Reviews: Shovel Knight

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Retro done (mostly) right
The game is blatantly Mega Man-themed, except with a medieval setting. Rather than Bubble Man, Air Man, Metal Man and the like, we get Treasure Knight, Tinker Knight, Polar Knight and so on. They have their own themed levels. The music is very similar to Mega Man as well, and Manami Matsumae, the original composer of the first Mega Man, contributed what are two of the best songs in the entire game to the soundtrack.

Elements from other games flesh it out. The towns are similar to Zelda II, along with the downthrust attack which also takes inspiration from Duck Tales's pogo jump; the map screen, complete with enemies and challenges and mini-stages that show up, is similar to Super Mario Bros. 3; the special items (along with the button combination to use them) is from Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden, as are some sound effects. It's like a tribute to classic NES action games, that also creates something new from them.

And Shovel Knight does indeed have its own unique feel to it. The towns have anthropomorphic toads, horses and deer coexisting alongside humans. The game has a sense of humor, one I find charming rather than annoying. Polar Knight attacks with a giant snowshovel, there's a toad who tells lots and lots of puns, and there are the troupples - half-trout half-apple creatures. The dialog tends to reference actual locations and characters in the game, giving it the impression that unlike many other comedies, this one takes place in a conistent, fleshed-out and realized world.

For a game that's NES-themed, there are inconsistencies with the actual NES though. Number of buttons is identical, and the gameplay style and level designs are very similar to that era - two things most "retro" game developers get totally wrong.

But the game's developers say this is an "idealized" version of the NES era. Songs are longer than NES songs tended to be, and the background is filled with parallax scrolling that was simply impossible on actual NES hardware, not to mention a greater amount of graphical variety than the NES's limited tile-based graphics memory could hold. It also displays slightly more color than the console could handle. You have infinite lives and instead get penalized by losing money.

Even though it's idealized, it's great and nostalgic.
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