Shovel Knight was a one of a kind game. In a sea of 2D platformers yearning for the past, that game felt like a step forward. It captured what was amazing about NES games without being NES hard, serving as a perfect introduction for younger gamers that never had the chance to pick up a two button controller. There have been many pretenders in the wake of Shovel Knight, but few have really succeeded in capturing an era of gaming in such a complete way. After playing their Kickstarter demo and following their work, I think I can safely say that Beard Blade is one of the few, a game that can be a window into 16-bit platformers for a new generation.
Beard Blade is a 2D platformer starring Branson, a man with enchanted shapeshifting facial hair that he uses to attack the various monsters attacking the villages of his homeland. A pretty standard setup, but the game makes up for a lack of narrative novelty with the various ways that our title character utilizes his mystic beard. Need to grab a ledge? Morph the beard. Need to springboard off the ledge? Pull back on your whiskers and let yourself soar through the air. Need to climb up a rocky wall? Why not turn your beard into two massive hands and climb that way? There is seemingly no limit to the traversal possibilities that Branson's mighty beard unlocks.
Having played through the demo that Glovebox Games have so graciously provided on their Kickstarter page, I have nothing but praise to give the work in progress. I was instantly brought back to the days of playing through Super Mario World and the Donkey Kong Country games on my Game Boy Advance (which is where I personally experienced most of the SNES-era platformers I've played). I dashed through a seaside port area, nailing jumps and smashing Goomba-esque foes with a mace made of stubble. After that, I climbed to the top of a lighthouse and faced off with a twin hooked sailor that had captured some hapless villagers.
The art, the music, the presentation of the game over screen—it is all pitch perfect. Even better, none of this attention to detail has detracted from the gameplay, which is already as tight as you'd want it to be. Best of all, Beard Blade doesn't even feel like a direct homage of anything. Like Shovel Knight, it is lifting mechanics from several different classic titles and marrying them to a wholly original world of their own design. It works so well, and the only things that make this demo feel like a pre-alpha build are a few minor animation bugs and the fact that it lasts about as long as Green Hill Zone.
In all fairness, this isn't the first time that Beard Blade has caught my eye. Development has been ongoing for a while, and I covered the game once before last year. Since then, I've followed along on Twitter, and the work that is being done with every update gives me faith that Beard Blade can be a quality platformer if given the chance. The game is currently on Kickstarter, looking to raise $95,000 before the end of the month. It's quite a goal, but quality doesn't come cheap, and I believe that there is enough potential here to be worth the investment. Even if you don't have the dough, you can help out our fuzzy hero by voting for him over on Steam Greenlight.
What do you think of Beard Blade? Are you able to open your heart up to another quality 2D platformer? Can someone please release an indie themed Smash Bros. and put Branson in it? Answer some of these questions and more in the comments below!