Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (2017)
A bed of spikes, an infinite abyss
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
by Yacht Club Games
Released on Nintendo Switch in March 2017
1. Shovel of Hope
Remember 1990, when you were seven years old, sitting in Eric D.’s semi-finished basement, the two of you taking turns playing Duck Tales on his NES after school while you waited for your mom to get off work and take you home. The couches were just threadbare enough to be relegated to the downstairs playroom, the area rugs only part way faded. But it’s those walls you remember most: wood paneled and plasticky, a feature you don’t see much nowadays, scrolling through Zillow listing after Zillow listing of drab rehabs, hundred-year-old row homes gutted to a shell and rebuilt in antiseptic gray. Not everyone shares your nostalgia-informed aesthetics. Gentrifying developers by definition can’t leave well enough alone. But you stand resolute: brown is more soothing than eggshell, and even a simulacrum of wood feels less institutional than painted drywall.
2. Plague of Shadows
I don’t understand the urge to control others. I don’t understand the idea that ceding one’s own control can sometimes be a way of taking control. I know most things are out of my control, that we only have so much agency, that people will do what they will with what freedom they have. I understand that this is how apparatuses of power work: perpetuating the illusion of liberty while eroding civil rights, cutting more and more people out of their walled garden. I want to say something pithy about how Plague of Shadows’s controls are bullshit, how propelling oneself with bomb blasts through a world of fatal spikes and infinite abysses is profoundly unfun, but how unfun can it be if I suffered through and beat the whole game? It wasn’t all bad, I guess, once I learned to live with the limitations. Maybe one form of pleasure is finding a modicum of control you’ve been denied. I write this a day after the Supreme Court leak of the draft Roe decision, and it feels like a bomb has gone off, blasting us into a bed of spikes, an infinite abyss.
3. Specter of Torment
We all want to get lost in the media we consume. Maybe immersiveness is less about how rich or interactive a game’s world is and more about whether or not it feels good to move through it. We’re back to control. Too much and the game feels broken; not enough and I’m too frustrated to enjoy the story. Three installments in, the promise of the Shovel Knight franchise is at last fulfilled. The developers give us ease of movement, a serious narrative, and different level designs. Specter of Torment’s 8-bit-inspired world is still bound by genre conventions, a formulaic linearity. But if the garden is pretty enough, you can forget the walls are even there.
4. King of Cards
My ex-wife loves the chockablock flavors of Ben & Jerry’s. She likes having what feels like two desserts in one: a brownie or slice of pie crammed into a dense pint of ice cream already crammed with fudge swirls or peanut butter cups or what have you. I prefer the simplicity of Häagen-Dazs, the clean uniformity of its flavors. I prefer when things don’t get too complicated. It’s about utility as much as aesthetics and taste. I hated Joustus because I sucked at it, because it was inconsequential to the core game. But so much feels inconsequential right now. I write this three days after the Roe draft leak. Trans Twitter is freaking the fuck out about its ramifications for our community. During therapy last night, I wondered, if/when queer rights are further curtailed, when the stigma becomes too much to bear, will I look back on today with fondness, a time of perpetual anxiety, when my rights were precarious but still intact? My therapist, who is also gay, could offer nothing but sympathy and solidarity. We sat in silence for a beat before changing the subject.