Being in the vicinity of Shovel Knight, the first project from Yacht Club Games, seems to make horrible puns just emerge from the ether. During my PAX East playtime, a nearby developer assured me that while the current build was only ten percent complete, the team was beginning to “dig in” towards the game’s full potential. The developer actually hadn’t realized the double meaning of his words until someone else pointed them out to him. He apologized for the terrible wordplay and admitted that it had been happening all morning.
But a game like Shovel Knight requires this kind of pun-tastic sense of humor.
Platforms: 3DS, PC (Version Played), Wii U
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Genre: Side-Scrolling Shovel Action
Release Date: September 2013
ESRB Rating: Rating Pending
Let me back up. Yacht Club Games was formed when Sean Velasco and several other members of WayForward broke away from the development house to form their own crew. A few days before PAX East, this new company announced Shovel Knight, an homage to the 8-bit stylings of Mega Man and Castlevania. The titular Shovel Knight dispenses “shovel justice” with his gardening implement of doom in a quest to topple The Enchantress and her Order of No Quarter.
With eight bosses awaiting him, Shovel Knight has plenty of opportunities to dig at the enemy with his versatile weapon. He can slash his shovel like a sword, reflect enemy magic with a well-timed swing, and prod the ground in search of treasure. The Knight will also be able to carry a subweapon (such as the projectile-shooting Flame Wand) at various points in the game. Shovel Knight’s controls may seem simplistic, but they were designed that way to further push players towards that 8-bit mentality.
Shovel Knight can also use his shovel as a pogo stick in a manner similar to Scrooge McDuck in DuckTales. Bouncing from enemy to enemy is a fantastic way to rack up a ton of hits as well as a great way to access the game’s hidden passageways. There were several of these out-of-the-way rooms in Pridemore Keep, the only level of the game on display at PAX East, and Yacht Club has said that some of these hidden areas will have hidden areas of their own.
The Mega Man feel of the game is very evident in Pridemore Keep, which is the castle home of Order of No Quarter member King Knight (who would have fit in very well with Mega Man’s Robot Masters). The enemies include bats, knights, and two griffins that attack in a pattern very reminiscent of a certain robotic dog last seen in Mega Man II. Pridemore Keep takes the castle theme and runs with it, including plenty of disappearing and falling platforms modeled on castle banners and sparkling chandeliers. Themed level design will be a major component of Shovel Knight and the team at Yacht Club is already planning to include an ice level (which will feature the Polar Knight at the end) and an air level.
But Shovel Knight isn’t just a medieval reskin of Mega Man. The melee combat gives the game an entirely different feel and mastering the various shovel attacks will take some time. There’s also a scoring system that slashes your score in half every time you die (“Very Dark Souls,” I was told by Yacht Club’s Captain, Sean Velasco). A leaderboard was set up for the expo, and while the developer doesn’t currently plan to include it in the final game, the fan response is making them rethink that decision. I sincerely hope they do.
Comparisons to other games aside, there’s one more important thing to say about Shovel Knight. It is a game that I would have played for months and months back in 1990. Nine-year old me would have loved this game. While I’ve grown up and the gaming industry has grown up with me, 32-year old me is still excited for something like Shovel Knight.
What can I say? I dig it.