Shovel Knight: 20 Hour Review

Shovel Knight continues to charm after a playthrough on my 3DS, half way through NG+, some Plague Knight, and now replaying for this, to write about it. I was attracted to the game shortly after getting my 3DS, the first games I downloaded were all NES classics and Shovel Knight seemed to have enough of that mold still unbroken that I would be into it. Making a short review shorter, get this game if you like classic platformers, whether you are just getting into the genre or are for whatever reason nostalgic, this game will certainly scratch that itch; at around 12 hours completion time on a first play through it won’t have you questioning the value of your time, or it could, more on that below. Do not buy this game if the trappings of the 80’s aren’t your thing. If Mega Man is too cutesy or pisses you off, and Mario 3’s level design is too tedious for you, Shovel Knight will not be for you either.


Shovel Knight Logo

Shovel Knight, one of the best.


Yacht Club is doing several things right, chief among them, difficulty. Shovel Knight is a mechanics heavy, player vs. level game. The boss fights are interesting but probably won’t be standout experiences. They fit the level well in that most of the time the difficulty spike isn’t too great in comparison to the level, mini bosses included, that you will face on your way to the boss. Enemies are introduced in Super Mario fashion, but the levels are more complex. There is an early way to increase the difficulty , rewarding you with more gems than you would normally collect to use on upgrades. Integrated save points in the form of clear orbs encased in the end of a stake can be passed by to save your progress or shattered for a reward that increases with each check-point you break. After the 6th check-point the reward is well worth it if you can manage to stay alive through the whole level. Even if you do die though, and die repeatedly, yes it will hinder you, but only just; you can recover what you lose when you die. It works out so that you have to die several times for it to really set you back. It will happen though, as you progress, the Plague Knight’s level had me frustrated after a few attempts.

This game really is one that you should play, if not only for a glimpse into the creative minds of people who are preserving nostalgia right. Shovel Knight is deep, once you complete the game, starting the NG+ will give you what you need if you want an increased challenge. All of this with no mention of Yacht Club vowing the release of several expansions this year featuring playable bosses from the original game. Shovel Knight is solid, and the developer is committed; after purchasing for 3DS and Steam, and the Plague Knight expansion, the Shovel Knight franchise has been worth the money.

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Hyper Light Drifter and the Stuckness of Exploration

It’s the damn keys. That’s the current suspicion anyway. I’ve hit a wall, finding at least four monoliths per corner of the map, six tops. The map isn’t helping much either, to the East I see nothing lit up but I’m still missing pieces. In the North I found one I haven’t tapped yet but I can’t get to it, only stare and try to lay the underground complex out in my mind to trace my steps back to see what I missed. After too long to tell, I headed West to find the last two I see on the map.

But the keys. I see these doors that need soo many keys, and I have three, and who knows where the others are. The doors I’m hoping lead to items, I’ve started finding sets, but again, only three so far. After so many fights these pieces of gear really make a difference. The combat is fluid enough that I’ve started considering tactics and timing. It’s all very Assassin’s Creed the way you move through enemies. There’s only the boss to the South marked on my map that I can’t get to, the keys have been my distraction, I thought I would have found more by now.


Hyper Light Drifter Keys

#Hyperlightdrifter . . . So excited to find this fourth key after 30 hours.


This is something I’ve grown accustomed to playing certain games. I like to put a fair amount of time in before I look anything up at all, at least 20 hours. After that I am still reluctant, who knows how many hours I’ve spent sitting in front of Zelda 1, still haven’t looked anything up, still haven’t beat it. Terraria has gone the same way, I recognize it as a game wherein the player is dropped into a wilderness, so I treat it like that and experiment and explore. By the time I get enough hours in that I am “ok” to look things up I don’t want to. 30 hours into Hyper Light and the little I have  searched is likely all I ever will until I finish it. I’d like to think this is what Heart Machine wants, me to take my patient time with it.

There is a situation that defines a concern for me though, when I found the rifle. It’s an upgrade I understand, and I’ve come to like using it. Before that though I had really fallen in love with the handgun, stringing together shots and sword strikes in a continuous barrage, strung from enemy to enemy in a chain of dashes. It was a blast balancing shots and strikes. Until I traded my handgun for the rifle,  I wanted the rifle, just not the shotgun, which I also had with me as I felt it balanced the handgun out as an arsenal. If I’d known I could only carry two ranged weapons I wouldn’t have dropped the handgun that I’d paid for upgrades for. By the time I realized what I’d done it was too late. I went back to the source of my confusion and there was no gun. I don’t know how to get it back.

That’s where I have a problem with the complexity such vague interactions cause. Hell I may still have it and just not know how to equip it. How would I know?

For the time spent I consider that a minor complaint, but its something that sticks in my mind. I’m still digging at it. The game begs for understanding. My character is sick, for example, and I don’t know why and I want to know if I’m searching for a fix. There seems to be a war machine in the making, an army of sorts, and I want to know more about that, and the ruins, and the tablets, and the gear I’ve yet to find, and all the stories NPC’s have told me in pictures. Combined with boss fights I love, I’m excited to play through the NG+, but answers first…

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Molten Tigrex

Monster Hunter is throw shit hard. I studied a little before I bought it and read that Monster Hunter 4 U is the softest entry point into the series to date. Beats me if that is true but I believed it when I started playing and sensed some definite hand holding going on. How fucking ever…there are a few little beasties that seem to trigger random damage at whatever distance no matter what is going on and that, is why I love and hate the softest entry point into the Monster Hunter franchise to date. One of my favorite in the WTF catagory, the Molten Tigrex.

My first fight with the Molten Tigrex was at the end of the caravan quests, which I finished most of before I realized I was going to have to do the online stuff too. I was happy to have something to focus on other than those higher quests, so I was happier to see my system work, playing low level online quests while chipping away at the offline end game, to finally beat those monsters once. One time was all it took for me to congratulate myself and hopefully never look back. But you do have to go back.

I made it to G-rank and things are increasingly difficult, so like before, after a break from the game I am going back and doing quests that I left out trying to forge ahead to the G-rank quests. The low-level advanced stuff was fun in my Seregios gear and Glaive. The high-rank stuff same way, but I have found myself up against the Molten Tigrex again and have been reminded of how cautious you have to be to take some of them down. Don’t get me wrong, I know I can beat it, with worse gear I farmed Tigrex tail and fang for weapons, but its monsters like this, and the Shiguru Magala, and Teostra, that require such a muster of focus over time, that make this game one of the hardest to get to the end game of.

At the same time, at this level every little upgrade has a noticeable impact in a fight. Less health lost, more damage done, more flinches, mounts, pieces. This thing though, that has me running around like a bomb scarfing stacks of deodorant to avoid myself exploding is just ugh, it is to be wrestled with. It’s my feeling that the glaive is the best weapon for it though because once you get MT fired up there is a rhythm to each attack that lets me hit while on my way to the safe side of an attack. The glaive lets me stay super mobile and out of the way of the bomb dusts that ignites over time. Don’t forget too that while you are smoking like a fuse if he hits you it causes extra damage, so when its all enranged and trying over and over to hit you with that roar, that’s because its a one-shot, I would spam it too.

Molten Tigrex plushie, I’ve been cussing sweating mad at this monster, but look how cute…

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Super Star Wars: Oh the Pit

It took some time for me to get back into the Sandcrawler after a long break from Super Star Wars on the SNES. My last go around with it I wasn’t playing much else but the few SNES games I had, and that was also when I first encountered Super Meat Boy. SMB was frustrating to me at the time so I stuck with the old stuff.

Why on earth I thought SMB was frustrating compared to SSW I have no idea. SMB is hard but perfect, SSW is hard because of limitations. Super Star Wars sets traps for you that are going to kill you your first time through. The level, Inside Sandcrawler, has a falling floor into a pit where you have to jump off at the right moment, but you can’t see at all so your first few times it’s going to be a loud event, was for me anyway swearing at the TV.

After that pit though is the classic Nintendo make-this-perfect-jump-or-die teaching events where near the end of a difficult level they designed a jump where the ceiling seems to low to get the height you need to clear the gap. I don’t remember how I passed it and I was at the end of my play time when I cleared the board up to where I was before. Just ahead of that last evil jump is an equally evil boss fight that I have yet to down.

But I will, oh I will…


Super Star Wars 2

Super Star Wars, Inside the Sandcrawler. The boss is just to the right to be fought on platforms like the bottom pic. Best strat seems to be to have more health and bigger dps. Dodging the attacks causes more problems than it solves.


One thing I do appreciate are the secrets, tucked away to be found when hugging a wall too close. Near the end of Inside the Sandcrawler, after I had died many simple deaths and lost all my extra health and power ups, I found this, a glorious nook stuffed with goodies. If only I would have made it to the end.


Super Star Wars 1

This was the first real secret I found in the game. I won’t tell you where it is just in case.


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The Depth of Fez

You’ll feel like you’re done, but if you are “playing authentically,” taking notes, not turning to Google every time you play (though I did search larger blocks of translation early on, stick with it though and you get to where you can kind of read it), when you get the achievement for finishing the game, its obvious you are not done. Remember finishing Fable, or ACII maybe, both of those games allow you to continue to explore and complete objectives, but the game doesn’t live on after the final mission, whatever that may be; still beautiful, still peaceful due to your diligence, but a little dead, silent almost. I’m around 150% complete and 30 hours in and I just found the 64 cube door under the tree. The endgame, or “aftergame” only gets better, richer, the longer you spend with it the more alive it becomes.


Fez, the 64 cube door.

The kind of depth Fez offers in akin to the earliest foundations of game culture, as if Phil Fish was frozen in time in the mid-eighties to be released a quarter century later with the ambition to make a game, only to realize the tools are space age compared to the 8-bit hammer and chisel they used to use, you build the tools yourself. Pixels sparkle and you can look behind them, you can use any color and make the music truly immersive. The art would be enough to bring Fez loads of positive attention, but the protracted post-game inspires patient completion, hermit qualities to avoid spoilers, worrying family members that find strange symbols written everywhere. The force of genuine complexity engenders in we Fezzians what the big shops are trying to accomplish through statistical research. Our dedication, loyalty, trust, and word of mouth. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that if Phil Fish released another game he would likely become successful all over again. There are several cases to show we respect and trust indie devs for their thoroughness, Edmund with Isaac on the 3ds, Jon Blow with The Witness, even Fez’s own composer Disasterpiece (and company @HeartMachine) with Hyper Light Drifter.

Fez is a lot like The Witness in that you really can’t look up solutions, you have to participate. You have to learn; as soon as you look one thing up you are skipping something you should have figured out on your own. It turns into a scavenger hunt. Fish originally wanted us to draw our own map. Everything is part of the solution, those solutions are skills that you develop, not something you can forget on use. Fez would be too much for me if I took too much time away from it, reading the language became easier, and the tetromino code, even the map starts making sense (a little anyway, even Phil said it was probably the weak point of the game).

And none of this is by accident, at one point Polytron had their hyper interested following believing the game was strictly 2-D. When I bought it in 2016 I had no idea what I was in for. About ever 5-10 hours I spend in the game I have another major revelation about what it all means. No one is shocked that people are still looking for secrets.

I understand if the game isn’t your thing, it wasn’t mine either. But I do respect the revolutionary of it, so I picked it up. It is a deep game, I can’t stop telling people, and every time I say it I mean something different. While you are in the game you’ll lose time, I don’t know how much but the colors and sounds, the lore and little surprises, they will float you from major revelation to major revelation.


At around 180% I’ve almost found all I need to get into that 64 cube door. The owls are another thing, one of the last spaces for me to “clear” is where they gather. I got real excited when the third owl said something about “the 64-bit name of God and then I came back to their gathering place to find them there. They kept coming around, I thought, but it didn’t click until the third and I acted on a suspicion and saw them all there. I kept thinking I wasn’t far from finding the fourth, the owls and the mystery that surrounds them had me certain the eerie feeling you pick up playing Fez is due to their presence.

It was around this point that I revisited the Observatory as well, poking around for that last secret. I didn’t notice how the light and dark cycle effect what you see through the Telescope. The red dots on a lot of the wall hangings reminded me of the treasure maps. When I saw the blinking lights it was a literal rush, I had found the other secrets in the room, but there was a hint that is alike to others in the game, and of course totally different just like all the others. To find my first heart bits on my own changed the way I feel about Fez and games like it. Fez is one of the most fleshed out games I’ve played. 180% and still leaning into content to find the next thing.


Skorpulac First Impressions

Scouring Twitter for anything relevant one day, I found a retweeted link from @moppin_, creator of Downwell. The thumbnail with the link was my first impression of Skorpulac, a sci-fi looking game just over 1000 people have played.  I immediately thought of Metroid and a few shmups I don’t remember the names of left over from the early 80’s. Games that look like this have always been sort of taboo for me. When I first saw Metroid it was the cover art that attracted me, I always appreciated Nintendo’s covers depicting the actual game likeness. But I was like 7 and Metroid wasn’t for me yet, it was dark and lonely and it seemed to be trying to communicate to me and I’m not sure I liked that. Likewise, all those arcade games, Galaxyian, Section Z, Starforce, and the like 100’s of others with no name. They haunt me from memories of being with my grandparents in some dark hall where my grandpa was playing music. Those arcades were always there and my grandma would never let me play them so I watched the pixel sprites eat each other and explode and make the most wonderful sounds. I wanted to know what they were about. I’ve been into story and back story and lore all my life and I just knew that there were narratives attached to all the things I wasn’t allowed to, or was too young to engage with at the time. Turns out most of those games have no story at all, or a bad one. Skorpulac doesn’t come packaged with a story, but it doesn’t come packaged with a price point either. What it does though, is conjure up all those feelings of mystery left over from towering arcade cabinets in my past.

Skorpulac FI 1

#Skorpulac, jumpers and crawlers, brings to mind Metroid and Ori.

The music was the next perfect thing about this game. As an overall context, games are a multitude of tiny decisions and constraints programmed to communicate something. They come at you in a certain order and the effect you want is that each minute experience takes you somewhere. The music conveys desolate nostalgia, similar to Metroid, but also Fez; in some instances Ori and the Blind Forest. There are times you feel like you have over stayed your welcome, like when the first Resident Evil movie came out and that little AI girl took over and started killing people. There are moments in Skorpulac where my mind wandered in that direction. In Fez and Ori its like someone is watching sometimes, but the feeling is very similar.

Skorpulac FI 2

#Skorpulac, monster lasers, the sound these things make match the effect in game…one of my favorite enemies.

I didn’t know what to expect when I went to the page for this game. But there hasn’t been a single aspect yet that takes me out of the environment. It could be fleshed out but I’m not sure how big this game was supposed to be. For now it seems like something solid with its own significance. Skorpulac is the product of craft, residual creativity, and however small it maybe it sticks in my mind.


Rygar…Still Arcardey

The Movie Shoppe is where we rented games from. In a town with one stop light and churches the only establishments outnumbering bars, there weren’t many of us with big game collections. 10 games would have been a wide selection and even then we ended up sharing a lot of them. Hence the Movie Shoppe; I worked for my grandpa’s pocket change and more often than not it would be the $2 and whatever I needed to ride my bike the three miles there and back to pick out a game, preferably early on a Friday so I could have two whole nights with it. We would eat dinner, watch the movie we had rented and after my parents went to bed we would scramble to get the game started.

Rygar Title Screen

I would have been 5 years old when Rygar came out, probably why I remember it as some impossible thing that was cool to look at from time to time.

I found Rygar because it always seemed like I would get there too late and all the good games were rented out already. Mario 3, any Zelda, SNES Mario, to name of few of the games I played way late. The benefit though was that I ended up playing a lot of games I otherwise wouldn’t have. Rygar is one of those games I think about from time to time as something I never felt done with. I didn’t beat too many games as a kid because I was so young, it was like I could grasp it, and even find most secrets and solve the puzzles, but the actual mechanics, the physics of it was challenging at first. Later I remember being really good at MKII on the SNES, but that was long after Rygar.

Today I committed to two hours to see what I would remember. I haven’t done any reading or research about the game so my initial impression was that it was a Tecmo platformer like Ninja Gaiden, arcade controls, rubber bandy physics. That this game is more akin to an open world RPG was exciting, I was actually only going to play for a half hour or so, thinking I would catch up to my 7 year old self in no time.

Rygar  1

Garloz, great fantasy stuff going on here.

Rygar 2

Very NES that these dudes all look the same.

It was when I paused the game for the first time that I saw RPG elements. I finished playing but then I hit up Google to read a little of how the game was set up, and I tried to find information on the specific dev responsible for key elements. So when I read about the frequent death and a complete restart for unfocused play, I realized why I never got too far into it. Same reason I never got to far into Metroid, they are super frustrating in the beginning at low health and a fair amount of enemies. Playing the NES cart seems to give me an edge, when the screen gets crowded it bogs way down and flickers, looks horrible but it gives you a second to think.

At first roaming the world I let myself just check things out. That’s why I didn’t see the RPG of it at first, but I also found the instruction book online which confirmed everything. This game is a prestige title that is difficult to beat and has played a role in games history since the arcade version was originally released in Japan.

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The first time I played Fez was years after it came out.  Years after the movie, the cancellation of Fez 2.  Turns out I get to count myself lucky for getting to separate the game form the drama that surrounded it.  to finally play it was great, the initial screen, the first bit before the world breaks, all the way to the end it was magical.  Fez did everything right and if you’ve somehow found this writing piled up in the back of some cloud server searching for reasons to either play it or not, just get it.

Now when I say “all the way to the end,” I mean I finished the story, which is more ‘an’ end. ‘The’ end isn’t something I’ll reach on my own. It’s beyond me, METATRON, for real? That’s the most random thing to me, even in the world of Fez.  Truth is I’ve read about how that puzzle was solved and I know there’s just no way I’d have ever solved it. I would have given up long before someone had the notion to use brute force.

As I’m writing this, I’m nearing 140%, almost 30 hours, and there has yet to be a single time I’ve sat down to play and been disappointed.  Even after solving the letters and numbers, I get excited when I find somethig else to translate. With all there is to read about Fez I’ve still managed to read little enough outside of the game that I’m still hoping for clues to puzzles I’ve yet to solve. Just today I found and solved the puzzle associated with the burnt map page, still I haven’t figured out the secret, but just entering the tetromino code to have the dark piece float above me was a rush.  Its those moments, and there are plenty, that has me savoring my current save game like I do the original Zelda I have saved on my 3ds (the only game I’ve played of Zelda 1).  We’re all chasing something, I want the sensation of having figured it out mostly myself. Its a rare puzzle game that has me embracing such an ambition. 60 hours into trying for “no death” achievements for Super Meat Boy? No Problem. But puzzles aren’t ever my thing.

Fez though, turned me onto Braid, turned me onto The Talos Principle.  I’ve even restarted Assassin’s Creed 2 because I know there are puzzles I left undone because “I hate that sort of thing.” Maybe its getting older but my appreciation for puzzles in a game at all have deepened greatly since Fez. It has forced my patience to mature the same way Super Meat Boy has focused my fine motor skills. I find myself taking a breath before a tough decision in my daily life. Its starnge to have my life affected so by a game.

To say nothing of the art would be wrong, but so much has already been said. What meaningful thing I have to say about the art alone could also apply to the game as a whole. Fez is the result of an artist that understands what it is to have craft. In its final form, what we have is the work of a man on his grind. I would have loved to be there as he called it “done.” But I also know that Phil Fish probably doesn’t see it as I do. After all the finese and detail I would imagine its hard for him not to see enough flaws to mean something. And something so personal as this game goes beyond flaws. It has flaws because it is so inseparably linked to its creator.

Fez Context


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Out There Somewhere

I started this game over recently, committed to an hour of play time to write a first impressions short with a pic or two, and didn’t stop. In less than two hours I beat the game, I defeated Grigori. I thought to myself, realizing I was about to repair my ship then probably fight this only boss, that maybe my ship isn’t ready? Maybe there would be a last something that requires effort defined by such and such action, or staring at the screen wondering how?  Because I’ve read what little there is to read about this game (which I am a little surprised that there is so little), and the chatter leads me to believe there is more to it. So the short version of what I’m about to “publish” is, I’m going to dig into this game, the charm is there, the music engenders a trance-like state of focus and I’m into the controls. Out There Somewhere is just cool enough to see all of.

At the end, this could be Shovel Knight! my inner 12 year old SNES UMK3 wielding graphics starved inner leet’ smashing self cried. But it isn’t Shovel Knight at all, it was never meant to be. Out There Somewhere is an improvement of a formerly free game of the same title, meant to be bite sized, released as a focused piece of code inspired by Super Metroid and Cave Story. It was with this information in the back of my mind that I fired it up again, due to the fact that it stuck in the back of my mind for months like a song I’d heard and couldn’t remember the name of.

Out There Somewhere Pure Expression

#OutThereSomewhere … first time the map got bigger for me. It is a small game but it doesn’t feel like it while you’re playing.

The initial gun mechanic is simple enough, quickly made complex by a steady increase in platformer difficulty. Pass-through blocks, the white blocks in the above screenshot teach you that there are elements of the environment that behave beyond what you expect. Later different colored beams of light manipulate the scope of the teleport gun and the game takes on the strong puzzle aspects of games like Braid and of course Super Metroid. A malleable world is believable, and provides a context in which we can apply our experiences of crumbling brick and the smell of green; shit moves when you mess with it. The Guass gun gives us something familiar, but within the constraints of this game gives us an unfamiliar new tool for progression.

Out There Somewhere Crumbling Tower

#OutThereSomewhere, all the crumbling blocks in the screenshot above had me overthinking how to continue climbing. By this point in the game I had stopped to think over several obstacles so my Fez-mind was boosting my patience, maybe too much.

There was enough here to make me want to come back and see everything. This game also has me wanting to dig into Mini Boss and pay attention to what they are up to. As simple as this game is, it shows its complexity in its focus of expression and defining new mechanics that could be reiterated for hours. I wondered, as the game closes and the name Out There Somewhere reveals its origins, if space wasn’t left for addition, because the foundation has been laid for something big. Games like this reveal an undercurrent of artists honing their craft. If Out There Somewhere is the improvement of something that initially was the product of hard working artists following the White Rabbit, we have to wonder what focus and experience will unlock for Mini Boss.

Buy this game right now if you are into short adventurous experiences. Like Super Metroid in less than two hours. Maybe keep on the back burner as a break from The Witness.

Do not buy this game if the first sight of it conjures up feelings you hate from the 8-bit past. This game plays and feels like it looks. It is a weird game that works on a few platforming mechanics, styling and appropriately head bobbing beep boop sound track. If that isn’t your thing, steer clear.

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Tradition and Hyper Light Drifter

Hyper Light Drifter Tradition

I love these tubes in Hyper Light Drifter. There are so many little familiar chunks in a game so strange. Its about where it takes you, I’m 4 hours in and I’m still just kind of wandering around taking it all in.