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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.