Shovel Knight Treasure Trove is a pixelated wonder from start to finish. It wears its inspirations on its sleeve. This game takes the formulae of the NES platformers of old and turns it into something new. Something that both pays homage to those gaming classics as well as building upon it.
The game was extremely successful during its Kickstarter funding period. Shovel Knight ended up drawing over $300,000 within a month. Not only did it smash its minimum funding goal, but it also surpassed all of its stretch goals.
Shovel Knight has a legacy several years on as one of the most recognisable indie games of all time. Not to mention the titular character becoming iconic in the same way. Not many other games have been so successful in blending the old and the new. Especially when it comes to platformers. Here's why Shovel Knight Treasure Trove is still a must-play.
A Code of Shovelry
Shovel Knight plays endearingly and charmingly like the NES platformers of old. Developer, Yacht Club Games, was inspired by everything from Mega Man to the divisive Zelda II. This action platformer blends many different gameplay styles seamlessly. All whilst boasting tight, intuitive controls and a variety of different weapons to utilise in your adventure.
Shovel Knight's platforming is a constant challenge, though in the best way possible. Especially in the later levels. The game finds more creative and dynamic ways to test your reflexes and keep you on your toes. However, it never feels outwardly unfair when you fail a jump or get clobbered by a particularly brutal enemy. Thankfully, Yacht Club Games chose to draw inspiration from only the best aspects of the 80s classics. Jettisoning some of the clunkier, arguably more outdated features of these games in the process.
An Added Challenge
Shovel Knight's levels are always scattered with an evenly spaced and fair amount of checkpoints. This means that you're never in danger of losing a huge chunk of progress should you die at an inopportune time. Though, for true masochists, there is the option to destroy most checkpoints you come across. All of this in exchange for a heightened challenge and a little more treasure.
Upon death, you lose a quarter of your accumulated wealth in the form of floating, recoverable treasure bags that float around aimlessly near the area of your death. This is an absolutely fantastic mechanic that balances a fair punishment for a mistake without feeling like overkill. Unlike a lot of other platformers, Shovel Knight Treasure Trove doesn't feel the need to shoehorn in a Lives system where it wouldn't hugely be warranted. Though that mechanic does very much have its place in many other games.
Despite the game's fully 2D style, there is an almost Metroidvania-like approach to its potential for exploration. Players must learn to keep an eye out for destructible wall panels and collectables in hard to reach places in order to complete the game to its fullest. Interestingly, the game makes its optional collectables functional. Each level contains several music sheets that you can not only return to the village's bard for much-needed cash but also use to unlock music tracks in the sound test menu. Couple this with secrets tucked away in the hub levels and you'll likely find it'll take multiple playthroughs to discover everything the main campaign has to offer.
There is also great potential for experimentation in regards to how you approach combat and movement. There are many different playstyles being accommodated for. With options to upgrade your eponymous shovel and your armour in order to give you various buffs (and in some cases, trade-off debuffs). There are also a wide variety of unique and powerful relics that can be discovered in each level as well as purchased in the village. They can allow you to do anything from briefly becoming invincible to blowing everything in the room to kingdom come.
The difficulty of the game scales so that by the time you've uncovered all of the relics and chosen your ideal suit of armour, you still never quite feel as if you're properly invincible. However, the biggest dilemma you face in Shovel Knight is whether to tailor your upgraded armour pick to your preferred playstyle, or whether to choose completely based on aesthetic. I personally dislike the power that comes with the pink suit of armour. But… it's pink…
A Classic Adventure With Modern Twists
Shovel Knight takes its pixelated art style to its limits, finding every conceivable way to inject vibrant colour and intricate detail into every screen. A golden, banner-laden castle, graveyards scattered with skulls and rotting shacks. An alchemist's fortress tinted sickly green and stacked with vast towers of bubbling potions. Each level is beautifully designed and full of aesthetic detail. Each level also contains differing enemies, features and puzzles. All of which are often related to the overall theme of the lair you're exploring. And waiting for you at the end of each one is a boss fight. Each boss will test you on everything you've learned in the game so far, as well as encourage you to make creative use of your gathered relics. Shovel Knight Treasure Trove makes sure that no relic becomes redundant.
Each of these boss fights also showcases the game's charming and unique character models. Each boss has their own individual quirks. Subtle details that firmly keep them from being what they very easily could've been: forgettable, gimmicky end bosses. Shovel Knight's aesthetic is clearly inspired by classic fantasy. It gives the game the atmosphere of a traditional fantasy adventure. Yet it also brings in visual elements of 'technomancy' (magic mixed with technology) to create soaring airships and clockwork machines alongside the swords and shields. Or rather, shovels and shields.
Map of the Realm
Moreover, Shovel Knight's unique aesthetic and wonderfully animated map create a cohesive world to explore. Even when each level is so different in its themes. This means that none of the game's quirks feel like gimmicks, from the wacky character designs all the way down to your protagonist's choice of weapon.
What is especially impressive in this game is its soundtrack. Shovel Knight Treasure Trove has one of the most memorable video game soundtracks in recent years. Composed by Jake Kaufman and featuring contributions from original Mega Man composer Manami Matsumae, each track is consistently atmospheric and catchy. You'll often find you have various songs from the game stuck in your head long after you've finished playing. Though informed by earlier music from 8-bit games, Kaufman has created here some of the most evocative and layered chiptune music I've ever heard.
A Shovelmatic Universe
Despite the relatively linear genre play style, the narrative to Shovel Knight has a surprising amount of depth to it. While it's set up initially with a simple 'rescue' premise, the twists and turns encountered throughout the main campaign involving the characters are extremely interesting and, in some cases, leave various minor threads unresolved. This leaves them up to the interpretation of each player. There is also a lot of implied history, both in terms of the realm as a whole and between some of the characters, that is hinted at but not fully explained. There's a lot bubbling under the surface here, which means it's not so easy to dismiss the narrative, an aspect that many other platformers don't often utilise memorably.
The narrative is further explored through the game's extra content. All of which are included in the Treasure Trove edition. The three main expansions are essential plays for fans of the main campaign. They enable you to play as three of the most popular characters whilst you explore various other plot threads. Some that occur before the events of the main game, others during.
Prequels and Sequels
'Specter of Torment' in particular is an excellent prequel. It adds a heap of depth to characters who are relatively minor within the main campaign. Though the 'King of Cards' expansion's quirky and interesting card game mechanic also makes for a worthwhile experience. And though all three of these expansions provide characters with completely different move sets and play styles, this is most pronounced with the 'Plague of Shadows' expansion. This one enables you to play through the main game with an entirely new set of powers. Plus a few bonus hidden extras.
The final add-on for the game, Showdown, adds little to the overarching plot. Instead, it serves as a semblance of multiplayer for Shovel Knight. Allowing players to compete in a platform-based fighting game. While not as strong as the other post-launch additions, Showdown is still worth playing for those friends with fellow shovellers and those who are intrigued by the idea of playing as the majority of the main characters. Though the strongest aspect of multiplayer within Shovel Knight as a whole is through the classic couch co-op found in the main game.
Shovel Knight Final Thoughts
All of these elements and more ensure that Shovel Knight Treasure Trove will remain an essential platformer for years to come. A prime example that the old formula can still be successful if it's approached in the right away. It's immediately apparent in every aspect of this game, from the brilliant mechanics and distinctive boss encounters to the charming humour and excellent soundtrack, that this game was developed by those who clearly have a love for the genre. Attention to detail and creativity bursts out of every pixel of this game. The care the developers clearly put into this translates into a joyous experience that deserves to be played again and again.