I’ve played Shovel Knight to completion at least three times now, on every platform it’s ever been on. To call it one of the best games of 2014 is an understatement; to acknowledge that it is just now coming to Xbox One is tantamount to shining a light on treason against humanity. It is unabashedly cruel that you, Xbox One fans, have not gotten your hands on this game until now. It’s just that good.
And we’re so, so sorry to have visited that horrible punishment upon you. It’s better now. You can play Shovel Knight. All is right with the world. This may, I suspect, be the greatest thing that’s ever happened to anyone. You’re welcome.
Yes, I love Shovel Knight. And yes, a lot of that love stems from its adorable retro aesthetic: It looks, sounds, and plays like a game that I might have picked up as an ‘80s kid. But developer Yacht Club Games rides a fine line here, making sure things are just fuzzy-memory-inducing enough to make you believe that this thing could have been a genuine NES game at the time. But the color palette is richer, the chiptunes are complex in their relative simplicity (shout-out to composer Jake “Virt” Kaufman for one of the single greatest video game soundtracks ever produced), and the scope stretches the boundaries of what a game of that era could reasonably encompass.
But the rest of my love for Shovel Knight is due to it just being a damn good game. This is 2D sidescrolling at its finest, and it incorporates and remixes the bets elements of some of the all-time greatest retro games to create something unique and unforgettable. The titular hero pogos from enemy to enemy like DuckTales’ Scrooge McDuck. The themed knight bosses (and their collectible weapons) are an unmistakable nod to Mega Man. The world map has shades of Clash at Demonhead (and the adventures of a certain red-clad plumber). And the overall design aesthetic has the air of a super-deformed Castlevania III.
Oh, and if you die, you lose a bunch of your hard-earned cash, and must carefully make your way back to it in one piece, a la Dark Souls (one of my other favorite things). Shovel Knight mixes a modern design sensibility (and a surprising difficulty curve) with its many well-executed retro elements, making for a joyful and eminently replayable game that – for gamers of a certain age – will briefly turn you into a bright-eyed kid again.
And if that’s not enough, the Xbox One version has the Battletoads in it, too. How much better could this possibly get? The answer: Not at all, because Shovel Knight is the freaking best.