Yes, it's now time for some video game reviews! Because when you already have a ton of content crammed in each month, why not add more? Kidding aside, don't worry: these aren't replacing any lists involving video game reviews or anything. This is just for any games that are either too short for a full-on list or for any games we might have initially missed. So without further ado, let's see what we have to work with this month...
Yes, Yacht Club's much-anticipated ode to NES platformers is here, and I'll make sure to be as subtle as possible with this review. So without further ado, BUY THIS GAME, DAMMIT.
*Clears throat* Okay, let's try that again. Shovel Knight is a platform game inspired by the greats of the NES world, and boy, have the people behind this game done their homework. You play as the titular Shovel Knight on a quest to defeat the evil Enchantress, her Order of No Quarter, and avenge his partner Shield Knight. Yes, even the story harkens back to a simpler time. The game itself plays out mainly inspired by the Mega Man games in terms of look, feel, control, and with several customizable powers you earn along the away.
Then it throws in some DuckTales via a pogo jump-inspired move you need to master, a pinch of Super Mario Bros. 3 via nifty overworld map with various challenges that wander around and areas to visit, a dash of Zelda II, touches of Castlevania, and...well, virtually every NES game the developers thought would be awesome to work with. Shovel Knight is somewhat of a Frankenstein's Monster of NES games, but the good kind of Frankenstein who puts on sunglasses, parties with the kids, and eventually helps his new friends defeat Dracula.
Or to put it another way, Shovel Knight represents the ultimate NES game, like something made in the console's later era after years of practice. The greatest game 1991 never made, one could say. The graphics alone are absolutely jaw-dropping, representing 8-bit graphics at their very best with a wide range of colors and several astounding details. Not only does it look like one of the very best NES games, it plays like one too. Control is absolutely perfect, every level is plentiful in secrets to discover, and the challenge is just perfect, making sure that when you mess up, it's because of your own fault and not because of any piss-poor level design or cheap enemies. And did I mention the soundtrack? I shouldn't have to, because I think I've already seen tributes to it online. Hell, finding the various songs throughout the game to unlock for play whenever you want is a reward, and one damn well worth it. The game never even drops its pretense, it has a great sense of humor in the dialogue, but it never winks at itself and points out retro gaming tropes or anything. It is just a really. Damn. Good. Retro. Game.
But before I pleasure myself to Shovel Knight too much, I should point out a few slight flaws. Ditching the traditional lives system in favor of one where you lose a portion of your money each time you die that you can retrieve later is a nice move, but sometimes you can die in such a way that the game will leave the money you lost floating in an area that you clearly can't reach without dying, which can get a tad maddening. The bosses, as impressive as they are, can also get kind of easy once you unlock the chalices, essentially this game's equivalent of Mega Man's Energy Tanks. Especially since they're free to recharge without consequence after each level.
But those are but a few chips in the armor of glory that Shovel Knight wears. The overall result is a dizzying nostalgia trip that feels like eating an endless supply of fully fresh discontinued childhood snacks, like a giant pile of PB Max bars. I should point out that the version I played was the PC version, and that Shovel Knight is also available on the Wii U and the 3DS. I have heard that those versions are actually superior due to their dual screens allowing for easier inventory management (the 3DS version also offering 3D support), and that seems about right, so I'd recommend one of those incarnations if you have access to them. Besides, as some people have pointed out, it just feels more natural playing an old-school NES game on a Nintendo console. Shovel Knight is a true masterpiece that does its predecessors proud, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Oh, but one more thing: The game has an unlockable Butt Mode.
It has. A Butt Mode.
WHY HAVEN'T YOU PURCHASED THIS GAME ALREADY???
So...yeah. I'm guessing a lot of you are probably staring at your monitor with confused expressions by now. I mean, a simulator about hauling lumber in Soviet vehicles across muddy forest landscapes doesn't exactly seem like the type of game one would expect Topless Robot to cover. But when said game instantly becomes the best-selling game on Steam upon initial release and proceeds to sell over 100,000 copies in just over two weeks...yeah, that's the point where you get curious.
Now, I admit that I'm probably not the target audience for SpinTires, since I'm not even really into simulators, let alone one like this, and I do fear that any criticisms I might have will be met with cries that I just don't "get it." But dammit, I wanted to know what the appeal was, so in I went. And within moments, I had driven into a huge bog of mud that provided the game's main draw and the one that led to its titular name: The realistic mud physics. They are amazing indeed, with ground that actually squishes beneath your wheel, gets stuck to your tires, and that your vehicles can actually sculpt as you drive through.
But great physics alone don't form a good game, and thankfully as I spent more time with SpinTires, I began to get the appeal of it. There's just something about plowing through a large pit of mud inch by inch until you eventually break through that feels good, and the game is full of those moments. It's a game that provides you with a lot of hard work and challenge where even the smallest victory feels monumental. A game about exploration that encourages you to go off-road and discover little secrets, new vehicles, and de-cloak sections of the map. A game about exploring the beauty of nature and then flipping it the middle finger as you triumphantly cross a small yet raging river or trample down a vast plains with a truck full of lumber because screw the roads, you're doing this delivery your way. It's tasty combo of exploration, simulation and perseverance that definitely grew on me as time went on.
Shame, then, that this taste was spoiled a bit by one of the worst damn cameras I have ever seen in a driving game. For some reason, SpinTires eschews the traditional behind-the-car view that's worked out perfectly in driving games for the past 30 years or so in favor of a more over-the-shoulder approach, which makes it difficult to see exactly what you're driving into sometimes. It also tends to jerk around and thanks to its positioning, also tends to believe that the leaves in the random tree you just passed are too pretty to ignore and thus will shove them right in front of your view so you can bask in prettiness, all while you just rammed into a pile of rocks because you couldn't see where you were going. There are also some technical niggles involved, the volume dropping or muting in between games at times, and a map and vehicle selection that definitely take some time getting used to and sort of feel more complicated than they should be. I'd also say the vehicle controls can feel a little wonky at times, but this is a game built around erratic terrain around foreign automobiles.
Long story short, SpinTires is a good game sadly marred by a few bad design choices and technical issue. There is still fun to be had, but it could definitely benefit from some tweaking. If you're patient enough, can overlook an awkward camera, or are just really into these types of auto simulators, than I can probably recommend this. For everyone else, however, you want think about waiting for a sale to check it out (especially with a $30 price tag).
And thus ends our first attempt at providing you smaller video game reviews. If there's anything upcoming or current in gaming you want us to check out, just let us know. For that matter, if you want to see older games or just games from a few months ago reviewed here, let us know about that as well, especially since I have a slight backlog I may as well work through. Next up, though, we travel back in time to the Summer of '95!