As more indie developers reach adulthood, games with retro themes and graphics are becoming more commonplace. To call Shovel Knight just another retro throwback would do this game a complete disservice. It's one thing to replicate the look of an old-school game, but it's another to completely capture the atmosphere.
After playing through Shovel Knight, the signs of brilliance were there. The level design was nearly flawless, the 8-bit worlds were captivating, and the challenge was definitely there. Developer Yacht Club Games understood the appeal of a true challenge and Shovel Knight managed to offer it in spades. Jumps were tough as nails, bosses had crazy attack patterns, and many of the obstacles were genuinely clever. The game offers an intense challenge, but it also offers a fair one. While I was ready to toss my controller at the wall at several points, I never felt like Shovel Knight was unfairly designed, especially with a modern checkpoint system. There was a lot of death in Shovel Knight, but there was also persistance. Eventually, there was triumph.
After making it through the story, meeting all of the fun characters, mastering every tricky jump, upgrading the hero's armor and attacks, finding every hidden ability, and even playing with a handful of the cheats, the realization begins to sink in. Shovel Knight is more than a good retro game that would have fit in perfectly with the NES era of cartridges. It's just a fantastic game, period, and one that can stand proudly as one of the best of this year.