Like Clockwork

Working Through Depression in Shovel Knight’s Clockwork Tower

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At the start of each of Shovel Knight’s nine main levels, the game’s eponymous hero springs in from off-screen and lands on his feet, shovel held aloft, as if to challenge the enemies that await. In all but one of those levels, there seems to be a world outside the one he’s about to explore—a ledge that continues back beyond the edge of the screen, or a pathway that has begun to morph into the cliffs and valleys of the upcoming stage. Continue Reading

Shovel Knight Redug

The Retro Game as Hypertext and as Uchronia

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First, I will use Jean-Marc Limoges’ work on reflexivity and mise en abyme – a figure whereby a work’s structure is self-replicated within itself, i.e., a play in a play, or a film in a film – which he constructed from his predecessor Jacques Gerstenkorn (Gerstenkorn, 1987). I will use his summary table and adapt it briefly to video games, placing the examples of reflexivity in Shovel Knight laid out by David Boffa in his essay (2015). In so doing, we must recognize a kind of difference that Gerstenkorn and Limoges traced in film, between the cinematographic and the filmic. Similarly, we would do well to distinguish between the ludic (referring to playing and games in general, abstract principles and terms), and the gamic (the individual games themselves). From their work, I argue that reflexivity can, broadly, occur in four types in video games: Continue Reading

Shovel Knight

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

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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