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Shovel Knight Digs Deep

Valencia based Yacht Club Games recently announced on their website that their Kickstarter-backed freshman outing into the gaming marketplace has sold a whopping 180,000 copies in just the first month of its release.  This came as much deserved good news for supporters and fans of the critically acclaimed game about a tiny knight in charming blue armor going toe to toe with the forces of darkness, his shovel firmly in hand.

I talked to my brother Garry Wright to discuss our favorite parts of the glorious amazingness that is Shovel Knight so that we could share this, the results of many hours of gameplay and hard fought battlin’ with what became our most cherished digging implements.  And all for you, our most beloved Top Shelf readers.  

The game opens with our hero the titular Shovel Knight accompanied by his lady friend Shield Knight venturing into the mysterious “Tower of Fate”. A strange turn of events brings both the paladin protagonists under the sway of an amulet that is most definitely harboring dark forces. When our scooping swashbuckler wakes, his sweet love is nowhere to be found. 

He becomes Shovel Hermit and the forces of evil mass power–as wanton creeps are bound to do–until he finds that the execrable Enchantress has reopened the tower for business giving him the chance he needs to win back the only person that means anything to him in this dark world.  

Just kidding, he’s very personable to innocents and the like. 

So the adventure begins, a lone hero fighting to rescue his lost love against all odds, traveling across landscapes that are just as wildly different as they are vibrantly beautiful. The true genius of the world that you traverse lies in its abundantly apparent love for retro gaming, the experience a juxtaposition of all the best parts of favorites from the past.  

Start with a little Adventure of Link in SK’s customizable weapons, throw in a bit of Super Mario Bros 3 with the map, sprinkle in dat jump attack that is classic DuckTales, and finish with a hefty influence from Mega Man (blue armor buddies anyone?) and you have what plays as a dedicated homage to its roots, but with a spirit and energy all of its own.  

With all it’s influences, Shovel Knight is very stylized to its own universe, gritty and medieval, NPCs dressed and speaking in a endlessly endearing olde timey way with whom interactions are unique and hilarious.  

The dialogue is great and becomes crucial once you lock into the story through engaging a wide cast of characters, from your dark shovel-wielding brother, a pun-telling-frog, the multitude of non-shovel-themed-wise-crackin’ knights, and a guy who you tell shovel jokes to just to cheer him up a bit. 

Levels play out like those of his Blue Bomber mentor, fighting smaller baddies and digging treasure up out of piles of dirt, through increasingly complicated platforming puzzles hitting checkpoints, offering the real, and often frustrating challenges of the game.  

You find yourself guiding your horned hero through certain parts over and over trying to gather as much of the gold that you drop from your previous failed attempt while mastering the moves that you need to finally dodge that swinging pendulum of death-bringing fire that has taken you out without fail 14 times in a row now. 

Then its just a manner of a mini-boss and a gauntlet like hop skip and a jump before you’re introduced to another one of the member of “The Order of No Quarter,” aka one of the hilarious and engaging knights that commands a fighting style and fashion sense that always ties perfectly into his particular world.  

The battles with the comically nefarious knights are all memorable and exciting, their personalities shining through in the way they bring their steel to yours, but in its those moments when each falls, after bloody battle against the murderous platforms of zooming rocket and dissolving bubble variety, that you can finally take a breath and find some closure in a good laugh and a giant treasure chest.  

Some of the very most memorable and exciting moments from the game come in its eccentricity, where a glitch can transform the entire experience.  We stumbled upon one such of these glorious happenstances when facing the fist pumping Tinker Knight in his workshop throwing screwdrivers like a confused Thor in a hardware store until he is eventually struck down.

Just when you think its over the mad tinker destroys the floor and plunges you both deep into his secret basement with his even more secret giant mech suit of “super wish I got to fight in that thing-iness,” awaits, before promptly pumping out rockets in your direction.

Then everything started to feel a little different.

Shovely (just one of the names I found myself affectionately calling him over the course of my play) was suddenly invulnerable to the rockets, but paralyzed in his favorite Scrooge McDuck impression as TinkerMech pounded away at him with furious fist pumps, but all to no avail.  

I imagined him laughing in his helm, taunting his opponent with righteous abandon, “THAT’S RIGHT TINKER, I AM THE ONE WHO DIGS.” 

It was a beautiful gem of a moment that I knew I would never see again; seeing him fully empowered, withstanding everything that this mechanized menace was throwing at him, was just so evocative of the spirit of the game as a whole, this tiny man fighting for love throughout a beautiful world, showing me that nothing was going to stop him.  

That’s the kind of thing that will give you the strength to go back and beat the whole level on the first try when you finally decide to reboot.  

Betwixt all these zany adventure and hilarious characters, SK subtlety weaves a sweet and endearing love story. The Shovel Knight is steadfast in his quest to save his partner and when you finally have the chance to see them interact, you can see how much he literally looks up to and depends on the lovely Shield Knight. 

One of the very most satisfying parts of the game comes when you finally have the chance to fight alongside this woman who you’ve been pining after the whole time.

Shovel Knight is an amazing adventure through a world of nostalgia fueled hijinks that finds its true glory in it’s heart, honoring  decades of gaming history with a truly apparent love that shines in every moment of the game. 

It is just the first of Yacht Club’s outings into the gaming scene, but I for one cannot wait for them to make good on their promise of maybe making it over and over forever and ever, so please YeeCee, get going on Shovel Kart.  Mmkay?  Cool, thanks guys.

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