitted from games that use war as an excuse for "gritty" settings and unchecked brutality. As deserving of recognition as those games are, it was Yacht Club Games' Shovel Knight that ultimately won us over and secured the award for Game of the Month in June.
Shovel Knight is a smart and refined platformer that evokes the spirit of some of the best NES games of the late '80s and early '90s, including the likes of Mega Man, Castlevania, and Duck Tales. But, this heavy dose of nostalgia is just the icing on the cake. Shovel Knight stands tall on its own merits.
Like Mega Man, Shovel Knight thrives on a variety of enemies and platforming challenges, making it near impossible to plow through levels your first time through. But Shovel Knight is a less punishing game than Mega Man ever was; numerous checkpoints per level help stave off the frustration of starting from scratch when you inevitably meet your doom. Of course, if you've got bravery and greed coursing through your veins, the checkpoints strewn throughout each level can be destroyed for extra cash, paving the way for new upgrades and greater feats of shovelry. Likewise, alternate, treasure-lined paths stand out, beckoning for your trowel's sting.
Tread carefully, intrepid knight, but keep your eyes and ears open. Visually, Shovel Knight is a feast for the eyes. Yes, it's lo-fi with an 8-bit lean, and the music is suitably chippy, but you could also characterize it as a game filled with delightful art and a catchy, fast-paced soundtrack. It may be easy to point to the old-school qualities that can be found in every element of Shovel Knight and call it a nostalgia grab, but that top-level analysis ignores the fact that, even though it borrows from the past, it does many of the things it seemingly emulates better than the source material ever did, despite what our memories of the past would like us to think. Still, there's a reason we hold those classics dear in our hearts and minds, and a reason Shovel Knight deserves recognition for standing up to the caliber of its muses, and then some.