I’m literally the worst at focusing on the same thing for long periods of time. I’ll be the first to admit, I have something I like to call video game ADHD. I start a game, I get halfway through it, and before the game has even started to get boring, something else happens and I get distracted. Once I get distracted, getting back into things is difficult. I feel like I’m lying to myself. Is this game really a worthwhile use of my time? Am I really enjoying it? Or am I just pretending I do, out of some bizarre feeling of loyalty towards the developer?

Shovel Knight is the ultimate demonstration of a very simple concept: less is more.

Seriously, I still haven’t finished Fire Emblem Fates, a game I waited literally an entire year for. I love that game, but something distracted me, and now some part of me just feels weird about picking it back up again. Fire Emblem Awakening is hands down one of my favourite games of all time, and yet I can’t even get halfway through the sequel. What the fuck is wrong with me?

My wife hasn't seen me in over two months now... Oh God, I'm a terrible husband!

My wife hasn’t seen me in over two months now… Oh God, I’m a terrible husband!

However, there’s one games on the horizon I’ll definitely be playing to completion. Specter of Torment, the second of the free expansions for Shovel Knight, is scheduled for release in Spring 2017. This time around, we’ll be taking control of Specter Knight (a name I find infuriating to see written down – damn you Americans, it’s spelled Spectre.)

I’ve been looking forward to this one because Specter (ugh) Knight is actually one of my favourite of the bosses in the original game. He’s a creepy, ghostly apparition, based fairly clearly on the Grim Reaper, armed with a scythe, teleportation, and the ability to summon zombified skeleton warriors out of the ground. It’ll be interesting to see how they adapt the boss into a playable character, as his ability to levitate may cause some of the game’s more challenging platforming sections to become comically easy.


But why am I so sure that this is a game I’m definitely going to complete? Sure, I loved the Plague of Shadows update (you can check out my review here) but how do I know it will be the same this time around? How do I know I won’t see a bird out the window, get distracted, and 2 months after it’s been released, realise that I’m never going to finish it? Well, aside from having gorgeous retro pixel artwork, dat funky 8-bit soundtrack from Jake Kaufman, and a whole cast of loveable characters, the game also has one other secret weapon: short, replayable levels.

Shovel Knight excels by being built around short levels that can easily be completed in one session. One of the main issues I have with games is the sheer volume of hours required to complete them. As developers start squeezing more and more content into their games, I find myself less and less able to invest in them. I find myself being forced to spend hours and hours on each play session, and even then, I still barely progress anywhere within the narrative of the game.

Recently, I managed to force myself all the way through Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not a bad game. It’s just there’s too much to do. Each time I loaded up the game, I’d wind up running around London doing unnecessary side quests, and by the end of my play session, I’d realise I had made absolutely zero progress in the narrative. To compete the game, I found myself having to force myself to ignore all side quests, and just focus exclusively on the main story missions.


Yes, you are reading that correctly. The trophy for completing the main campaign of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is listed as ‘Rare.’

And it’s not just me who struggled to complete that game. A quick look at the PS4 trophy page for the game shows that only 30.7% of people who play the game received the trophy for completing all nine memory sequences. That means that 69.3% of people who have played the game, have never bothered to finish it. And I don’t think it’s because they got stuck – I think it’s because they got bored.

I shouldn’t have to work this hard to complete games. If we want to add longevity to the narrative sequence of a game, instead of adding more content, why don’t we just make the existing content better? That’s what games like Shovel Knight do so well. Yes, the game is made up of a small number of relatively short levels, but those levels are all well designed, so once you’ve completed the game, you feel compelled to play it again. You can even play it on a harder difficulty once you’ve completed the main story once, so it still feels like you’re being given new content each and every time.

It feels odd to pinpoint the reason why I’m so confident, and realise that it’s because it complies to a video game convention that dates all the way back to the 80’s but it’s true. Back then, this is how all games were. Did Mario ever let side quests distract him from his mission to rescue Peach? No, because at the time game developers didn’t have enough space on the cartridge to add unnecessary crap. And because of this, the games were streamlined, easy to engage with, and easy to enjoy. This is what Shovel Knight does so well. And this is what so many games fail to realise.


Shovel Knight will continue to be the best 2d platformer released for a long time, and with the exception of Pokemon Sun/Moon, it’s pretty much the only game I’m totally certain I’m going to complete. Shovel Knight is the ultimate demonstration of a very simple concept: less is more. When it comes to video game content, sometimes you really can have too much of a good thing.

(For anyone doubting the validity of my concentration issues, over the two hours I spent writing this article, I got distracted by YouTube videos a grand total of ten times. Seriously, I just watched five different versions of Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive. Did you know the Zac Brown Band did a live cover version once? It’s pretty awesome.)