8 years ago, this iconic retro platformer changed indie gaming forever

Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. Let enough time pass and the desire to see how things were will come to light. In games, the trend of emulating the style of a certain era of games is alive and well. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a game that describes itself as Metroidvania, Zelda-like, or retro. The biggest difficulty in imitating a classic is making it good enough that it overcomes the nostalgia factor. But when a game manages to break that barrier, the result is a modern classic.

This is the case with the best platformer of the last decade – Shovel Knight.

better than you remember

shovel knight feels and looks like an NES platformer.Boat club games

Yacht Club Games, the developer of shovel knight, looked to NES-era platforms for inspiration. Their goal was to “create really great original games that use modern and retro sensibilities,” as stated in the original Kickstarter campaign for the game.

The Greek philosopher Plato had a theory called Platonic realism. It is the idea that abstract objects have universal qualities that exist objectively. A common thought experiment to illustrate the idea is to think of a mug. What does this mug look like? Is it circular? Shallow or deep? Which defines her cupness. Now, if you take a real mug, it might not look exactly like your ideal mug, but it is a mug nonetheless.

shovel knight is the Platonic ideal of an NES platformer.

His art style looks exactly like what your brain imagines duck tales looks like. Gameplay is as responsive as you imagine mega man feels. But none of these things are true.

shovel knight look better. It plays better.

shovel knight was strongly influenced by Mega-man’s tight gameplay.Capcom

This is due to modern Yacht Club sensibilities being applied to the NES platformer. Pixels look crisp and vibrant in a way that actual NES games only look with a veil of nostalgia drawn over the player’s eyes. But making a game better than 30 years ago is not a difficult task. However, creating gameplay that lives up to a classic is a tough business.

The most obvious influence when it comes to the gameplay of shovel knight is the mega man series. The Capcom franchise is famous for its tight controls, challenging levels, and iconic boss stages. The games rely on the player defeating different bosses (all named in the [blank]+Male Format) and gain new weapons against which other bosses are weak. The platform is an art in mega manrequiring the player to master each mechanic to progress.

shovel knightreverence for mega man is tied into the game’s DNA. The main objective driving the game forward is the need to defeat the Order Without Quarter, a collection of eight bosses who are all named [blank]+ Knight (including Polar Knight, Propeller Knight and King Knight). The main mechanic of the game is the titular shovel, which you can swing, dig or bounce on. These three actions define the gameplay and are so well tuned that every platforming puzzle and boss fight is incredibly satisfying to master.

When shovel knight released in 2014, it was instantly recognizable as a masterpiece of game design. But the Yacht Club didn’t stop there.

I bet you can’t have just one

Three other campaigns were published for shovel knight.Boat club games

In fulfillment of the original Kickstarter, Yacht Club added three playable Boss Knight modes. Each of them became an individual campaign with a fully fleshed out campaign and a unique gameplay element. What started as game development has blossomed into a five-plus-year development that has produced shovel knightthree spin-off campaigns and a multiplayer combat game.

All three campaigns follow Plague Knight alongside the events of the main game, Specter Knight before the main game, and King Knight even further than that. While all three of these campaigns have their own merits, the most notable is King Knight’s campaign. Shovel Knight: King of Cards was the last campaign and was published at the end of 2019.

It tells the story of the Knight King’s ascension to the throne and how we joined the Order without quarter. King Knight’s defining game mechanic is a dashing tackle inspired by a similar move from Wario Land. Additionally, King Knight has access to an airship (how Final Fantasy) which is slowly gaining residents who can provide items and new unlockables. The game focuses on defeating three different kings across the land. You can enjoy it all, or you can ignore your responsibilities and play the most addictive minigame ever.

Joustus is an addictive card game inspired by Final Fantasy 8.Boat club games

Joustus is a mini-game exclusive to the king of cards country. It is a card game inspired by the Triple Triad mini-game of Final Fantasy 8. Triple Triad saw players collect cards from around the world and take on any NPC in the game. There is a lengthy side quest in Final Fantasy 8 dedicated to this minigame called the queen of cards. People have spent hours on this card game alone. Joustus follows in his footsteps.

The game takes place on a grid, the size of which can change depending on which region of the map you are in. Some squares in the grid contain gems, the objective is to get as many gems as possible in a match. You do this by placing cards in empty spaces and pushing them across the board according to the arrows on the card. What starts out as a simple game quickly turns into a complex game. Cards can have special abilities that push two or more spaces, switch places with a card, or even destroy the card it touches. This all turns into a strategic game requiring the player to think about card placement as well as having a solid deck composition. All for a mini-game.

Shovel Knight began as an attempt to create a game that could live up to the nostalgia Yacht Club had for the NES platforms. But over the extended development of the main game and its many sequels, the developer has demonstrated its unique understanding of what makes games special. They could copy any game mechanic they wanted, whether it was the pogo stick of duck tales or a deck of cards Final Fantasy. But above all, they could improve them.

Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, but nothing beats an enhanced masterpiece.

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