334. TMTF Reviews: Shovel Knight

Shovels and video games are not a promising combination. In fact, one of the worst catastrophes in the history of electronic games was the Atari game burial, when thousands of unsold games were buried in a landfill. This set a precedent for the term shovelware, which TMTF once defined as “Badly-designed games fit only for taking up space in landfills.” No, shovels and video games don’t mix well.

Thanks to one brave little knight, however, that may be changing. Shovel Knight is a game I really wanted to play. Last month, I finally picked it up and played it.

Did I unearth a treasure in Shovel Knight, or should I have left it buried?

Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight (PC, Nintendo 3DS/Wii U eShop; 2014)

Shovel Knight is a near-perfect blend of responsive controls, challenging level design, retro-styled visuals, and whimsical humor—to wit, I really dig this game.

TMTF Reviews - Shovel Knight

Of Shovels and Chivalry

Once upon a time, Shovel Knight and Shield Knight roamed the world in search of treasure and adventure. Tragedy struck, however, when a cursed amulet stole Shield Knight, driving Shovel Knight to a life of grief and solitude. Time has passed. An evil Enchantress has arisen. Her ruthless Order of No Quarter, a band of eight wicked knights, terrorize the land. In his quest to find Shield Knight and rescue the realm, Shovel Knight must take up his tool and fight.

Shovel Knight, like the Shantae games, is heavily inspired by the games of yore. (Shovel Knight and Shantae have much in common; the same composer and some of the same developers worked on both.) Shovel Knight borrows its level designs and basic gameplay from the Mega Man games, its map from Super Mario Bros. 3, its towns from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and one of its moves from that improbably awesome DuckTales game.

(Fun fact: The original DuckTales has a remake scored by the same composer as both Shovel Knight and Shantae—the guy really gets around!)

My point is that Shovel Knight is built on the solid foundation of older games, and that’s a good thing. In fact, it makes me rethink my criticism of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse for being “awfully familiar.” It’s important to innovate in game development, as in any other creative medium, but there’s also something to be said for perfecting what has been done before. Shovel Knight is built of old parts, but they come together to make something really special. What it lacks in innovation, it makes up in technical excellence.

Shovel Knight screenshot 2

The controls in Shovel Knight are tight and responsive, allowing the eponymous hero to slash, hack, jump, thrust, and bounce with perfect precision. That’s fortunate, for the levels are extremely challenging. The platforming can be tricky; traps, enemies, and obstacles only make things more difficult. I was relieved, however, by how fair the game is. It doesn’t sabotage the player with poor controls, obtuse level design, or deliberate tricks. Shovel Knight can be a hard game, and most players will die a lot, but they’ll have no one but themselves to blame for it.

The levels are terrific. They scroll horizontally and vertically, and not a screen is wasted: every room and area has some new challenge, and there are plenty of secrets to find. Visually, the game boasts pixelated, old-timey visuals on the same color palette as the old Nintendo Entertainment System. Shovel Knight looks (and plays) like a long-lost NES game, plus a few modern tweaks and minus the bad writing ubiquitous in the old days.

Shovel Knight screenshot

Besides his namesake weapon, Shovel Knight wields relics, a wide assortment of weapons and equipment bought from Chester, a wandering merchant who hangs out inside treasure chests (get it?) hidden in most levels. Money can also be used to buy shovel upgrades, new suits of armor, health boosts, and other bonuses.

Among other collectibles, Shovel Knight allows players to gather sheets of music that can be exchanged for songs and in-game cash. Speaking of music, the game’s soundtrack is phenomenal in a shrill, electronic sort of way. Seriously, listen to its main theme.

If that doesn’t give you feels, you may have no soul.

Adventure in Spades?

This is normally the part where I criticize a game for its flaws. With Shovel Knight, I have to look really hard. Prepare yourself, dear reader, for Adam at his most hypercritical.

NITPICKING POWERS ACTIVATED!

There’s not much story in Shovel Knight. It doesn’t need a complex story—the game is tons of fun to play—but more plot and characterization would have been nice. It’s sort of a Super Mario Bros. story: girl is taken, hero must rescue her, etc. There are one or two twists, and the Order of No Quarter are likable enough as characters, but the simplistic story feels like a missed opportunity.

Shovel Knight is a pretty short game. I actually appreciated that—I don’t have as much time for video games as I wish I had—but players expecting a long quest may be disappointed by its brevity.

Besides its difficulty, which is matter of preference, that’s pretty much everything I can find to criticize in Shovel Knight.

…And They Lived Happily Ever After, You Dig?

Shovel Knight is a game as pleasant and stalwart as its horned hero. It’s old-fashioned, challenging, and not for everyone; I know a couple of people who don’t much care for it. All the same, I love it, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

The game is a well-written, beautifully-designed, gorgeously-scored love letter to the video games of the eighties. Like those games, Shovel Knight proves you don’t need fancy graphics, elaborate storytelling, or extravagant pageantry to make a game.

No, all you need is a shovel and a little courage.

333. I Know Nothing

Today’s post was written by JK Riki: animator, blogger, and creator of Fred the Monkey. (FtM is a Homestar Runner-esque collection of web cartoons; I discovered the site a few years back.) As a blog run by monkeys, Typewriter Monkey Task Force is honored to share JK’s reflections on how little we know. For more great stuff from JK, check out his blog and Twitter. You may also want to swing by Animator Island, for which he writes.

I listed one of my 2015 goals on my blog as “Write a guest post for somewhere.” A big thanks to Adam for allowing me to commandeer his blog for the day.

In trying to determine what my goal-achieving guest post might be about, I poked around Typewriter Monkey Task Force to get a feel for its style and purpose. What I found was an amazing collection of thoughts and writings from a clearly deep individual. I started to worry whatever I came up with might not meet the level of aptitude already found on TMTF. (I included the word aptitude here specifically to try to elevate my game.)

[Editor’s note: I did not bribe JK to say nice things about my blog, I swear! He’s just a really kind person.]

Since there is no lack of depth in the topics of this blog, now seems as good a time as any to wade a bit deeper into the Great Pool of Thought and submit a few ideas that most people never bother with. A large number of our human species is content to go about the day-to-day and never really step back to consider alternative perspectives. I love alternative perspectives. Their greatest gift is a swift kick in the rear and exclamation of “There’s so much you don’t know, don’t forget that.”

So I share with you this simple truth: One of the best things you can ever achieve is the realization of how much you don’t know.

There’s a time and place for confidence, of course. If you’re performing brain surgery on someone, that might not be the best time to ponder string theory, dimensional variants, or that cutting into this person’s brain may be affecting atoms directly on another planet someplace light years away and who knows what havoc that is causing.

But when not engrossed in an activity where lives hang in the balance, consider stopping and thinking about how limited we are as humans. We can’t hear color. We can’t smell intention. We don’t know what we don’t know. Think about that. There are things we can’t imagine. They are beyond the scope of our understanding and reality. Yet that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. They could be (and very likely are) floating around us at this very moment, beyond our human senses.

What I discover any time I do this exercise of remembering how little I know is that suddenly I’m a lot more compassionate of everyone around me.

People who know more than me in some areas, and less in others, are in the same boat I am. We’re all on this journey of life, and all at different places on the road. Though it baffles me when I meet someone twice my age who hasn’t realized basic truths I’ve learned, I have more patience with them, knowing there’s plenty I have yet to realize myself. While it’s frustrating to speak with a teenager who “has it all figured out,” I’m able to remember I also once had “it all figured out,” sure that I knew everything there was to know. And in that moment I’m deeply grateful for the knowledge of how little knowledge I actually have. I never want to go back to thinking I knew it all. Dangerous pride lies in wait there.

Of course, any time you take a trip to the deep end of the pool it’s essential that you carry along a life preserver, and that you make certain it’s firmly attached to something that will not let you drown. When you take a swim in deeper thought, and consider the vastness of the universe seen and unseen, I highly recommend tossing the end of that rope to God. He never lets you drown, and He also knows what’s in the very depths of the pool. Plus He’s unbelievably patient. He won’t wander off and leave the rope tied to a fence post!

I have, in the past, handed the rope to people I trusted. Unfortunately, people fail. We’re only human. It is what it is. We don’t mean to let others drown, we just aren’t strong enough to pull them back, and we get distracted easily. So just be careful if you decide to sit and ponder today. The water is warm, but very deep, and we often overestimate our swimming abilities. Take along with you a helping hand, and by all means dive in and see what you see.

What you’ll find is truly amazing.

Want to write a guest post for TMTF? Here’s how!

332. Geek Studies

Geeks are fascinating creatures.

Believe me, I should know. I’ve spent a lot of time among geeks, observing their behaviors and gathering data. In fact, in the interests of full disclosure and journalistic integrity… I must confess that I myself am totally a geek.

Yes, I can imagine the disbelieving astonishment in your expression. Who could have imagined that Adam Stück, of all solemn and serious people, has been a geek all along? I’ll give you a moment to get over your shock.

As I said, geeks are strange and marvelous creatures. Geeks, and the cultures they create, are worth studying.

Et-Webscout16

Geek culture, you say? Fascinating! I must science it immediately!

What is a geek? The simplest definition for a geek is a person with a strong interest in something. A geek is not a nerd, though a person can be both. A nerd is intelligent, generally introverted or asocial, and sometimes (but not always) socially inept. Although geeks are often stereotyped as nerds, anyone can be a geek. Sports fans, college professors, or motorcycle enthusiasts can be geeky about their respective interests.

Geeks are usually ordinary people with a passion for something trivial—a book, sport, hobby, video game, television series, or something else. Besides having a strong attachment to their objects of interest, geeks usually know a lot about them. Once you get geeks talking, it can be really hard to shut them up. Geeks can have more than one object of interest, of course. I have many!

The thing that fascinates me most about geeks is the instant solidarity and understanding that often springs up between them. A common interest, no matter how trivial, can unite people of all cultures, races, nations, languages, beliefs, and opinions. A shared love of soccer, Star Wars, or world history brings together the most unlikely people. Geeks frequently set aside personal differences; the wolf lives with the lamb; the calf and the lion and the yearling quit arguing about religion or politics and go out for coffee.

I’ve done a little informal research into geek culture, and I’d like to do more. Brief studies of geek culture shall join About Storytelling posts, TMTF Reviews, and Why [Insert Author Name] Is Awesome posts as an occasional feature on this blog.

Anthropology isn’t exactly my field, true, yet I have what Liam Neeson would call “a particular set of skills.” My skills, unlike Liam Neeson’s, mostly involve geeky things like winning Mario Kart races and rambling about J.R.R. Tolkien. I consider myself highly qualified to discuss geek culture. In fact, some time ago, I went so far as to create a geek studies tag for TMTF and add it to a bunch of old posts… which, I suppose, makes me guilty of retconning my own blog.

What’s that? You’re wondering what retconning means? Don’t worry about it. Retconning is a geek thing.

My Neighbor Baymax

My Neighbor BaymaxBravo, Disney. Bravo.

This lovely art was drawn by Jin Kim, a character designer for Walt Disney Animation Studios. It uses the Japan-inspired setting of Disney’s Big Hero Six to pay homage to Japan’s greatest animation studio, the amazing Studio Ghibli.

For comparison, here’s the image from My Neighbor Totoro on which Kim’s picture is based.

Totoro in the rainI really enjoyed Big Hero Six, the first animated Disney movie based on Marvel comic book characters. In fact, it’s one of my favorite films of the past five years. Its story hit all the right notes for me, and its visuals are jaw-dropping. Despite being much more Disney than it is Marvel, Big Hero Six avoids most of Disney’s clichés. There are no princesses; there is no romance; the villain is not pointlessly evil. Big Hero Six is a film about brotherly love, coping with loss, and the futility of revenge. It’s pretty deep stuff… for Disney, anyway.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen Big Hero Six, you should go watch it. And then, regardless of whether you’ve already seen it, you should watch My Neighbor Totoro. You’ll thank me later.

331. TMTF Strikes Back!

After a two-week hiatus, TMTF is back with new content! My typewriter monkeys and I have resumed… whatever it is we do around here. I don’t know.

Before I get carried away with new posts, there’s some stuff we need to discuss—mostly following up on last month’s charity fundraisers, and also asking an urgent question about hats. Prepare yourself, dear reader, for some Important Business Things. We’ll cover them one at a time. Here we go!

TMTF’s charity fundraisers were a success!

Because of your support, TMTF’s charity fundraisers last month were successful!

Charity logos

The Child’s Play fundraiser didn’t quite reach its goal, yet contributed a respectable $75 toward purchasing toys and video games for kids in hospitals. (I like to think that every cent of our donations was spent on Legend of Zelda games, but that’s just me.) While the Child’s Play fundraiser didn’t meet its goal, I’m thankful we were able to give as much as we did.

The Living Water International fundraiser, which is ongoing, surpassed its goal. Thanks to you, we’ve given $375 toward providing clean water to people in impoverished areas! That’s one hundred twenty-five percent of the fundraiser’s original goal, which is just bonkers.

When we started raising funds last month for charity, I honestly wasn’t sure we would meet our goals. You guys have amazed me. Thank you so much for making this possible. You are my heroes. Well done.

Bravo (GIF)The Living Water International fundraiser is still going strong!

Even though the clean water fundraiser was meant to be a Christmas project, it won’t end for another few weeks. (I didn’t have much flexibility in planning its duration.) For as long as it’s up and running, this blog’s rewards for donors will remain in effect, so feel free to give!

I’m still working on donor rewards, and I will get them to donors as soon as I can.

If you haven’t received your rewards for donating to one or both of TMTF’s fundraisers, I haven’t forgotten you! I’m still working on them, and I’ll send them your way as soon as I can.

By the way, there were a few anonymous donations. If you donated anonymously and would like to receive donor rewards, it’s not too late to contact me. I want to say thank you!

Should charity fundraisers become a Christmas tradition for this blog?

I don’t know. What do you think?

All right, enough talk about fundraising. Let’s discuss hats.

Top hats or fezzes?

Top hats vs. fezzes

Discuss.

I think that’s everything!

I guess those are all the Important Business Things we have to discuss for now. Thanks again, dear readers, for making last month’s charity events a success!

In conclusion, fezzes are less expensive, but top hats lend a certain dignity to any aspiring gentleman. They’re both pretty great.

Mangling Spanish: A Beginner’s Guide

One of my new year’s resolutions was to improve my Spanish, and I’ve finally resumed my linguistic studies. How have I chosen to study? In the same way all great scholars do, of course.

I’m watching cartoons.

Specifically, I’m watching the Spanish language dub of Avatar: The Last Airbender, my all-time favorite show. It’s a wonderful way to study. Just hearing spoken Spanish again is working wonders for my vocabulary, grammar and syntax.

My studies have reminded me of the linguistic horror stories (or comedies, depending on your point of view) I’ve heard from acquaintances in my homeland of Ecuador.

For example, there was a gentleman who asked for sopa to wash his hands. He meant soap. He received soup.

There was a lady who tried to explain that she had been embarrassed by a pastor, and used the word embarazada because of its similarity to the English word embarrassed. What she announced by mistake was that the pastor had made her pregnant.

Another lady wanted to ride a horse without a rope attached to its bridle, and asked the owner whether she might have permission to mount his horse without the ropa. This greatly alarmed the owner, since ropa is Spanish for clothes.

My favorite story comes from the husband of one of my middle school teachers. One day a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to his door. He informed them in faltering Spanish that he did not care to hear about Jehovah’s Witnesses, and was baffled at how angrily they departed.

Only later did he realize that instead of calling them Testigos de Jehová, Jehovah’s Witnesses, he had mistakenly called them Testículos de Jehová—Jehovah’s Testicles.

Not every story is a painful one. A favorite of mine is that of an interpreter asked to translate the following joke into Spanish for an audience: “What did the ocean say to the beach? Nothing. It just waved.”

This awful joke, a play on words, works only in English.

That brilliant interpreter didn’t let that stop him. Without missing a beat, he translated the question into Spanish and answered it with a new punchline: “Hola!”

This Spanish word for hello sounds exactly like ola, the word for wave. That, dear reader, is pretty dashed clever.

I haven’t made any truly memorable mistakes in Spanish, but that’s all right. I’m already quite good enough at making a fool of myself in English.

This post was originally published on September 2, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on January 19, 2015!

Cartoon Anatomy Is Weird

Cartoon anatomyI’m no expert on human anatomy, but I’m pretty sure Charlie Brown’s neck wouldn’t support his head. He’s always seemed a bit… top-heavy.

The same is true for Mabel Pines, and her neck isn’t the only problem—I’m pretty sure those legs wouldn’t carry her weight. Speaking of which, I consider it a miracle that Doctor Eggman can stand at all. His slender needle-legs wouldn’t hold up his mustache, let alone his, um, bulbous physique.

Yes, I’m overthinking things. Cartoons aren’t supposed to be realistic. Character designs are highly stylized. I get that, and I like cartoony proportions. (Would Snoopy from Peanuts be one-half as adorable with a proportionately-sized head? I didn’t think so.) All the same, I find myself occasionally scrutinizing cartoon characters and wondering which bones would be the first to break.

Consider the following image of Charlie Brown, courtesy of Michael Paulus.

Charlie Brown's skeletonFor someone frequently addressed as “blockhead,” Charlie Brown’s gargantuan dome is quite spherical. No way on God’s green earth would a few spindly vertebra hold up a skull like that.

I suppose cartoon anatomy joins the ability to pull stuff from nowhere as one of animation’s greatest mysteries.

This post was originally published on October 8, 2014. TMTF shall return with new content on January 19, 2015!

Batman Syndrome

I have Batman Syndrome.

I wish this meant I were as cool, skilled or accomplished as Batman. It does not. It most certainly does not. What it means is that Batman and I have something in common: we obsess over our mistakes.

If you or someone you love suffers from Batman Syndrome... I feel your pain.

If you or someone you love suffers from Batman Syndrome… I feel your pain.

I like fictional characters who overlook their victories and overemphasize their failures. There’s something compelling about characters who are heroic without realizing it. Take the Doctor from Doctor Who, who has saved every planet in the universe roughly twenty-seven times. In all his travels through space and time, he never leaves behind his insecurity, self-loathing or guilt. Consider Jean Valjean from Les Misérables, who atones for a few petty crimes by spending years serving the poor and helpless. They bless him as a saint. He despises himself as a criminal.

Then we have Batman, the eponymous sufferer of Batman Syndrome, who is so blinded by guilt that he fails to recognize one all-important fact: he is freaking Batman. No matter how many thousands of people he rescues, he remains obsessed with the two he failed to save.

I’m not a savior like the Doctor or a saint like Jean Valjean. I’m certainly not a superhero like Batman. Even so, I occasionally do things right. I also do things wrong. In my mind, the wrong things eclipse the right ones. A mistake cancels out all successes.

This isn’t always such a bad thing. I feel driven by my mistakes to try harder, to be better, to get it right. In the short term, it helps.

In the long term, however, Batman Syndrome wears away my confidence. It also makes me anxious. Dash it all, does it ever make me anxious. Doing anything is hard for someone desperately afraid of making mistakes. Perfection is a lousy minimum standard.

Batman Syndrome haunts me with one dreadful question.

You’ll never get it right, so why even try?

I write a lot about grace and stuff. In the end, I suppose it’s because I’m amazed (and sometimes incredulous) that God loves me. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. More to the point, I make a lot of mistakes. It’s easy for me to accept God’s forgiveness for a sin committed ten years ago. What’s hard for me to accept is forgiveness for a sin committed ten minutes ago.

It can also be hard for me to acknowledge my victories. I want to be humble, but there’s a difference between true humility and false modesty. I’m often reminded of my weaknesses. I think I must also allow myself to be reminded of the strengths God has given me. I’ve a long way to go, but I mustn’t overlook how far I’ve come.

I’m not Batman, and I think I’m finally beginning to accept that I don’t have to be.

This post was originally published on March 18, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on January 19, 2015!

Emoticons

Emoticons—those short combinations of letters, numbers and punctuation marks that sort of resemble little faces if you look at them sideways—have crept over the Internet like an army of tiny pictographic soldiers.

When I was a student teacher, some of my students even used emoticons in their homework. This annoyed and perplexed me greatly. Apart from being childish and unprofessional, putting emoticons in hand-written assignments seemed pointless. I can’t imagine why my students made the effort to write out emoticons when they could have just drawn little faces.

Though I seldom use emoticons, I have nothing against them. They’re an interesting development of written English, and they can give informal writing a certain charm.

For the sake of Internet People everywhere, I’ve compiled (with a little help from Dave Barry) a list of useful emoticons.

Typewriter Monkey Task Force is proud to present…

The Official TMTF List of Eminently Practical Emoticons for Convenient, Everyday Usage!

: )         Happy person

: (         Sad person

: – )       Happy person with a nose

: – (       Sad person with a nose

: — (     Person who is sad because he has such a big nose

: /          Frustrated person

: D        Overjoyed person

. (         Person who ran with scissors

X D        Amused person

<l : )      Gandalf the Grey

:’ (         Weeping person

: P        Cheerful person

:V: (      Person with an alligator on her head

:-3         Cat

; )          Wry person

: o )       Clown

XO        Person who is afraid of clowns

: o          Slightly surprised person

8 O        Very surprised person

: ) ?        Captain Hook

: I           Person who has eaten too much

: ) ~D     Person about to drink a calming cup of Jasmine tea

: ^ (        Cyrano de Bergerac

O Internet People, it is now up to you to use these emoticons with creativity, discernment and wisdom.

Just don’t use any of them on homework assignments, all right?

What emoticons did I miss? What are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!

This post was originally published on January 20, 2012. TMTF shall return with new content on January 19, 2015!