Shovel Knight is the very first title from Yacht Club Games. It’s a special creation because it was born thanks to the efforts and support of backers on Kickstarter back in Spring 2014. Now, just a little over a year later, it’s finally available for us to dig into in order to find out if the wait was worth it.

Shovel Knight, if nothing else, is an amazing love letter to the days of gaming’s past. There are many “Metroidvania” games out on the indie market, but there’s just something about Shovel Knight that sets it apart from the rest. Upon starting the game, it feels like you’ve gone back in time. This title wouldn’t be out of place if it came out in the early ‘90s as a Super Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge. In fact, if you handed me one with Shovel Knight on it, I’d have no trouble believing it was a classic game I had just never heard about or played.

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Shovel Knight’s presentation is wonderfully simple and a great throwback to classic games. We find out that Shovel Knight and his love, Shield Knight, were partners and adventured throughout the world for treasure. But things took a turn for the worse when they happened upon the Tower of Fate and a cursed amulet made it so that the Tower was sealed and Shield Knight disappeared. As Shovel Knight, you’re tasked with trying to save your beloved while defeating the evil that has once again unsealed the Tower of Fate.

The graphics are wonderfully retro. During a time in the video game world in which most indie games use retro-styled, 16-bit graphics almost ad nauseam to give their titles a little bit more novelty, Shovel Knight’s graphics never feel too forced or gimmicky. It’s great that Yacht Club Games isn’t shoving the pixels down our throats as if to say, “Hey! Look how awesome and retro these graphics are! It totally makes this game so much more unique among the others in the market, right?” While the novelty of Shovel Knight being styled like a classic console game is there (even the menus feel incredibly old-school), it’s never distracting and only serves to take me back to a simpler time in my career as a gamer.

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The music is a great throwback to the soundtracks of the old Mega Man games, which would make sense since Mega Man composer Manami Matsumae offered up a few tracks for the game. The rest of the soundtrack is composed by Jake Kaufman, whose chiptune tracks are the perfect blend of adventurous and hardcore. There’s no way I can play Shovel Knight, listen to the soundtrack and then not get the urge to ride a rocket-powered ATV into a pool full of Red Bull and alligators who’ve only listened to death metal since birth and were made to watch repeat viewings of ‘Maid in Manhattan’ for days. That’s how pumped the soundtrack makes me. The only other game series’ soundtrack to give me the same sense of feeling charged up is Phoenix Wright’s.

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What made Shovel Knight feel like a great gaming experience was, like it always should be, the gameplay. Yes, it’s a pick-up-and-play kinda deal because it’s a side-scrolling platformer, but like many of the great titles from the past, it evolved as you played. While you can only attack with your shovel, jump and then perform a downward strike with your shovel in the beginning, you’ll be able to unlock new skills, new magic spells and more powerful attacks that also help you navigate the world. Now, what the 3DS had that I wish classic games did is the availability.

As difficult as Shovel Knight can be (and it wouldn’t be any fun if I didn’t keep dying), the convenience of having the bottom touch screen for inventory management was a great boon. This meant that I could quickly and easily check on my collectibles and switch out different pieces of gear and equipped gear. A lot of the time, it was necessary for me to pop my magic spells in order to clear a section more efficiently, but they never made me feel all-powerful. Even the Phase Locket, which let you become invulnerable and allowed you to walk on spikes, only worked for a few seconds before leaving you open for attack again. The balance between challenges and available skills and equipment was just right.

Shovel Knight

The addition of features like towns with shops for upgrades and separate sidequests makes Shovel Knight that much better of a game. Not only is the base game and quest riddled with awesome content, but there is so much peripheral content to tackle that you’ll end up playing for days on end. This is good because Yacht Club Games is eventually going to release many patches down the line that add more for you to do, like the gender-swap mode that switches all of the genders in the game and campaigns for some of the boss characters.

It’s difficult, it’s rewarding, it’s beautiful, it’s aurally-pleasing and it’s finally available. If you’ve got a PC, a 3DS or a Wii U, you owe it to yourself to check out this amazing game. The only downside is that newer gamers might be turned off by Shovel Knight’s difficulty, but for those willing to dig into the challenge, a treasure of a game awaits.

This review is based on purchased digital version of Shovel Knight for the Nintendo 3DS.

9.5 out of 10 arcade sushi rating