There’s been a trend of non-gamers feeling more inclined to show interest in the gaming world, and this is something the industry has been evolving toward for a long, long time. Video games have often been trivialized as childish means of entertainment for the unmotivated; the hallmark of laziness.
We’ve all seen it – the portrait of a person who hasn’t moved very far in life typically consists of them sitting in their parent’s basement, being sustained by popcorn and kept content by playing video games day to night. This is a stereotype that was created and perpetuated in the 90’s and has kept strong; until now.
Fast forward to 2015, and the video game industry is a billion dollar juggernaut, garnering respect from people of all ages. Most all kids are seen in public places keeping themselves quietly entertained. College-age and post-college adults consistently walk around in tshirts with their favorite characters on them. The video game industry is run by powerful, experienced businessmen – oftentimes people who hadn’t previously worked in the industry. As such, video games are becoming more and more about cinematics, art style, and other aesthetic elements.
Modern games have been a bit easier to digest for those who don’t normally play, and as such the consumer base has been widened tremendously. With this shift, people who would previously look at an old NES 8-bit sidescroller as something juvenile are warming up to the idea of games at their core – fun, mechanical masterpieces. Shovel Knight is the pinnacle of that art form, a game that is blatantly styled in the form of so many of those old classics from the early days of gaming. Yet, it has a modern twist to it that can appeal to any audience and bridge the gap between old school and new.
Shovel Knight was created by a mere five people, known as Yacht Club Games. They used Kickstarter to get the project off the ground, but much of the staff went unpaid in the later stages of development. After two years of development, the game was released on June 24th, 2014 for the PC, 3DS, and Wii U.
Any fan of the NES will immediately notice where the game draws its inspiration from. The game is like an amalgamation of every 8-bit classic, yet it still holds a distinct feel as it’s been produced by modern means. Our titular hero, the Shovel Knight, uses his trusty shovel to cut down enemies in the ever-loved side scroller format. The world map will make any Super Mario Bros. 3 fan smile, the levels progress somewhat like Mega Man 2, the pogo jump ability brings memories of Duck Tales, and the bosses will produce an ear to ear grin on any Castlevania fans’ face.
The 8-bit style is given a little bit of a makeover and has a glossy, modern look that translates incredibly on modern HD sets. It keeps all of the old school charm while staying fluid and polished like a modern production. Add presentation in a full 16:9 display, and you’ve got a unique flavor that’ll please all generations of gamers. After spending well over 30 hours with this game and discussing with both peers and message board regulars, I can say that Yacht Club’s two years of hard work certainly paid off.
Shovel Knight is a masterpiece.
Although I could go into the details of the mechanics and how this game plays, it’d be a disservice to you – what’s truly important with Shovel Knight is, simply, that it lets you have fun. The full experience of this game is geared toward having fun, which is something a lot of current game designers, oddly enough, seem to forget about.
The story is rather bare bones, and there isn’t any sort of competitive multiplayer scene to breed competition or endless argument. It’s a game you can pick up for guaranteed fun in your own little gaming bubble – the way games used to be. In this case, you don’t have to worry about shoddy hit boxes or questionable controls.
All Shovel Knight can do is jump, attack, use magic, and do his signature pogo jump. Clean and simple. Whether pressed for time or someone who has hours to kill, you can pick this game up and let loose. It’s a slick 7-8 hour experience with a little something for everyone. Be it entertaining and challenging boss battles, retro style platforming, Mega Man style power ups, or zany NPCs, Shovel Knight has it all. Oh, and did I mention the soundtrack? Phenomenal and will have you humming along almost instantaneously.
Shovel Knight, for me, has been both a hearty dose of nostalgia and an example of what the evolution of the video game industry is all about. This game is the game that bridged the gap between old and new, bringing the video game industry full circle in the most memorable and fulfilling package possible. Once again: a masterpiece. When Yacht Club Games began this project, I don’t think they even dreamed that their creation would end up becoming a hallmark in this industry merely 4 months after its release.
For people like me who grew up in the 8-bit era, Shovel Knight reminded me of exactly why I picked up a controller in 1990 and dedicated a fair portion of my life to this industry since that moment. Although video games are near universally accepted, this game brought recognition to retro games and other “older” styles of games. This is Shovel Knight’s great legacy: the ability to change the perceptions of a generation of naysayers.
Interested in playing? Check out the links below: