We Can Dig It
This week, Anthony John Agnello brought us his review of Shovel Knight, a retro-inspired game that, in Anthony’s view, uses NES-era styling for more than just a cool look and sound. Jakeoti also applauded the way the game handled its mix of old and new:
Possibly the best thing that this game does to establish its “retro but new” feel is not being tongue-in-cheek with, well, anything. There are no villagers saying stuff like “Eating food will increase your health bar—whatever a health bar is!” or “We kept our town looking old-school. Modernization just isn’t as cool as that retro look!” Nor are there any winking references to old games, such as someone telling you that something is “a secret to everyone” or that Shield Knight is “in another castle.” The closest you get are some amusing references to the game’s Kickstarted past.
The result is a game that doesn’t break the immersion, which brings the most nostalgia. When we were kids, we didn’t play through Mario and point out all the impractical aspects. We just played through it and loved the world they presented us with. Because of that, the game’s story is actually a very good one, and the final battle/cutscenes are some of the most emotional that I’ve played recently. I didn’t just want to play the game because of how fun it was; I actually wanted to reach that ending and save Shield Knight.
Meanwhile, Excel-2014 had some questions about the Shovel Knight’s singular tastes in weaponry:
I’m halfway into the game, and I have to say, I don’t “get” Shovel Knight. I mean, what inspired him? He’s a dude with a shovel. What’s the joke here? Is it that there just happens to be tons of dig-able soil in the world? Am I missing something? The bad-guy knights’ themes are justified by their habitats, but I don’t see anything like that for the protagonists. This has been bothering me since I first learned about it when the Kickstarter opened.
The shovel originated from the developer’s desire to emulate both Link’s downward sword thrust maneuver from Zelda II and Scrooge McDuck’s pogo-cane. When they suggested that the downward thrust could also be used to break through dirt and such, a sword didn’t make sense, and the shovel started as a half-joking brainstorm which quickly met all of the criteria they wished to do action-wise within the game. So the shovel was a very early part of the concept that gave them a big creative outlet. Polar Knight, with his snow shovel, was one of the first enemy characters developed, which is why he fits the theme so well, yet they didn’t let the idea limit them in their world design.
And destructive recovery asks if we really need to understand the motivations behind this shovel obsession at all:
Why did two plumbers decide that they should spend their free time collecting flowers, killing turtles, and rescuing princesses and mushroom people? One of the pleasures of early games (and early game-inspired games like this one) is often that there is no real backstory to speak of. Backstory is great and all. I generally love backstory, and adventure games are almost always the better for a good backstory. But for action games especially, sometimes its nice to just receive a description of your abilities and an objective so you can just go in and kick some ass without worrying too much about the particulars.
Everybody Loves Zelda
In his illustrated essay about the status of Link’s hat as an iconic constant in the Zelda series, Nick Wanserski discussed the desire for a more “mature” (read: dark and gritty) Zelda that is sometimes thrown around on places like…the Internet (shudder). Mohamad Taufiq Morshidi suggested games should forget about trying to be “mature” if that means they end up turning out tired like Call Of Duty or Watch Dogs. PaganPoet cut to the heart of the issue:
I think the problem is that many game developers think “mature” means blood, guts, heavy metal music, and boobs. Mind you, I have no problem with any one of these things. If you want your game to be about a sexy woman with big boobs in a bikini chopping up zombies with a chainsaw, have at it. Hell, if it’s fun, I’ll probably love it. But own up to your game’s immaturity. (For me, this is why I have no problem with games like Bayonetta or Lollipop Chainsaw. They are completely immature and stupid games that have no delusions of being something more. They revel in their immaturity.)
To me, Nintendo’s Mother series is far more mature than any Call Of Shooty kind of game. I recently played Mother 3 for the first time, and I was crying through the whole ending sequence. I’ll admit that I’m a baby, but Mother 3 hit all the right nerves when it came to themes of family, friendship, sacrifice, heroism, etc. Any game can titillate you with boobs and blood. It takes a truly mature game to make you think about the relationships you have in real life.
Elsewhere in the comments, discussion turned toward the recently announced open-world-sounding Zelda for Wii U. Carlton_Hungus rightfully asks, hasn’t Zelda usually been an open-world game?:
I ask this in all seriousness: Aren’t most Zelda games “open-world”? Hell, the original largely pioneered the concept or at least brought it into the mainstream. You’ve always had the ability to explore (most) of the map from the beginning (albeit more areas open up as you gain items). There are usually a number of sidequests and other peripheral quests that can be tackled out of order. You’re not being herded through a tunnel or progressing level-to-level, which would be my concept of non-open-world games.
I know they’ve been throwing around the buzzword(s) of “open-world Zelda“ since E3, but at least by my definition, Zelda’s always been open-world.
SG Standard gave a good answer:
You do have the ability to roam around a lot of places, but there is definitely a linear path to be followed. I’m thinking of Ocarina Of Time and Link To The Past in particular because I just played those, but progressing from dungeon to dungeon follows a single path. Part of that has to do with the fact that getting into the next dungeon is a kind of puzzle solving in and of itself, but it keeps you on a path while the game gives you the freedom to deviate and just goof around.
I’m hoping this new game has more options in how you can approach each dungeon or boss. Like when they said, “You can get to those mountains,” I’m hoping that meant that there isn’t one path to the top of those mountains, but rather the player has the freedom to reach those mountains by any means. Maybe they go around them, or maybe they go right over the top. Instead of forcing you to follow one single path (like how you get to the top of Death Mountain in Ocarina or to the Master Sword in Link To The Past), it’s more like a Grand Theft Auto where you don’t necessarily have to stick to the road. That’s what a true open world game means to me.
And that does it for this abbreviated week. Thanks for reading and commenting. Next week should be pretty extra cool if everything goes according to plan, so look out. A pre-emptive Happy Fourth Of July—to everyone in the US—and a happy Friday to everyone else! We’ll see you next week.