Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope is very clearly, first and foremost, a project that has been worked on by a variety of very talented people with a wide array of different game-development skills all united by a genuine passion to create a product in the vein of the best 8-bit platformers of yesteryear.
You play as the titular hero, who, presumably as a result of having such a strange and specific name, began wielding a gardening tool and took up a code of righteous justice at some point prior to the start of the game’s story. During the course of this adventure however, our hero is searching the realms for his missing love interest / partner-in-chivalry, and he is well prepared to commit multiple felony assaults against any man, beast, or magical creature in his way until he finds her.
The gameplay itself is refreshingly simple and intuitive: standard arrow-key movement aided by a jump button and a basic shovel attack used to traverse relatively simple levels along a more-or-less linear path from beginning to end.
Where Shovel Knight shines is in its array of nice little ideas which introduce a welcome layer of complexity to the game’s overall high degree of polish: good performance in a level results in a larger monetary reward, and inversely, dying sets players back to the most recent checkpoint at the cost of dropping a share of their total loot piked up thus far, which can only be regained if the point of death is reached again within one more life. Furthermore, those checkpoints themselves can be destroyed by the player for a substantial reward, negating one more point of return but being well-worth the reward for the skilled player confident in their own abilities.
All this money collection is in aid of purchasing health upgrades, better suits of armour, improvements to your weapon, and gimmicky items which can be used a limited amount of times per level from certain locations accessible in the overworld map you use to traverse between levels.
Everything about Shovel Knight’s design is absolutely gorgeous. The regular enemies and the myriad of memorable thematic bosses are all hugely varied in both artistic design and attack mechanics. Your allies and NPC friends are all beautiful and full of personable charm, level design is top-notch, and everything about the interface and soundtrack all perfectly capture the 8-bit spirit much of this game takes direction from.
This is a great game that will easily run on just about any present-day machine, it does a simple concept exceedingly well, comes off as challenging yet well balanced, and feels like it’s priced appropriately too. The developers, Yacht Club, should certainly be proud in their realised project.