Shovel Knight Preview: Building on Mega Man and Zelda 2

Shovel Knight became quite the Kickstarter success, more than tripling its $75,000 goal during the month-long pledge period. In that time, seemingly countless fans expressed their interest in the game, and it was obvious that developer Yacht Club Games had a potentially winning formula. By drawing inspiration from Capcom's famed Mega Man franchise, Shovel Knight has managed to gain the attention of indie game aficionados and old school NES lovers. After spending some time with the game myself, I can attest to its unbridled pixelated charm and wonderful retro challenge.

It's important to note that Mega Man isn't the only influence behind Shovel Knight. According to Yacht Club Games, Castlevania and even Dark Souls were also quite influential. In addition to these games, there's an apparent nod to Super Mario Bros. 3 and Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link, two treasured NES classics that to this day have withstood the test of time and act as shining accomplishments for their respective genres and franchises. Hey, if you're going to be influenced by games of the past, these classics are more than winning accomplishments to draw from.

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Even with all of these brilliant games to gather ideas from, Yacht Club Games is on the right path to successfully crafting a 2D action-adventure romp that feels like its own thing. As I played Shovel Knight, I understood how the aforementioned games served as blueprints, but I also felt that the game was entirely drenched in Yacht Club Game's own identity and style.

The titular Shovel Knight is armed with a deadly sharpened shovel, which can be utilized in a number of ways. You can slash at enemies, thrust your weapon downward (like Link in Zelda 2), and bounce off of it like a pogo stick (oh hi, DuckTales reference). Because it's a shovel, it's also pretty handy for digging up treasure. The game does a good job of assigning a decent variety of commands to that single weapon, though you'll still have access to other items and even a sub-weapon.

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Like many of the classics, Shovel Knight is a pretty tough game. I sent the armor clad protagonist to an early grave more times than I care to admit. In addition, I wasn't even able to crack the game's leaderboards following my play session. (You can't teach this level of suckage.) Hey, at the very least, I was able to get through the demo, countless deaths be damned. Like so many 8-bit and 16-bit adventures, this is one of those games that throws fast-moving platforms and erratic enemies at you with no remorse, so expect a daunting challenge.

There's a slight bit of decision making in Shovel Knight. Aside from Super Mario Bros. 3-esque overworld map, I was informed by Yacht Club Games that some levels would feature multiple paths. Even then, you're likely to conquer the campaign in about three to four hours, which isn't very long. Thankfully, a new game+ feature, which will invite players to jump right back into the game for possibly an even more difficult experience, will add to the replayability.

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What I played of Shovel Knight was nicely polished and just a lot of fun. The game is due out for the Wii U, 3DS, and PC. Yacht Club Games recently announced that this upcoming action-adventure title was being delayed to early 2014, though a specific date has yet to be confirmed by the developer. In any case, if you dig any of the games that influenced this highly promising endeavor, or if you just have an affinity for challenging 2D platformers and action-adventure  games, Shovel Knight is undoubtedly a game to be stoked about.

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