Copyright Adam Schlosser

Copyright 2005 Adam Schlosser

Posted by Pip

R9M5- Secret SerVice

Never a dull moment in Sins town! Pride going to feel pret-ty silly that she told everybody the moon was cool.
The Captain has dirt on everybody in the Spirit Realm! She's hung out with Armageddon, has beef with Hope, and is now ready to throw down against the moon! Plus, she's an enabler for Baxter. The Baron should be thankful that she never ran in the election...

Quick Review: Shovel Knight- Aside from the character design, there's nothing uniquely interesting or novel about Shovel Knight. It's cribbing from some great games, but it definitely has a feeling of "been there, done that". There's a lot of neat stuff in the game, but it was already neat when I saw it in the games SK is referencing, so it feels like it's best suited for somebody that probably didn't grow up with the NES but has heard the system being lauded on message boards and from older game players. SK is what NES games are like in your memories, instead of what a lot of NES games actually were in reality.
Even when it does something well, Shovel Knight undercuts itself by following it up with something totally generic. There's a neat laboratory stage, but then it has the token lava stage, the underwater stage where you move slower but jump higher, and the ice stage. It's 2014, how do we still have people thinking that slippery ice levels are a good idea? For the stages that do have gimmicks, they're usually just not fun. The ice level has a statue that you have to strike to create a temporary bridge to ride across large pits. It's not fun and it's not charming outside of the first time you do it, so that whole feature basically boils down to “here's a slow way to move over pits instead of jumping across platforms”. Almost all of your deaths will come from instant-kill spikes or pits. Enemies are mostly just nuisances to fill out the stages and knock you into said pits. It's bad enough to the point that multiple bosses fight you by creating pits or instant-death spikes. Even the final boss is so trivial that its main attack is to just destroy the stage's floor so you die right away and it does this in both of its forms. Nothing kills the suspense and danger of your ultimate foe quicker than realizing that the boss would be a total pushover if you fought on solid ground. Enemies respawn when you move far enough off the screen and that's an eternal pet peeve of mine that games just can't seem to get over after all these years. The game also has a habit of putting things in the foreground or blacking out the screen to just make traversing the stages annoying. It controls well and it's easy enough to pick up and play, so the game's problems are rarely mechanical, they're just bad design. Right after pressing Start for the first time you find out that the B button is “Accept” and A is “Cancel”. That alone is just terrible. The system's own hardware dictates that the button you have to press to open the game is the A button, because A is “Accept”. The Castlevania-esq subweapons aren't really useful. There's one that gives you temporary invincibility but it takes so long to activate that it's only moderately helpful. There's a fishing item that's completely unnecessary and not fun in the slightest. You'll typically find/buy an item, use it for the section or two built around that item and rarely touch it again. The subweapons aren't useful enough to be like weapons in Mega Man and aren't well-integrated into the level design so they don't fit in like weapons in Zelda. The weapons are simply there.
Like I mentioned, where the game shines is the art and character design. One of the things I adored about NES art styles was the blue sky, bright palette in a lot of the good games and Shovel Knight does that extremely well. Mini-bosses are big and vibrant, with sprites that are detailed enough to be impressive but not so overly done that you can't immediately take in everything with a quick glance. There are so few muddy browns or grays in the game, that it bothered me even more when the armor upgrades changed my sprite from a peppy blue to a dull silver. Once you're out of combat though, the towns clash with the normal stages. They're filled with unexplained (and kind of gross) anthropomorphic townspeople (townsanimals?). Even the humans don't fit in with the enemies' and SK's aesthetic. If you compare it to a Mega Man game, even Dr. Light and Dr. Wily matched Mega Man and the Robot Masters' style. Here, though, townspeople have drastically different builds and structures than Shovel Knight and the Order, to the point that there are some villagers that are twice as large as you, so they don't meld. Troupple King's unskippable dance seems to be at odds with the focus on gameplay and keeping you playing. You can do nothing but sit there for what feels like minutes while an ugly sprite jiggles. A dancer in the bar does about the same thing, but she at least has funny sprites so it's not AS bad. Most of the bosses look amazing (Spectre Knight!), but the regular enemies populating the stages aren't anything special. The propeller rats are fantastic, but little else stands out. Stages are filled with bugs and armored enemies that look like they could be pulled from any dozens of games. The story is super bare bones. All of the interesting story elements occur before the game even starts and get recapped in a cutscene. When you get to the end of the game, it wasn't so much a journey as it was just some thing that happened to some people. The bad guy's big reveal is totally meaningless because you only saw her in the intro cutscene, a between-level dialogue sequence, and heard mention of her in a line or two from the bosses. Your introduction to the bad guy is basically The Dark Secret so it all falls flat. The music is also pretty much generic yeah-that-sounds-authentically-chiptuney. There are three or four good numbers, but it's mostly the music that was in the trailers so I'd heard it all before playing the game. It's a problem I have with a lot of Virt's music in WayForward games. He does one or two great tracks and then everything else is totally forgettable or a song will have a fantastic intro but then the rest is only okay. The complaints even go for the achievements. They're just not fun. I don't see the point of adding a mechanic if you're purposefully going to make it bad, and the achievements were a stretch goal for their Kickstarter so it kind of feels like a ripoff that they're so lame. You have the usual lazy "Don't die" ones but then others are basically "Ignore this part of the game" like speedrunning so you avoid all the exploration or never finding the sub-weapons, which kind of demonstrates how useless they are. There's even a bug with the achievements where you can get the one for beating half of the bosses by just beating the same one over and over by replaying stages. Quality game testing! I was hoping there would be a reward for finishing all the achievements, such as getting a cheat code to unlock some kind of neat modifier or way to tweak the game, but no such luck. You hit 100% and get nothing out of it. The New Game Plus mode was another stretch goal feature and it's also pretty bad. The only differences seem to be that you take double damage, there are almost no healing items, and stages have fewer checkpoints, so now when you get knocked back into a pit or spikes, you get sent farther back in the level and have to replay the same bad segments over and over. The boss rush is the only part of the game where you might die from combat-related issues instead of just pits or spikes, and New Game Plus destroys what could have been a fun encounter. You have to beat every boss in the game one after another, taking double damage, and what seems like no healing items between fights. It's not like a good boss rush is a new lesson to be learned, either. Mega Man taught us how to do boss rushes decades ago. The boss rush in Mega Man 1 is horrible and keeps me from going back and replaying it much, but in every game after that, they fixed the idea, gave you checkpoints between bosses, and gave you the chance to get a little health back between fights. Those changes took the boss rush from being one of the worst parts of the first game to becoming one of the things I look forward to the most every time I play a new Mega Man game. The way SK introduces the boss rush to you, I thought they were going to do something really special and make you fight multiple bosses at the same time. That would have been a fantastic way to put their own stamp on the boss rush. Instead, they just took the same mechanic that's been done elsewhere and did it worse. The extra features' implementation seems like a really backwards way to handle stretch goals. Stretch goals are supposed to be meaningful ways to reward people for their support, not ways to make your product less interesting or actively less enjoyable.
The 3DS features are really half-baked. You can exchange your pedometer coins for in-game gold, but the exchange rate is so low that you can make three to five times as much as the daily coin limit by just replaying the intro level and about 2/3 of the way through the game, you'll have bought every upgrade and money becomes meaningless anyway. There's a way to exchange battles using Street Pass, but relying on Street Passes for anything is always a bad idea. I work in San Francisco, a fairly affluent tech-friendly city, and I take public transportation so you'd think I'd be in the ideal place to Street Pass but I barely get anything. So now filter those sporadic Passes down to the number of people that own this game and enabled the feature in the arena and the whole thing kind of seems like a waste of resources. SK shipped without several features promised in the Kickstarter campaign, so hopefully they'll be patched in soon and add a little more oomph to the game.
Shovel Knight is most definitely a game whose advertising hurt it. The game was revealed over a year before it was released so my initial excitement died off by the time it came out, the company announced a definitive release date and then missed it by almost two months, and the team's game streams constantly talked up Mega Man and they even went so far as to get one of the composers of the early Mega Man games to work on the music, so the final product just doesn't live up to the glee I had when I saw the first Kickstarter trailer. It's not a bad game by most means, it's just a totally adequate game and nothing more. I'm not sad I played it but I don't feel I got my money's worth. I'm not ready to write off Yacht Club Games yet because really all of my issues can be fixed with a good sequel/next game, but I'll be a lot more cautious about picking up that next game.