Shovel Knight is a great game, Shovel Knight is an important game. From the success Kickstarter story came this little retro platformer that merges many old NES games together and adds modern sensibilities in order to create a neat little package that I had tons of fun playing through. Although - as most games usually are - not perfect, Shovel Knight is the best mash-up of Super Mario Brothers, DuckTales, Castlevania, Zelda 2 and Megaman I can think of right now.
Let's get my biggest issue with the game out of the way first, I think the platforming and the ways you can instantly die are a bit too punishing. When you die in SK, you only lose some of your gold and they appear as floating bags in the environment that you can collect back. If you die while your gold is out there, it disappears and is replaced by the gold you just dropped. So if you're having difficulty with one specific segment, you might just die over and over and lose your gold continuously. That's a bit frustrating, especially in some challenge stages without checkpoints where you just get to somewhere new, die in a pit, lose your gold and need to redo the whole level perfectly to get there.
And to contrast that, after a while, it's very to never die anymore to enemies and boss fights thanks to the healing ichor you can carry with you. This game features a bunch of subweapons - most of them remind me of Castlevania - from straight-line fireballs to arcing anchors. One of these items is a refillable chalice that you can either fill with healing, collecting treasure automatically and the last one makes you invincible for a little while. The healing potion is too strong, it restores health and magic automatically. Some bosses are immune to subweapons but most aren't and when you have three times their health and shoot projectiles like crazy, it's a bit difficult to lose.
The shovel and armor upgrades you get are interesting. Most armor upgrades have a drawback to balance them out, like taking more damage but having more magic power - more subweapon use - or not being knocked back anymore, but sliding wherever you move. The shovel upgrades add a few things, and I wish it was more than three upgrades but that's not a terribly big deal. You also buy/find meal tickets to increase your maximum life and buy potions to increase your maximum magic.
Otherwise the game is amazing and full of things to discover. There is a Mario 3 style world map where you move around to visit the location of enemy bosses, but there also are 'optional' fights with special bosses and enemies, towns to visit - complete with NPCs and things to do - and special challenge maps where you have to use a special attack in order to complete something that is more puzzle than platformer. You also need to find music sheets hidden anywhere in the world to return them to a bard, getting money and the ability to listen to that music.
The dungeons themselves are all themed after their boss and they all have a few gimmicks. Sometimes it's platforms that you need to carry things on in order to make them sink, sometimes they're books that make platforms appear but only for a short while when you hit them. The enemies are also appropriate for such a game, from easy slimes to knights blocking your low and high attacks while also using the same special weapons as you do while also adding some recognizable foes, like these rocket-propelled daggers that move up and down in a mechanical clock tower, not at all unlike the medusas of castlevania.
And the bosses are pretty cool, they all have their different attacks and it all feels very thematic - albeit like I said up top, bosses aren't hard at all once you have healing on hand - and the last boss was also interesting, although leaving me puzzled for a few attacks while I was wondering what I should do. Shovel Knight is one of the best platformers I've played recently and it's very easy for me to recommend it.