PAX East 2013: Hands-on with Shovel Knight, an 8-bit love letter

You tend to do a lot of walking at PAX East, especially if you’re running from one appointment to the next. By Sunday my feet were on fire, my work was done, and I could have simply started my journey back home. But there was one booth that caught my eye on Friday and reminded me to come back over and over, so on Sunday I limped my way over to the Yacht Club Games booth to try my hand at their new game Shovel Knight.

What’s immediately so eye-catching about Shovel Knight is its lovingly-crafted 8-bit-inspired graphics. Working within an HD window, Yacht Club has created a game that looks proper on a newer television, unlike most older games that require some kind of smoothing filter to look decent. The pixels cut like glass but I snuggled up to them like a warm blanket. For anyone with the slightest bit of nostalgia for the NES-era, Shovel Knight is seriously inviting, even if you’re jaded by the retro-cool fad.

Shovel Knight

Even more importantly, the game is simply a ton of fun to play. You are a knight armed with a shovel who, as far as I could tell, is on an adventure to defeat evil. You’ve got a jump button, a shovel attack, a special weapon, and a downward shovel strike. The special weapon and the UI are immediately reminiscent of old school Konami games like Castlevania, while the downward strike seemed like a hilariously-coincidental nod to DuckTales.

What isn’t 8-bit about the game is the clever level and enemy design. One enemy, for example, will block and deflect your attacks, requiring you to fake them out with one attack and then go for another. Wizards fire projectiles that can be dodged with careful timing, but if you’re really good you can hit them back in their faces. There’s a rhythm to a lot of the enemy attacks, with pattern recognition you’d expect from old school games but designed in a way that felt more satisfying than most NES games I ever took the time to master.

Shovel Knight

The platforming is sharp as well, with simple puzzle elements and rewards for well-timed jumps. Enemies respawn in some areas, but you’ll want them there so that you can pogo off of their heads and grab hidden treasure.

The game has a Kickstarter campaign running at the moment, and I implore you to check out the trailer, since it paints a pretty good picture of the fun to be had. The game is headed to PC, Wii U and 3DS, according to their Kickstarter, with hopes of bringing it to more platforms like Vita, PS3, and Xbox. The Kickstarter lays out their goals and ideas behind the game, and needless to say it’s obvious Yacht Club has a great vision for the final game. I give it my vote, and can’t wait to get my hands on the final release.

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