Video Game Review: Shovel Knight (3DS)

Having reviewed the Duck Tales games on episodes of the Nintendo Power Retrospectives, I’ve come to really dig (no pun intended) the pogo mechanic from that game. When Shovel Knight was released back in 2014, that game caught my interest, and seeing it at various Games Done Quick events just heightened my interest.

However, my finances were never quite enough for me to pick up the game, even when it was available on sale – and then the game got a physical release for the Nintendo 3DS, which was carried by GameFly, so now I had no excuse.

The game has a fairly simple premise – Shovel Knight used to adventure throughout the land with Shield Knight. However, Shield Knight was lost within the Tower of Fate, which was then sealed. When the evil Enchantress forms a group of knights within which to terrorize the land, called the Order of No Quarter, and then un-seals the Tower of Fate, Shovel Knight sets out to defeat the Enchantress and find Shield Knight.

The game, at least with the Shovel Knight campaign, is primarily built around the pogo mechanic as a means of attack and traversal, with new abilities being made available in each level through “relics” which the player can equip, and which allow new methods of attack and traversal. These are obtained not when you beat particular bosses (like with Mega Man), but by vendors in hidden rooms in each level. Obtaining these items will cost a certain amount of gold. If you don’t have enough gold, a vendor in the first town can sell the item to the player – assuming you can beat the level. The abilities are incidentally useful – though rather than having their own power pool, like with Mega Man power-ups, they draw from a combined magic pool.

Rather than letting you take on the levels in any order, as with Mega Man or Duck Tales, the levels are presented in blocks of three, with optional bonus stages that will allow you to earn additional cash and take on additional bosses. After beating each block of three, the way is open to the next block, and so on until you reach the Tower of Fate, which is made up of two distinct chunks, like with Dr. Wily’s Castle.

The game doesn’t use a life system, instead giving you a near unlimited number of lives to get through the level. When you die, you are bumped back to the last checkpoint, marked by an orb with a gemstone inside, and you lose some of your cash – but you can get that money back as you make your way back through the level. However, if you die again, you will lose additional money, and the last batch of cash you dropped will no longer be available to pick up. Additionally, if a player wants some additional cash and an additional challenge,they can destroy the checkpoints for a quick buck, but the checkpoints (naturally) do not respawn if you die, and you’re bumped back to the last checkpoint that you didn’t destroy.

Shovel Knight controls incredibly well. The controls feel even more precise than the controls on Duck Tales, while the jumps are spaced well enough that they provide a little margin of error. That said, movement with the analog pad on the 3DS was very loose – on multiple occasions, I attempted to pogo jump using the analog pad, and the game completely failed to recognize the down-input, and instead of pogoing, I instead hit the enemy and took damage. I can’t say if this is an issue for the versions of the game released on other consoles, but I’d recommend taking that under advisement anyway.

My main issue with the game is with how the game’s final boss rush is handled. Generally, my views on boss rushes are that they should really be their own level, ideally with some sort of checkpoint in between each re-fought boss. The game does something similar to this by giving you a full health and magic refill in-between each fight. However, it also puts the bosses in a semi-random order, which makes planning your tactics rather frustrating.

Additionally, I have an issue with how Tinker Knight is implemented in the boss rush. As a character, he basically has two life bars. He first takes you on one-on-one. In this form, he’s mostly a cake-walk, but his attack patterns are set up so you will end up taking some cheap-hits, particularly through a couple RNG (Random Number Generation) based attacks. After you’ve taken down his first life bar, he runs off screen and returns in a suit of power armor, with only one weak spot at the very top of the armor, and with a whole new life bar, and no way to recharge your health mid-fight. By comparison, Mega Man and Zelda II both gave the player abilities that let them heal their health mid-fight, E-Tanks in Mega-Man, and healing spells in Zelda II.

Now, this is certainly a challenge, and if the game took the tack of, say, the way the Mega Man games handle their boss-rushes, by letting the player select the order of the bosses, I wouldn’t have as much room to complain – it would create a situation where the player could rip the band-aid off early, and take on the bosses that they felt they were weak at first, before moving on to the bosses that they felt were their strong suit, or vise versa. By putting the bosses in random order, that’s not an option, so you have to just hope that you get the bosses in the order that you want.

Aside from those frustrating bits, I really enjoyed the game – it’s an excellent 2D platformer, and I really wish I’d taken the time to pick up this game sooner rather than later. If you have an opportunity to play this game, I’d recommend picking it up.

Shovel Knight for the 3DS (and several other platforms) is available through