Unfortunately, my headache yesterday prevented me from getting a Game 4 Thought ready this week. Then, as-if conspiring against the column entirely, Shovel Knight came out today and ate my entire day. That game, simply put, is spectacular. Imagine Mega Man if, instead of selecting from a boss selection screen, you selected levels similar to the Super Mario Bros 3 map screen. Basically, there are 8 rival Knights (from The Order of No Quarter), and each one has their own stage that you must traverse before getting to fight them. During the course of each level there are branching paths that will lead to treasures and is also how you find each stage's power-up (instead of killing the boss Mega-Man-style). On the map screen there are also side-levels that can be played for extra treasure by using the power-ups found in previous levels.
So what does one do with all that extra treasure found though-out Shovel Knight's levels? Buy power-ups, of course! In the first town there is a vendor who sells you extra health, and a vendor for extra mana, each getting more expensive with each purchase. In addition, you eventually reach a city that has an armorer and weaponsmith. The extra armor is never strictly better than what you're wearing defense-wise, but rather will provide bonus effects, sometimes at the cost of a drawback. For example, you can have armor that gives you more mana for using abilities, but it comes at the cost of taking extra damage. Meanwhile the weapon smith will upgrade your shovel to have additional effects, like a ground shockwave when you attack at full health, or a charged attack for a harder swing.
As far as challenge goes, I'd say the game has a good balance. Veterans of platformers will find the game very easy, while players who are newer or maybe just less practiced in the genre will have plenty of challenge beating the levels. When you die, you release 3 bags of gold that will float in the place where you died. If you can reach them before you die again, then you can collect them to receive no penalty, but if you die then those bags will be lost and replaced with the 3 bags that got released from your newest death. As a balancing mechanic it's decent. None of the upgrades are so vital that not being able to afford them will hurt the players chances on the higher levels if they can't afford them because of dying too often. So players who are dying a lot and losing a lot of gold can still have the option of playing earlier levels if they really want that upgrade, but they aren't really penalized in any major way if they decide to soldier forward and not worry about it.
So yeah, that was most of my day, and probably most of tomorrow when I get out of work. I got the game expecting to like it, but I didn't expect it to be "Oh, it's dinner time already" good. My suggestion? Buy it if you have any love for platformers. Thanks for joining me on today's PAD, and I hope to see you tomorrow. Until then, game well.