Shovel Knight preview: can you dig it

IndieCade provided me with an opportunity to go hands-on with Yacht Club Games' Shovel Knight and it proves to be an NES throwback in the best possible way.


Yacht Club Games has been promising to dispense some shovel justice since reaching their Kickstarter goal for Shovel Knight. Being able to use your shovel as a pogo stick immediately brings up memories of DuckTales, but Shovel Knight draws from a number of classic games.

The game is unapologetically retro, featuring a HUD and 8-bit level design that's reminiscent of many old-school NES titles. And the idea is simply to move from room to room, survive enemies with familiar patterns, jump across platforms, and reach the boss at the end. It's a classic formula that's time-tested.

Shovel Knight's signature weapon gives the game a surprising amount of depth. Not only can you dig up random plots of dirt for treasure and use it to attack enemies, you can pogo off blocks of dirt and bounce off foes. You'll also be able to reflect enemy projectiles. I'd be interested to see if there ends up being more uses for it later in the game.

There's a lot of treasure scattered throughout the levels, many cleverly places just-out-of-reach. In the demo we played, we had to carefully pogo off blocks in the right order to grab diamonds. Many other jewels involve timing--luring an enemy to the right place to be able to get the height needed to reach the hidden gems. Oftentimes, you'll see a room's traps and enemies activate, only to understand the solution after you've destroyed the way to the treasure.

Being an old school game, Shovel Knight can get quite difficult. For example, there's a room with enchanted books that must be pried open with Shovel Knight's pogo move. Once the books open, platforms will materialize overhead for a short period. If the books aren't struck again, they'll close up and the platforms will disappear, sending Shovel Knight plummeting to his doom. Dying has consequence, however. Shovel Knight will surrender winged pieces of currency each time he dies. If you're able to get back to where you died, you'll be able to retrieve your lost loot. But die again and you'll lose that treasure forever.

Both the 3DS and Wii U versions of Shovel Knight looked solid. The Wii U port is especially impressive, given how little time was spent to create it. "Our engine programmer took two weeks and ported the game over completedly to the Wii U," said Yacht Club's Sean Velasco. He also shares some ideas for the Wii U GamePad. "We were thinking we could do a bestiary, where you kill a guy and you get to read about him. We were also thinking of doing something that uses the MiiVerse a bit more. We love how in New Super Mario Bros. U, after you die, you'll see a message after you die. Since our game is room-based, we were thinking that maybe with every room you go to, you could query a Miiverse message from the GamePad."

While shown off on Nintendo platforms, Shovel Knight is set to release on PC, Mac, and Linux as well. It should be done by year's end.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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