Get ready to dig!
At a recent eShop event for the Nintendo Wii U and 3DS, I played the first level of Shovel Knight, from Yacht Club Games, and got to speak to the game's director, Sean Velasco.
"Have you seen it on the 3DS?" Velasco asks me, since we've been playing it on the Wii U build. "I really love the stereoscopy of it. We tried to make it look like the NES classics."
He's right. The different background and foreground layers do separate well on the 3DS, to give it that nice diorama look, though I prefer it on the Wii U where the pixel art is crisp. The pixel art look makes sense since the game is inspired by NES games like Castlevania III, Mega Man, and features the regular use of the downward strike to bounce off enemies.
"That reminds me of Ducktales." I say, "Was that an inspiration?"
"You can't bounce on the ground the way you can in Ducktales, just the enemies. We were more inspired by Zelda II," Velasco says, and it's more than just the downward thrust. A moment later I encounter a mini-boss, a knight who changes his shield to guard from side attacks or downward strikes.
When I asked him how the main character of the Shovel Knight developed, he told me that it all started with the gameplay. They wanted that Zelda downward thrust and bounce to dig out treasure and destroy breakable walls. A shovel seemed like a good weapon to do all those things, and so they started to play around with "Shovel Guy" concepts.
A question about how they've spent the funds from their Kickstarter campaign (the game raised $315,000 there) and how far the funds have taken the development prompted him to reveal that the development team at Yacht Club Games of "a half dozen" is made up of former WayForward employees, and he mentions working on Contra 4 and other titles by the retro-game developer. These guys have experience, so the money issue that many Kickstarter devs have (running out of money prematurely, over-committing to expensive backer rewards) wasn't a problem.
Shovel Knight is fun and manages to combine a number of gameplay elements from different games expertly, with the downward bounce that does feel a bit more Ducktales than Zelda II, level design that feels like Mega Man 9 (a comparison that Velasco said made him happy), special attacks that are reminiscent of Castlevania, and an overworld map similar to Super Mario Bros. 3. The comparisons are there to be made, as Shovel Knight is aiming for the best of that era of gaming.
When I asked Velasco what he would like to do next, he mentioned it would be fun to do an SNES sequel (Super Shovel Knight?) or an N64-style 3D adaptation of the gameplay (which sparked a brief conversation about how well Nintendo bridged the gap between their 2D and 3D properties with Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time). However, he seemed more excited by the idea of a new IP, rather than Yacht Club becoming "The Guys who make Shovel Knight."
Whatever the developer decides to do next, I'm almost as excited to see what it is as I am to get to play the rest of Shovel Knight, which releases on the 3DS. Wii U, PC, Linux, and Mac on March 31st for $14.99.