Smash 4 DLC: The Case for Shovel Knight

Case for ShovelKnight

My previous entry in the “Case For” third party DLC series, Shantae, was a bit of a departure from the other entries in the series.  While the characters covered up to this point have belonged to some of those most gargantuan game companies in the industry, Shantae hails from a much smaller independent developer.  Today’s entry, Shovel Knight, similarly comes from a small Western studio.  He is also, much like Shantae, a very popular choice for a ballot character from Smash fans in the West.

You knew this Smashified image would be here!

Character Background:  Steel thy shovel!  Shovel Knight, a practitioner of the ancient code of shovelry, is a great champion of the land.   With his trusty shovel blade and a myriad of powerful relics at his disposal, this courageous hero vows to rid the land of the tyranny of the Order of No Quarter and the Evil Enchantress while assisting those in need along the way.     

Shovel Knight is a recent, but popular, franchise.  The result of a high profile Kickstarter campaign that grossed a total of $311,502 , Shovel Knight was developed by ex-Wayforward employees as a love letter to the 8-bit games of yesteryear.  Sean Velasco, former Wayforward Technologies director and founder of Yacht Club games, even cites the Legend of Zelda II: Link’s Adventure as an inspiration for Shovel Knight’s  downward stab attack. The game was developed in just 16 months and debuted on PC and Nintendo platforms (3DS and Wii U) in June of 2014.  Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation  Vita, and Xbox One versions of the title were released in April of 2015.

Well, if he gets into Smash, I think I know what I’m going to name his Amiibo

Shovel Knight is a little over a year old, but the game has only just begun to receive bonus content.  The first of several planned expansion packs, Plague of Shadows, was released earlier this year.  The character himself has made several guest appearances in games such as Runbow, Road Redemption, and he has even been confirmed to have a cameo in Koji “IGA” Igarashi’s Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.

Reasons for inclusion:  As mentioned previously in my Shantae write up,  smaller franchise and indie gaming representatives received a massive surge in popularity due to the Smash Ballot.  Fans can now vote on whomever they want, and Shovel Knight is a very popular and, perhaps more importantly, relevant choice.  The game won over  70 Game of the Year Awards in 2014, so it is obviously still very fresh in the minds of many gamers.

This is kind of a big deal.

In a little over a year, Shovel Knight has sold over 700,000 copies,   fairly impressive numbers for a new IP that doesn’t have the marketing budget we would associate with a release from a large developer.  The title debuted on Nintendo hardware, and Yacht Club games have repeatedly stated how important Nintendo and their fans are to the games.   Velasco had this to say on why Nintendo platforms where the initial target for Shovel Knight:

“Well, at WayForward we had developed a lot of games on the Wii and on the DS so it was definitely something that we were familiar with.  More than that, when we set out to make this game we wanted to make an 8-bit style game.  We wanted to make a game in the style of Nintendo.  It’s the things that we grew up with, it’s the things that we loved to play as kids.  So we thought what better way to honor this idea then to go with Nintendo and have our heritage platform be where we’re expressing it first.”

Another point in Shovel Knight’s favor is his Amiibo.  He is currently the only 3rd party character to have a figurine in Nintendo’s Amiibo line that is not a character in Smash Bros.  It should be noted that the Amiibo was made by Yacht Club Games and not by Nintendo, but the fact that Nintendo would license out the Amiibo technology speaks volumes for their confidence in the character.

Reasons for exclusion:

Shovel Knight art for Blood Stained – looks like he bulked up a bit to take on all those demons.

Shovel Knight suffers from many of the same issues that will adversely affect most indie characters.   The very nature of independent game development means that Shovel Knight simply does not have the level of visibility or sales that a game produced by a company like Ubisoft or Sega would have.

Shovel Knight sold a respectable 700,000 copies in about a year.  That’s all well and good, but here are sales numbers of the current crop of third party Smash characters (from my Bayonetta article) for comparison:

Total Series Sales
Metal Gear: 33,000,000
Sonic the Hedgehog: 150,000,000
Mega Man: 30,000,000
Pacman: 43,000,000
Street Fighter: 36,000,000

All “guest characters” currently in the game are iconic characters that debuted in the 80s or 90s and have a lasting legacy with 10s of millions of games sold in their series.  Shovel Knight is none of those things, although he might fit as an “ambassador” for the indie gaming movement if that were something Sakurai and Nintendo wanted to establish.  

I had mentioned that a roadblock for Shantae is that fact that she was created by an American developer.  Shovel Knight not only shares this problem, but it is exacerbated by the fact that his game has not released in Japan yet.   It would be hard to see him as a popular pick worldwide when his game has not been released in one of Nintendo’s biggest markets.


What is Smash Bros. without music? Here are a few tracks you can look forward to if Shove Knight makes it in.

Share this!


  1. I believe the biggest reason for exclusion is that Shovel Knight never came out in Japan. I just cant see the Japanese developers choosing to put in a Western-exclusive character. There are countless Japan-only games and songs in Smash, but not a single Western-exclusive thing. Not even a reference to Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters in a trophy description or something.
    Little Mac was definitely not a similar situation, since Punch-Out games were released in Japan. Little Mac wasn’t unknown there and there had to be Japanese people who wanted to see him in.
    Others claim adding Shovel Knight will “balance” the Japanese and Western exlusive content, but no one cared before “muh indies”, and I’m sure the development team doesn’t care about this fictitious imbalance. Smash Bros. is a Japanese game at the end of the day.

    1/3 of Smash Bros 4’s sales come from Japan. Since there are less “casuals” in Japan, they will likely make up more than 1/3 of the voters. If 100% of European and American voters voted for Shovel Knight, a character who only 67% of people around the world voted for has a higher chance of getting in.

    1. Shovel Knight feels far too new to me, personally. Guest characters usually have a bit of legacy behind them. We don’t really know the criteria that Sakurai is using to choose character, though, so it’s hard to predict who would actually make the cut.

  2. Shovel Knight is the equivalent of a high school play star. Very popular among a very small audience but could never hold up to the big name stars in Hollywood. Once the highschool star moves on from highschool, their moment of fame becomes forgotten by the newer generation of students. Sure every Hollywood star gets their start somewhere, but as long as they are unknown, they are unimportant.

  3. In my opinion, as I’m one of those people who disagrees on characters who’s not known globally to be in Smash, I wouldn’t think Shovel Knight have any chances to be in Smash. Not just he’s not popular nor mentioned in Japan, but just like Spazzy_D says, he’s far too new as he doesn’t have a long history of his game (as it’s released in 2014 which is too recent) than Shantae (since 2002) nor Rayman (since 1996). And as Spazzy_D says, although Sakurai’s seeking a character with an unique ability, nobody knows on how he’s choosing a character to be playable. Whether he’s looking for someone very popular and famous, or someone that can be an advertisement, we don’t know anything about Sakurai because he’s such a mysterious (and random) person.

    But if Sakurai did chose some from the western games, and wanna use it as an advertisement since it’ll release in Japan sometime soon, then that’ll be Shantae. Not just she’s popular and have ties with Nintendo many times in the past, but her game will be released in Japan this year (probably during the holidays), and doing that may be a good timing to advertise her game to Japanese users, if they’re interested in other words. Plus in the past article of this, Shantae’s creator did mentioned that he would like to see Shantae in Smash as he’s allowing her anytime. But these are just my guess and opinion, as I still believe non-global characters doesn’t have a chance to join Smash. But if they did, I think they’ll end up as trophies.

    (Honestly, I still don’t know that black stick-looking guy is…)

    1. I wouldn’t count on Sora too much… KH was barely on Nintendo consoles, and it’d be pretty weird for Square-Enix to represent that as opposed to Final Fantasy, which was pretty much exclusively on Nintendo systems until FF7 (and not to mention is their most successful franchise.)

  4. Alright, let’s think about this for a second. I found an article that may be a bit enlightening on this subject:

    It’s an article featuring Sean Velasco of Yacht Club Games and Damon Baker, who does licensing at Nintendo of America.

    According to the article, Nintendo wanted Shovel Knight to stand out on their platforms, hence why they licensed the Amiibo technology to YCG.

    Baker also says that they’re going to be careful who they make deals with for third-party Amiibos. If they’ve been getting proposals for Amiibo partnerships since E3 2014, why would Nintendo choose Yacht Club over anybody else?

    Nintendo obviously sees something special with Shovel Knight.

    I don’t take this as evidence that SK will appear in Smash, but I’m saying the possibility is stronger than a lot of people think. We also don’t know who is publishing SK in Japan… it could be Nintendo for all we know. I’m sure if that were announced, there would be less doubt floating around.

    Plus, we have Tamaki’s rumors to consider. And Sakurai has surprised us before.

  5. The fact that Sakurai said that the results would be exclusively based on the poll puts this all to rest. Sales? Don’t matter. Popularity among audiences? Doesn’t matter. The fact that it hasn’t yet released in Japan? Doesn’t matter. After all, none of us knew who Marth and Roy were in Melee. I think that if he gets the votes, give him the spot. He would be a really cool character.

Leave a comment below!