Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Shovel Knight (PS3/PS4/PS VITA)



Imagine, if you will a game that takes everything that was great in the 8-Bit glory days including the chiptune music, the 8-Bit 2D graphics, and the puzzle platforming greatness from a few well known series. Put it all together in a virtual rock tumbler, and out pours "Shovel Knight". This game, which obviously takes tribute material from games like 'Castlevania', 'Mega Man', The Legend of Zelda II: A Link to the Past', and 'Super Mario Bros. 3' presents it's gameplay in an innovative yet comparative new way. You'll find in place a map not unlike the one in 'Super Mario Bros. 3', towns with vendors like those found in 'Legend of Zelda II', and platforming level designs that are a mixture of the 'Castlevania' series, and the 'Mega Man' series combined. Outside of all of those similarities lies a simple yet engaging story that features a protagonist known simply as, "Shovel Knight'. After an adventuring mishap with his female companion, 'Shield Knight' this treasure hunter of sorts finds himself at a crossroads of choices that is abruptly interrupted by the invasion of an Enchantress, and her knights of the "Order of no quarter". Once again, as the hero of his own tale the valiant knight takes up his trusty shovel, and sets out on an adventure of a lifetime in order to find out what happened to his partner while dealing with the threat of his newly found adversaries.



Shovel Knight is a simple yet challenging game at heart that basically takes the platforming mechanics from former NES games, and presents them in a way that is not directly mimicking it's tribute material. As the Shovel Knight you'll be traveling from location to location on a map that has points of interest laid out like a 'Super Mario Bros. 3', or 'Super Mario World' map. There are villages for upgrading Shovel Knight's equipment, and attributes as well as dungeon areas where boss fights take place between the Shovel Knight, and the knights of the 'Order of no quarter'. You'll even find sub-bosses wandering the map as well as locations for looting some extra treasure amongst other things. Within the actual platforming areas you'll be guiding the Shovel Knight through environmental hazards, and against respawning enemies as you make your way past several checkpoints to the final boss area where you will finally face a boss character.


Making it from point "A" to point "B" within the game's level system must be done in a semi-proper order though as you will find loot for weapon upgrades, armor upgrades, and relics that will aid you in the harder to reach areas of the game. Of course the more areas you clear on the overhead map the more of the map will be revealed unto you. Levels in "Shovel Knight" come in a diverse variety that mimic weather, and themed environments which in turn match the boss that awaits you at the end. As you traverse the puzzle, and secret filled areas within the levels you will be able to mark your progress via checkpoint, or destroy said checkpoint, and loot it for the treasure that's inside. In total there are about five checkpoints per level which precede a boss arena, and making it to each is definitely no easy task. Aside from the standard pitfalls you'll find spikes, fire, and plenty of other threats standing between you, your loot, and the boss characters.


As with any 'Mega Man' style game you will need to use the appropriate relics to do the necessary damage to defeat each boss once you make it to them. Of course you are able to use your shovel melee weapon as well, but getting up close, and personal is reserved more for the pro players who rely on strategy than those who rely on special powers. Relics can be bought using the treasure you find, which is tallied up in US dollars. Other in-game features that can also be upgraded to help you survive the battle include your magic container, and your health meter. In order to improve upon these two things you must first have enough money/treasure, and secondly have a meal ticket that can be earned through gameplay, or bought from a vendor in the main village. The meal ticket must be traded in for additional health meter at the appropriate vendor within the main village while the vendor for the magic container upgrades only asks for in-game currency.


An interesting addition to the more straightforward gameplay within 'Shovel Knight' is the fact that once you die in a level part of the loot you are carrying will be deducted, and left behind in floating bags. You can journey forward from the last checkpoint to regain your loot, or leave it be. The choice is yours. While I'm not entirely sure, I do have a gut feeling that should you loose all of your loot, and die you might actually see a "Game Over" screen, or be booted back to the main map. This is of course is in theory though.


When initially playing as the famed Shovel Knight you will have two basic attacks with which to deal damage to enemies, and bosses. This includes a forward shovel slash (SQUARE), and a shovel pogo bounce that is done after you jump with a pressing of (DOWN) on your DPad/Left Thumbstick. As you progress, and buy shovel upgrades from the village Blacksmiths things like an attack charge can be added to your list of available melee attacks. The same goes for the armor upgrades which will affect a variety of different things ranging from boosted shovel attacks to acrobatic jumps, and even greater defenses. Aside from the obvious the shovel also doubles as a means to break open chests, dig up piles of loot, and break through walls that contain hidden areas. There's definitely a ton of things to uncover as you journey forth in the guise of the Shovel Knight, and unless you keep your eyes wide open during your travels you might miss out on something really awesome.


The end goal of all things in 'Shovel Knight' is to ultimately defeat the Enchantress, and all of her minions as well as uncover any hidden secrets within the game. While that sounds easy enough you will no doubt die off plenty of times as you try to make it through the various puzzle, and hazard filled levels. Even the bosses you meet in combat will give you a run for your money as they each require specific tactics to defeat. With the aid of relics, and upgrades though you should be able to eventually see the game through in it's entirety. Like the loot you gather in-game, 'Shovel Knight' is a true treasure worth unlocking.

About The Versions ...

For those of you who are unaware of this re-release, and updated PSN version of 'Shovel Knight' you'll find that it is a cross-buy, and cross-save game. Meaning that once you pay up the $14.99 required to own it, and supposing you have a PS3, PS4, and PS Vita you can experience the game in it's entirety on all three consoles without having to pay extra. The really cool thing is that your progress can also be saved, and uploaded to the cloud, and then later downloaded on another current-gen Playstation console keeping your progress matching no matter what console you choose to play on.

In the way of comparisons I found that the controls on the PS Vita were slightly less complimentary in that using your relics sometimes happened on accident, and unintentionally. This can cause huge problems as you have a limited supply of magic with which to use your relics. Aside from that the PS Vita controls functioned alright. By "alright" I mean the thumbstick used for movement isn't really accurate 100% of the time. As far as actual "consoles" go the PS3, and PS4 are the ultimate versions in my opinion. Of course the control setup on the PS4 differs greatly from the PS3, and PS vita though. In order to access your relics, and switch between them on the PS4 you'll need to press the center touchpad to bring up the menu. In the PS Vita, and PS3 version this is done by pressing "SELECT". It's a minor, but more efficient way to go about things, in regards to the way the PS4 Dualshock4 controller works. I'd also go so far as to say that the PS4's DPad works more precisely movement-wise in comparison to the mandatory R.Thumbstick on the PS Vita.

The Verdict ...

Without beating around the bush I found this game to be awesome in every way. It took me on a proper nostalgia trip while showing me something I've never seen before. I loved the simple yet effective nature of the main character, and his supporting story. I loved the graphic-style which harkened back to the golden age of gaming while looking crisp, and clear in it's HD pixel build as well as the chiptune soundtrack that also paid homage to the games of old. I even loved the challenging gameplay that was incorporated in a series blend kind of way. If you like Metroidvania style puzzle platformers with an RPG twist like I do then I think you're definitely going to want to add this bad boy to your growing PSN game library. It is most certainly a "Must Have!", and is not to be missed. You will be doing yourself a huge disservice if you let this affordable PSN title pass you by! Be sure to get it at the discounted PS+ subscription price drop while you can. It'll save you a buck if you do!

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