Why should you play “Shovel Knight” (2014)? Because it was made for the express purpose of delighting you, and goodness gracious does it deliver. No matter what age you are, “Shovel Knight” is an accessible yet challenging and charming 2D platformer full of magic and humor that will make you smile whether or not you even know what the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is. On top of that, the story of its development is every independent developer’s dream.
“Shovel Knight” was funded through a massively successful Kickstarter. Its original goal was $75,000, and it ended up raising over $310,000, reaching 12 stretch goals. It’s a well-mocked fact that many game projects funded through Kickstarter often don’t pay up when it comes to stretch goals or even base products. However, ever since funding, Yacht Club Games has done nothing but produce high-quality deliverables for its backers. There were three planned additional campaigns starring community-beloved boss characters and are essentially entirely new games. Two of the campaigns have already been released successfully as free downloadable content (DLC) to anyone who purchased the game. The second came out last week and the third is scheduled to be released later this year.
One beautiful stretch goal that was released along with the second DLC is something Yacht Club called Body Swap, which arose out of the developers’ realization that they had made almost every important character in their game a man. With the Body Swap feature, the player can pick male or female designs for all important characters as well as male or female pronouns independent of body choice. While gender-neutral isn’t a choice in this game, it’s remarkable to see a mostly male group of developers go out of their way to independently forge this kind of inclusivity and not just create sexualized female versions of all the characters. According to their post about Body Swap, they said their main principles for their new sprites were to keep the same hitboxes, keep the same personalities and dialogue, create clearly differentiable designs with unique silhouettes and have the ‘after’ design be equally gendered. For example, Shovel Knight himself isn’t particularly male-expressive in the first place, so there are only subtle differences between the original sprites and the female version. On the other hand, Propeller Knight outwardly flaunts his masculinity, so the female version is curvier and clearly feminine.
Another quick note about character design: “Shovel Knight” takes a remarkably fresh perspective on themes used for bosses. For example, the water elemental boss isn’t Water Knight; he’s Treasure Knight, humorously themed around monetary greed and inhabiting a sunken ship filled with gold complete with alluring anglerfish and hidden eels.
“Shovel Knight” can be purchased for $24.99 on a staggering number of platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Amazon Fire TV, PS Vita, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS and, most recently, the Nintendo Switch. It can sometimes be found on sale for 33 percent off. This price may appear high for a game that looks like it belongs on a NES, but keep in mind you’re receiving four lovingly-crafted campaigns in one package. Now go forth, young Jumbos, and learn the ways of SHOVELRY!