Written by G. Russell
One Game A Week is a bunch of words from my brain to yours about whatever game has been occupying my time the most over the last 7 days. Once a week, EVERY week for the duration of 2015. God help us.
There’s a thing that happens every now and then between the levels of Shovel Knight that’s probably the most touching thing I’ve experienced in a video game for a long time. Typically, a level will finish with a freeze-frame of you delivering the killing blow to a boss after which you will wake up next to a smouldering camp fire, seemingly well rested following the previous day’s Shovelling and Knighting. You’ll press any button to make him stand up, you’ll scuff out the campfire and head off to your next mission. Sometimes though, before he wakes up, you witness Shovel Knight’s dreams.
Shovel Knight’s plot might hinge on basic tropes (cursed amulets, a desperate last-ditch rescue mission, an evil enchantress, rats with … propellers on their… backs?) but it’s no less touching because of it. Our hero used to roam the land with his beloved companion Shield Knight but following a tragic series of events while exploring the Tower of Fate which left her missing and presumed dead, a grieving and broken Shovel Knight retired from adventuring and proceeded to live a secluded life. One day, hearing that all might not actually be lost, Shovel Knight picked up his garden tool of choice and embarked on a new adventure in the hope of rescuing his long-lost love.
It’s not often that you’re presented with such a tear-jerking intro to an 8-bit videogame. It’s also not often that you’re given an 8-bit hero to play as who is in mourning. Who is quite clearly struggling to cope with the loss of his best friend. This is no better exemplified than these moments you spend inside Shovel Knight’s head while he’s sleeping. In these dreams we see Shield Knight falling from space, hurtling through the darkness with stars dotted around her in the background. She passes into the clouds, the screen a piercing bright white now, and the words ‘Catch Her’ flash up on-screen. We cut back to Shovel Knight, running across clouds as his head tilts up to try to see her, his arm outstretched ready to try to break her fall. Shield Knight enters the screen from the top. You leap towards her. Time slows. You grab hold of her and the screen whites out.
The next thing you see is Shovel Knight asleep next to his fire. The scene is totally silent except for birds singing faintly in the background. He doesn’t move until you press a button. After a ‘Catch Her’ interlude it always takes me longer than usual to want to wake him up. It’s nice to leave him in the moment, however brief, where he got to save his friend.