Hanging Out with Yacht Club Games: Kings, Ninjas and lots of Death

6 min read
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I’ve recently been on a bit of a retro gaming binge lately. I was lucky enough to acquire a NES Mini, loaded an abundance of games on it and it’s been a truly fascinating experiment talking a look at where a lot of commercial home gaming started. It’s also really interesting to note how BULLSHIT a lot of those early NES games are. A lot of them are painfully frustrating due to how overtly broken they are; it’s not their fault, game design was still in its infancy, resources were far more stretched and developers needed to offer players enough bang for their buck so they didn’t blitz through a new game in under an hour. Admittedly, I’ve been turned off a lot of these classics because of how purposefully frustrating they can be, turning instead to more modern takes on that Silver Age of Gaming to return to a place of simple graphics, precise gameplay and a challenge that’s both fair and difficult. When I want to experience these things, I turn to Yacht Club.

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Throwbacks to 8-Bit classics is Yacht Club’s speciality. You know their work even if you don’t know the studio: They’re responsible for creating (and maintaining a stream of content for) Shovel Knight, the now-iconic platformer mascot that’s almost on the same tier as recognisable characters like Mega Man and Kirby despite how recently his game was released in comparison.

I sat down with some of the devs of Yacht Club at Gamescom to take a look at the latest expansion for Shovel Knight, King of Cards. Shovel Knight has consistently had some of the best post-launch content to date, introducing two new playable characters with unique move sets, levels and campaigns all of their own and King of Cards is looking to tie the Shovel Knight saga up once and for as players will be able to assume King Knight, the pompous ass-hat who chases glory above all else. He’s a beefy, powerful character but also remarkably deft when it comes to platforming.

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Shovel Knight is known for his ability to hop on the heads of his enemies with his spade and deal damage to them at the same time. It was always a really cool move-set, chaining platforming and combat into a single move to accomplish two goals at once always feels incredibly satisfying when pulled off correctly. Yacht Club has consistently shown that they are the masters of 2D movement and the level design that accompanies it, able to manipulate character movement to force you to see levels in a totally new way or create new challenges from levels that remain completely untouched. King of Cards is a further display of how they place with space and movement within the platformer genre, accompanied by the now expectedly tight, intuitive controls and gadgets.

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Being the biggest batch of DLC, King of Cards brings two new game modes into the fold. Showdown being Yacht Club’s own take on a multiplayer brawler with all manner of zany items and maps to bash your friends over the head and claim superiority over them; Showdown is the developer’s solution to providing players with move-sets for all of the nights within the game without developing complete DLC bundles for every individual character.

A monumental task in its own right, the devs still wanted to give fans an idea of what playing as beloved characters such a Propeller Knight and Treasure Knight would feel like while adding a multiplayer mode into the mix; the result being Showdown, which admittedly resulted in some unprofessional jumping up and down and some heated competition between me and the devs. The other game mode is a mash-up of a collectable card game and a board game, requiring players to build a deck of unique cards and place strategically place them around a board to end up on a coveted gem. I went into it thinking it’d be a cute distraction thrown in for laughs but I left the game mode having lost every match against the AI. Surprisingly challenging, quick and addictive King of Card’s very own parlour game is just further proof of how much thought and love Yacht Club puts into their games.

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The last thing I was shown during my time with the devs was Cyber Shadow, a game being published by Yacht Club and developed by one guy, Aarne “MekaSkull” Hunziker. Well, that’s not entirely true; Jake Kaufman did the soundtrack, but the send up of old school, tough-as-nails Ninja Gaiden-esque platformers was designed, animated and programmed by Hunziker. It’s the effort of a team being completed by an individual so competently, I might add, that I would have been fooled if someone hadn’t told me.

The grim, moody cyberpunk aesthetic of the environments and enemies screams Escape from New York but the powers, movement and levels are ripped straight out the toughest NES games, only this time they’re difficult because you’re actually bad, not because the game is designed in such a way that feels unfair. Cyber Shadow was a genuine surprise to me; as someone who’s not all that hot on those punishing platformers I found it both gorgeous to look at and satisfying to play but also progressively more difficult as I kept inching my way closer and closer to each checkpoint.

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While I’m sad to see the Shovel Knight saga finally come to its end, I’m really pleased for Yacht Club. It’s clear why people still adore Shovel Knight, the game’s fandom still alive with players. Yacht Club genuinely listens and cares for their fans, wanting to only put the best product they possibly can out onto the market and with them publishing games like Cyber Shadow, it’s clear that the devs are well on their way for maintaining their status as one of the most beloved indie studios out there.

Last Updated: August 22, 2019

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