Shovel Knight

and Self-Reflexivity: The Retrogame as Metafiction and as History

Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight (2014) has been a retro-gaming hit, lauded as much for its crisp gameplay, attractive visuals, and catchy chiptune soundtrack as for its success in channeling and revitalizing the feel of classic 8-bit video games. The game focuses on the eponymous hero’s quest to rescue his companion Shield Knight from the evil Enchantress, doing battle with knights from “The Order of No Quarter” and collecting treasure along the way. As players and reviewers have noted, the game is effective because it does not rely simply on nostalgia, even if (as its developers have stated) it is strongly influenced by games like Zelda II, Castlevania, and Super Mario Bros. 3, among others. Rather, Shovel Knight employs nostalgia as just one of many tools in its impressive arsenal to create a meaningful and rewarding gameplay experience. I’ve now played through it nearly three times (twice normally and once in “New Game Plus” mode, in which I have yet to conquer the final stage). Continue Reading

Link Dons the Mask of Truth

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask’s Postmodern Critique

It’s lonely at the top of the mountain. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has reigned supreme more or less uninterruptedly as the Greatest Game of all Time in popular culture for nearly two decades. Other challengers have periodically risen from the masses (The Last of Us, Journey, whatever GTA game came out last, etc.), but the conversation always finds its way back to Ocarina. Conversely, Nintendo has been accused of sitting on its creative laurels with nearly every Zelda game they’ve put out since Ocarina. It’s an unenviable position: how do you navigate the already precarious balance between convention and innovation when the foundational title you put out ten sequels ago remains such an enduring sacred cow? Continue Reading