Describing Shovel Knight as an homage to platformers of old would be an accurate representation of the game, but perhaps underselling the efforts of its developers. Instead, Shovel Knight feels more like an archaeological exercise in unearthing, studying, and restoring game design ideas and mechanics.
Yes, it is a platformer akin to Mario, Mega Man, or countless others from the NES-era. Yes, you do run from one side of the screen hopping pitfalls and dispatching enemies wandering to and fro, but brush away the dust and you’ll find the glimmers of more interesting, complicated mechanics beneath the surface.
Around that familiar platformer format, developer Yacht Club Games has grafted on mechanics from a variety of titles and then smoothed it all down to create a brilliant new gem. What ties all these mechanics together is their obscurity. In some way or another, each idea featured in Shovel of Hope–and the numerous follow-up games in the Shovel Knight universe–are forgotten, abandoned, or underused.
Programmer David D’Angelo describes Yacht Club as a studio that, as a company, “Likes to take ideas and say, ‘Hey, this is why this is cool and it shouldn’t have been forgotten,’ or, ‘This is something that everyone said was bad but this is why it’s good,’ or, ‘If you mix and match these in a fun, new, interesting way, this is why it could be engaging.'” That is very much what defines the games in the Shovel Knight series.
In Audio Logs Season 2, Episode 5, D’Angelo picks apart the pieces used to create Shovel Knight and reveals some of the surprising inspirations that informed its creations. It’s rare to get such an in-depth, almost scientific look at how a game is designed and seeing D’Angelo explain what inspired the team, how they adapted the ideas, and the tweaks made to modernize them is fascinating.
From the shovel drop mechanic, simple but open-ended world design, and quirky characters to engaging boss fights, considered stage layout, and emergent platforming design, D’Angelo breaks it down in detail, and you don’t want to miss it.
Shovel Knight is so dense and so full of interesting design that we have a second episode dedicated to the follow-up titles, which you’ll be able to watch next week. You can watch the Shovel Knight episode of Audio Logs above and you can also see it on YouTube, along with the entirety of Season 1.
Source: Game Spot Mashup