I have to say, I almost thought this game will not be out at all - there was a date for release, but it was pushed back. But now the game is out and everyone can enjoy the glory and honor that is the art of shovelry!
You play as a Shovel Knight - a hero on a quest to the Tower of Fate from which evil Enchantress and her knights are terrorising the land. Along the way you battle each evil knight on his land, meet wandering travellers and visit those few villages that are still holding against the assault of evil forces.
This is an indie game, styled after retro platformers, and it looks the part. Well, actually, I don't think I am all that knowledgeable about that type of games, so I won't be able to compare it to others, so I'll just talk about what I saw in this game.
Starting with the story here. It is extremely simple with a single plot twist that you can really see a mile away, but it is there. The game introduces you to the story right at the start - Shovel Knight used to travel with Shield Knight until one day they went to the Tower of Fate and there Shield Knight was lost and Shovel Knight could do nothing to save her. Devastated, he stopped adventuring and never used his shovel for battle anymore. But when the Tower of Fate opened again, he decided to go and fight his way there once more.
That's what they give you at the start, and there are really not many major plot points until the very end. Still, while you are fighting your way, between some levels you have bad dreams of failing to save Shield Knight, so you can't completely forget about the story either. Well, while the story is simple, it's sufficient for the game, and really, this is a platformer, and not one of those new-age games where cutscenes are twice the size of the gameplay.
Also, in addition to the story, you learn some stuff here and there. You will quickly realize that pretty much all knights in the story already know each other from days past, you learn that Black Knight and Polar Knight were friends before, which comes to no surprise as all three use shovels and hence come from the same order of knights. You will meet people complaining about particular knights, or just talk about things in general. Hell, some knights will even make fun of your shovel! The nerve of them!
The world compliments all the little story details. In the very first village you meet a wide range of people from knight guards to goat tactician (one of the most useful characters in the whole village!) to deposed king of the land. You can talk with them all, though most don't have much to say.
And the world itself is not just all lands of evil knights. No, there are two villages where you get upgrades, there are treasure stages which you can't get through without certain magic items, there's a pong of a fruit-fish god (praise him, he gives awesome bonuses!), there are even stages totally unrelated to the main story, like a museum, where you get in for 5 thousand gold coins and get locked in with a whole castle full of ghosts. And as you finish the stages, there appear more treasure levels and some travellers who are pretty much a wandering boss fights. With all that, the game is not too long, but there is certainly a lot to do there.
Obviously, every knight's land represent that knight's theme, and has its own unique mechanics. Which you will have to get used to in a hurry. Or die. Dying in the game makes you drop some of your hard-earned gold, which you can pick up when you get to the point where you died. But if you die again before that - that gold will be lost forever. Every stage has a number of checkpoints, but if you are feeling really hardcore, you can destroy those for additional money.
All mechanics are pretty simple to understand but may not be so simple to master. And towards later levels you will yell in frustration when you would die again and again at the same jump or fight or sandblock. Well, the game is not overly difficult, and controls are quite simple, but levels are challenging enough and will keep you concentrated. And on a personal note - I goddamn hate rainbow bridge mechanics! The most evil thing for me in the whole game it is!
In comparison, boss fights feel easier. Though, maybe the reason for that is my own playstyle. As it is with such games, bosses attack you in ways that you can dodge. and as they lose health, they start using more and more complex moves. But I found out that just dodging and waiting for the right time to strike is not always working for me, so, when I got enough health upgrades, I just started going right for bosses, taking some damage in the process but trading it for dealing more damage to the enemy. Well, there are still some bosses that are easier to just dodge and be careful with, like Spectre Knight, and on the other hand there is a Polar Knight whom it is best to defeat before this maniac fills the whole stage with spikes. I have to say, every boss fight is distinct and very fast-paced, which is good. And, naturally, at the end you will have a battle-royale against all the bosses. Thankfully, they give you health refills between fights (they probably won't on new game+ mode).
All in all, I enjoyed the game greatly, and not just because you kill stuff with the Shovel there. The game is challenging, but not frustrating. It's not too short, but not overly long. It's not trying to be more complex than it is, but provides good diversity both in gameplay an in style. I'd say the game feels very well balanced. Like a good shovel.