I’m a big fan of emulators. I don’t have one installed on my iPhone since I have never been able to get used to virtual controls on a touch screen; but I really enjoy playing old games when I’m on my laptop. Although I’ll play games from almost any platform, I wind up gravitating to NES games most often, especially platformers like the Mega Man series, Contra, or beat em ups like Battletoads or Double Dragon.
Shovel Knight manages to recapture the sense of difficulty of some of these games (especially the more difficult New Game + mode) while providing all of the delight of discovery and accomplishment. The levels are laid out on a minimap like Super Mario Bros. 3, while the level progression and bosses are reminiscient of the Mega Man series, with the hero earning new tools after every level. Each level has unique enemies and obstacles which are themed according to the boss. For example, there are boo-like enemies in the Plague Knight stage, which features a haunted house backdrop. The obstacles in that stage include grave stones, which you can use to bounce off from.
Finding a merchant named Chester in each stage allows you to purchase a unique relic which bestows a new power to the hero. It seems like none of these are required to finish the game, but they all aid in making the game easier, and some must be used to access hidden areas of the game. For example, the Propeller Daggger is a relic that lets you perform an air dash. Another relic allows you to skate over spikes. The game uses these relics to hide away collectibles in secret passageways.
This is a great game that captures that old-school feel perfectly, with beautiful graphics and vibrant music. Although I might be unduly swayed by the recency of it, I’d say this was my favorite game of the year.