“Shovel Knight” is a game that, at first glance, is going to immediately inform you of whether or not you want to buy it. Do you like 8-bit graphics? Do you like 8-bit music? Do you like “Mega Man”? Do you like shovels?

If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, then you’ve probably already purchased “Shovel Knight” and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Good for you.

But, if you didn’t grow up in the 80’s or play with gardening tools, don’t let the blatant gravitational pull of nostalgia keep you from playing the game. “Shovel Knight”, unlike many retro inspired indies, wasn’t made with the sole intention of appealing to the aged gamer. There is enough nuance and modern design to make it one of the best platformers released in a long time.

Platform reviewed: Wii U ©2014 Yacht Club Games, LLC

Platform reviewed: Wii U
©2014 Yacht Club Games, LLC

Yacht Club Games has done a good job of making the humble shovel an interesting weapon to play with. Our protagonist is able to wield it with aplomb. He can send deadly ground sparks towards his enemies and pogo off the heads of foes, which creates a fantastic sense of momentum and can let you access secret areas. I guess it’s also useful for digging, which you’ll do occasionally.

Luckily, while as unwieldy a weapon a shovel is in real life, controlling it and our hero is an effortless experience in the game. It’s exactly what you expect from an action/platformer: direct and precise.

You’re going to need that level of control, too, as the challenges presented in the levels and the bosses at the end of them can be especially brutal, if you’re not a seasoned gaming veteran.

Well… at first, but we’ll come back to that.

The level design on display here, while certainly not perfect, is extremely varied. Each stage has a core gimmick or two. Challenges are specific to them and fit the stage’s theme. Not only are the stages a blast to play, they also look beautiful. On the surface, the game may seem 8-bit, there are a lot of things on display that certainly couldn’t have been done on a humble NES.

But, like I said, the level design isn’t perfect. Once you’ve played through a stage, you’ll feel like there is no reason to play it again. You don’t get that urge that swells up inside of you to achieve mastery. That’s because it’s attained so readily.

But, once again, we’ll come back to that.

The shining highlight of the game is its boss fights. Each one is beautifully crafted, overflowing with personality. The game is generous with them, too. There are plenty of optional boss fights to tackle outside of the game’s levels, each a unique challenge. They’re certainly the most fun part of the game.

Like any game, the bosses are supposed to be a test of a player’s skill. To see how far they’ve honed their skills, to see if they’re ready for the next area. A final hurdle to overcome before they’re allowed to progress.

Yeah, we’re going to have to come back to that.

Oh, then there’s the game’s music, which is like crème brûlée liquified and poured directly into your wanting ears. It’s no surprise it’s so good, as it was composed by Jake Kaufman, one of my favorite composers on the scene right now. Have you heard his “Double Dragon Neon” soundtrack? It’s incredible.

What he’s done this time, however, is actually limit himself to what was possible on NES hardware. The music was composed in the same machine-language code the NES uses. To make things sweeter, the man who composed the soundtrack to the original Mega Man, Manami Matsumae, joined in on the project, giving even more authenticity to the game’s retro feel.

But, let’s actually get back to what may be some people’s biggest issue with this game, which is its difficulty. It’s… really easy.