Sunday, September 11, 2016

Shovel Knight

I had some Bing Rewards points burning a hole in my pocket, so went out on a limb and got Shovel Knight. It's a tribute to old NES-style games, incorporating elements of a bunch of them, most notably Duck Tales, Mega Man, and Zelda 2. I was a little hesitant about the 8-bits(ish) graphics - I mean, I was happy about that in Mega Man 9 and 10, but that's because they were building off the nostalgia of the original Mega Man games. Shovel Knight is a new thing. But as I played the first level, I had to admit it was pretty delightful. The feel is familiar, but the game is quite original. And when I was done, I found myself humming the first level tune. I knew I had chosen correctly.

The virtues of Shovel Knight are extolled all over the place on the Internet, but here's what I liked about it:
  • It's challenging, but not unreasonable. There is no concept of extra lives - you can restart from the last checkpoint as many times as you want. (You do lose money when you lose a life, but you can get it back if you make it back to the spot where you perished.) The only catch is that if you do back out of a level, the game forgets everything that happened while you were there (good or bad).
  • In the few situations where I felt like a particular challenge was totally hopeless, the answer wasn't "keep trying" or even "look it up". It was to obtain and use a particular item. That is the correct answer.
  • There are three or four really good, catchy tunes. Too many games these days have "mood music" that contributes to the feel but doesn't really help make the game or the situation memorable.
  • There's some pretty amusing humor stuff going on
  • The hero is pretty likeable. He's blue like Mega Man, noble like Link, etc.
And not only that, but the game has a free downloadable "second quest" kind of thing called Plague of Shadows, where you play the game again as Plague Knight, one of the villains of the main game. The plot is kind of adorable - Plage Knight is trying to concoct the Ultimate Potion so his assistant Mona will like him. (At one point you can learn to dance. This doesn't affect the game at all, but if you try to do it near Mona, you just end up twiddling your fingers nervously. Poor Plague Knight.)

The gameplay is completely different - Plague Knight fights with bombs instead of a shovel, and the power-ups can be used to configure those bombs at any time. It turns out being easier I think, but it's still challenging - really it feels like a completely different game.

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