You probably noticed, but we were a little… emphatic about Shovel Knight in the first installment of its USgamer Club. Though each of us come from very different gaming backgrounds, we all fell in love with Yacht Club's thoughtful take on recapturing retro.
This week, we take on what lies beyond the first few stages. Will Shovel Knight hold our attention until the very end? Will tiny cracks begin to appear in its seemingly perfect exterior? Will we destroy our minds and bodies chasing down every last achievement? And, most importantly, will we ever be able to get that catchy background music out of our heads before it drives us insane? SPOILERS: Yes, no, maybe, and probably not.
Kat: I think Shovel Knight's first half is a tiny bit stronger than the second (I really love Spectre Knight and Plague Knight's stages), but it's remarkably consistent throughout. Polar Knight and Mole Knight are probably the best of the bunch in the second half, with Treasure Knight and Propeller Knight lagging a tiny bit behind. The only stage I really disliked belonged to Tinker Knight, mainly because I didn't particularly like having to deal with all the enemies flying through the air (the Phase Locket definitely helped on my second run), and I found the actual art design unremarkable. Tinker Knight's giant mech made up for it though.
With that said, does anyone have a favorite knight in particular? As I said, I really like Spectre Knight's design, but I'm ultimately somewhat torn between Plague Knight and Polar Knight. I like the originality of the former, and I like that the latter wields a giant fricking snow shovel. I should add that Plague Knight has probably the best music in the entire game. So sound off! Which level and knight do you like best?
Mike: That's surprising to me, because I found Propeller Knight and Tinker Knight's stage to be the better ones, if you don't take the easy way out with the Phase Locket. Both stages are more complex with more varied mechanics. As a Mega Man fan, Propeller Knight's stage reminded me of Air Man's stage in Mega Man 2, while Tinker Knight's domain felt like Metal Man or Magnet Man's stages. As for my favorite level? Probably the Tower of Fate, for the way it mixes a bunch of the previous mechanics together; overall, it really tests your skills.
My favorite member of the Order of No Quarter is probably Propeller Knight, but my favorite boss period is probably Mr. Hat. It's such a great design and idea - his abilities change depending on which hat he wears - that I can't get enough of it. I went through the entire game just hoping for more Mr. Hat.
Jaz: I have a confession to make. I haven't played Shovel Knight at all this week. That's not because of laziness or senility, but simply because I enjoyed playing it so much last week, I want to save it for another time. I have way too many other things going on at the moment, and I know if I played it, I'd be squeezing it in here and there - and that would be doing the game a through disservice. Like eating a gourmet meal while wandering around doing housework.
Nope. I want to savor this sucker, so I'm going to wait until I have some proper time for it. Such as the vacation I hope to be taking at some point in the not-too-distant future. That's when I'll be able to devote 100% of my attention to it, and enjoy it to its fullest. To me, Shovel Knight is the perfect vacation game: not too heavy or complex, but still rewarding and absorbing.
Jeremy: I'm in the same boat, Jaz, though not for quite the same reason. Between reviewing The Last of Us and writing this week's cover story, I've literally done nothing but sit and work from dawn to way past dusk for the past four days. And two of those days were supposed to have been a weekend!
Oh well. Life is pain. I have been able to sneak in a little time to play Shovel Knight, and I continue to be impressed by how well it's been put together. Last time I gushed about the way the opening level design shows you the ropes, and about the silky-smooth mechanics, but I think more needs to be said about all the RPG mechanics as well. It's a perfect simplified take on the RPG, and that's exactly as it should be: A hub town serves as a sort of resting spot to take a break between stages and improve your skills and stats.
Besides laying out expectations and opportunities in a plain and accessible fashion, the hub also gives you some much-needed downtime after completing a nerve-wracking action sequence. Much as I love the Mega Man games, they never really get the pacing right; you either go from one intense action stage to the next with no room for a breather, or else you have to sit through dumb mandatory cutscenes before you can continue. Shovel Knight gives you the opportunity to catch your breath in the wake of a hard-earned victory, but it's absolutely at your own discretion; you can jump over to the next stage in line if you like, or you can muck around and talk to NPCs until you're ready and satisfied that you've done everything that can possibly be done in the current area.
I also appreciate the optional nature of the supplemental tools and skills you can employ — power-ups and artifacts and the like. Shovel Knight, at heart, is a fairly straightforward game, but it leaves ample opportunity for players to take it at their own pace and in their own preferred style. Great stuff. Hopefully I'll have time to finish it someday...
Bob: I don't think we ever wrote much about the special weapons, did we? Anyone have any favorites? To be honest, I mostly forgot about these things until halfway through the game, which is where they become pretty invaluable. Some enemies just aren't meant to be faced in close quarters—unless you're really good—so I've mostly been using the throwing anchor to clear my path (it's pretty much identical to Castlevania's axe). I find those anchors the perfect option for whenever Shovel Knight makes you face one of those Iron Knuckle-ish fencers on a thin strip of floating platform. The flare wand's been getting some use, too, especially whenever I get to one of those screen-filling stationary enemies—similar to those pumas (?) in Mega Man 2's Wood Man stage—because they're essentially just giant hitboxes. I do wish Yacht Club pulled a Mega Man X maneuver and let us switch between these sub-weapons with a shoulder button instead of having to jump into the menu, but it's only a minor issue.
I'd also like to know what means of input everyone is using to play the game. I have the PC version, and while I started with the standard 360 controller, that hideous lump of a d-pad isn't equipped to handle meticulous platforming. So, I switched over to my SNES clone USB controller, and the experience became much more authentic—not to mention, much easier to play. It might just be me, but Shovel Knight seems to work best on Nintendo's cross-pad controller design. I didn't try it on a DualShock controller, though I can't imagine the feel being all that different. Seems like I'd have to pick up an NES clone controller if I was really searching for authenticity, but I'm not sure how comfortable that thing would be as an adult—even if I've been inured to its lack of ergonomics via a steady childhood diet of Nintendo games.
We've also been bringing up our favorite bosses in the game, and I'm going to have to nab Kat's choice of Plague Knight. I'm not the biggest fan of his stage—those exploding rats can be really annoying—but the battle against him is great. I especially love how the battlefield changes over the course of the fight, which forces you to adapt your jumping strategies on the fly. He's one of the faster, smaller bosses, too, so it feels great in those rare moments when Plague Knight can't escape your pogo assault. The bosses in this game certainly aren't pushovers, but if you get into a good rhythm and see through their patterns, it's possible to drain half of their life before they can score a single hit on you.
Mike: Best Relic? It took me a while to get used to it, but I must say my most useful Relic is the Chaos Orb. You can cause a great deal of damage throwing a Chaos Orb in the right area. It just bouncing to and fro, causing damage in its wake. It's a wonderful little weapon. Most players will stick with the stage-found Relics like the Phase Locket, Flare Wand, or Dust Knuckle, but the Chaos Orb deserves some solid experimentation.
As for my controller of choice, let me shout it from the mountaintop: Shovel Knight is one of the few PC games to natively support the Dual Shock 4. With in-game PlayStation icons as well! And as I said in our recent Community Question, the Dual Shock 4 is pound-for-pound my favorite controller of all-time. Being able to actually use it on PC is amazing and I'll love Yacht Club Games forever for taking the time to make it happen.
Kat: It's not ideal, but I've been mostly using the Wii U gamepad to play Shovel Knight. Over time, I've gotten used to the clunkiness, and even thrived with it. As for my favorite relics, I found myself using the Phase Locket and the Propeller Dagger alot to traverse obstacles. I didn't use the Dust Knuckles or the Mobile Gear much if at all. By and large, I found that my trusty shovel was more than adequate to get me through the various obstacles. If I get around to playing Shovel Knight again (maybe on my 3DS?), I may try a no-items run. That should ramp up the challenge appreciable.
In the meantime, unlike you slackers (I kid) I've actually finished Shovel Knight twice now, once for review and once for the Game Club. I may beat it again at some point just because I like it that much. Without giving too much away, I think it's definitely worth the effort to go and wrap up the main quest. It takes the boss rush-one of the things I find most tedious about most Mega Man games-and makes it hilarious. I keep going back to this same point, but I love the Order of No Quarter. They're as much as stars of this game as the Shovel Knight himself.
As for the end, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out if you've been paying attention to the story. Whatever you do, make sure you stay for the end of the credits. The final touch is really sweet.
We've tackled a classic role-playing game for PlayStation and a modern platformer that builds on history's best games. Now let's combine the two: Next week, USgamer Club shifts its focus to a classic role-playing platformer for PlayStation that builds on some of history's best games. That's right, we're going to be playing Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
You can grab Symphony in several different formats: It's available as a PSN download that plays on PlayStation 3, PSP, and Vita; a remake is available on Xbox Live; and it's a free bonus in The Dracula X Chronicles, which is available pretty cheaply for PSP and Vita. Or you could buy the original game disc and play it via a PlayStation emulator. We don't care how you do it, we just want you to join us!
So we'll wrap up our Shovel Knight discussion below, and once we reconvene next week we'll talk about Symphony up to… let's say the first encounter with Richter, in the Coliseum. See you in seven!