TURN TO CHANNEL 3: If you love retro games, you’ll dig ‘Shovel Knight’ on the Wii U
I recently read an article about the success of indie games on the Nintendo Switch, which has further bolstered the already stellar roster of titles for the console. Many developers were quoted as saying that one of the reasons their games have been so successful on the Switch is because many of them harken back to the glory days of 8 and 16-bit classics on the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Super Nintendo. With many Switch owners growing up in that era of gaming, they still want to experience those games in a whole new light, and indie developers are providing them with a fix.
“Shovel Knight” (Wii U)
Top to bottom, “Shovel Knight” is far more 1989 than it is 2014, and it begins with a soundtrack that might as well have been composed by some of the greats from Capcom and Nintendo’s glory days of gaming. Equal parts intense and classic, with dashes of “Castlevania,” “Final Fantasy,” and “Metroid,” when you play “Shovel Knight,” you are musically transported back to a time in your life when Saturday morning cartoons led to Saturday gaming with a friend or those days you’d run home from the school bus, blaze through your homework, and then play that game you rented from your local video rental store.
The nostalgic ambience of the music and sound effects heard in “Shovel Knight” is infectious as it begins a tidal wave of emotions from your inner child that makes you wish all indie games were made in this light.
Showing that its roots are planted firmly in the glory days of console gaming, “Shovel Knight” looks like a late-release NES game or a title that has since been emulated that never made it over to U.S. soil in the 1990s.
With color schemes and tones that fit the theme and aura of each level and boss, “Shovel Knight” proves that less is more as it relates to tapping into that zone of memories where today’s gamers were raised. There are far more breathtaking games out there from 2014, but Yacht Club Games proves that not all graphic masterpieces need to be programmed with multi-million-dollar budgets and technical gadgetry.
A universe of medieval action was created so well with a stellar cast of characters, from your hero to the bosses and right down to the enemies, that it feels more like a forgotten relic from the past and less like an homage to years gone by on the gaming timeline. That takes a skill and talent unsurpassed, I think, because it’s one thing to take an idea from something you cherish and pay your respect to it, but it is another to create something still so distinctly different from what inspired you.
“Shovel Knight” is tough, damn tough, but it wouldn’t be a game tugging on our collective heartstrings if it didn’t include that controller tossing, expletive-filled fury that “NES hard” titles that it resembles in some ways. If I were to give it a place on the gaming spectrum of difficulty, it has a lot of the frustrating aspects games like “Ghosts ‘n Goblins,” “Ninja Gaiden,” and many of the early “Mega Man” titles have, with seemingly impossible platform jumps, cheap enemy hits, and some bosses that can eat you for lunch, but in this difficulty lies another piece of the charm “Shovel Knight” possesses.
I never felt so frustrated I wanted to give up which, in a way, is another staple of that era of gaming, having to talk yourself out of picking the controller up and trying again instead of moving on with your day and perhaps coming back to it later. “Shovel Knight” is the equivalent of a humorously mocking friend that then laughs, pats you on the back, and encourages you to keep going and, chances are, since this is a truly great game, you will.
Are the Scrooge McDuck/”DuckTales”-inspired mechanics with the shovel difficult to grasp at first? Yes, they are but, over time, they become second nature to you, as do all the skills of your beloved Shovel Knight. No good games come easy, kids, and this one rewards you for your diligence and dedication.
I can say without hesitation that “Shovel Knight” is a great example of how to make an indie game that follows the fine line of retro to a tee. This is a great blueprint for aspiring indie developers to follow, and I think this is the first game that has drawn a bit more mainstream appeal for going that route, opening the doors for future games just like it.
“Shovel Knight” has grown since 2014, still chugging away on the Nintendo Switch, which goes to show you that if you can tap into something the right way within the gaming industry, you will be around for a while.
The game can be obtained on the Wii U eShop or as a physical copy for about $20, which is a great deal to take a trip back to a time in your life when things were more carefree and your friends wondered if you’d ever come out into the sunlight during summer vacation because you were seemingly playing video games from dusk until dawn… or was that just me?
Well, that does it for me today. Next week, we hop onto Steam for a game that pays homage to three things that normally don’t go together – RPGs, the original Nintendo Game Boy, and classic literature – as we play “C. Kane!’
Until then, it is known far and wide that nothing goes better with a hot cocoa on a cold winter day than a great video game, so game on!