The Order of No Quarter beware!
The knight with the sapphire spade scoops out a spot for himself — Shovel Knight’s in Smash! Albeit he’s an assist trophy and not a playable character, but still. Just as a refresher, Shovel Knight is both the name of the protagonist and the Kickstarter hit by Yacht Club Games. For the sake of not getting myself intensely confused, I’ll call the character “Blue” and the game Shovel Knight. This crowdfunded campaign was one of the larger ones back when Kickstarter was relatively new. But just why is it so exciting to see my boy Blue in Smash Ultimate? It’s because of the precedent his inclusion has now set. Blue has opened the door for all other indie developers. However, his trek from the early stages to appearing in Smash has been anything but an easy excavation.
Yacht Club’s hard-fought road to knighthood
The developers at Yacht Club Games were originally a team of six. This group started development in 2013, and with around $300k in Kickstarter money for Shovel Knight, they made the base game in about a year. But that year was by no means an easy ride. There were months at a time that Yacht Club couldn’t afford to pay its employees. Finally, in mid-2014 the game released for 3DS, Wii U, and on PC. It amazingly sold over 70,000 copies in the first week. It was an example of artists sacrificing their well-being for a project they knew people would adore. And they were right!
Now, as of 2018, Shovel Knight has sold over 2 million copies worldwide. About half of those sales have been on the 3DS, Wii U, and Nintendo Switch. It was always the team’s original intention to be Nintendo-centric. So while some may disagree with the hype behind Blue’s appearance, you can’t deny their dedication to Nintendo. After learning their background, it’s easy to see that Yacht Club dug that spot out with their sweat and tears.
Shovel Knight is an IP-hopping fanatic
Shovel Knight‘s release wasn’t the end of it. Thanks to the Kickstarter stretch goals, Yacht Club has had modes, DLC campaigns, and side content to continually work on. In the meantime, Blue has taken a bit of a vacation and hopped from game to game. After seeing just how many games Blue has made an appearance in, it’s crystal clear Yacht Club really does have a passion for the industry.
The trowel-toting titan Blue has appeared as a playable character in 16 different games. And if you count his cameo appearances, that number jumps up to 25! Other than maybe Kratos from the God of War series, Blue is a savant of guest appearances. This is all to say that Blue has become the mascot for indie/Kickstarter games; he represents how far an indie title can go. And it sure doesn’t hurt that he also has one of the most memorable yet simple designs in years.
What Yacht Club’s brainchild represents
Yacht Club Games has been consistently building new connections and relationships since before the game’s release. They’ve worked with a massive amount of game studios and used Blue’s likeness to boost other well-known Kickstarter titles like Indivisible and Yooka-Laylee. Kickstarter game projects have had a bit of a rough patch recently. A lot of long-promised games have suffered complications or have been canceled.
People have lost faith in Kickstarter games delivering on their promises. However, Shovel Knight stands as the prodigal example that, yes, you can make a worldwide hit on Kickstarter. Indie games can sell millions of copies, build professional relationships with industry giants, and create iconic characters that’ll last for decades. Every win for Shovel Knight is a win for the indie industry.
Grandpa Nintendo is learning how to be current
What does this all have to do with Nintendo? A lot, actually. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove released on the Nintendo Switch in 2017 and included all the DLC campaigns released to date. This marks the beginning of Nintendo’s heartfelt effort to promote Shovel Knight. Thanks to the game’s rabid fanbase and stellar sales, Nintendo surprised the masses and gave Blue his own Amiibo. Looking back, it’s clear to see they were testing the waters. Obviously, they kept an eye on how well-received an Amiibo of a 3rd-party character would be to the larger Nintendo audience.
After a bit of time, it’s pretty evident that Blue’s not just accepted — the fans adore him! On April 11, 2018, Yacht Club released their sales numbers to date: 370k units for Switch alone, which is almost a quarter of the total game sales since 2014, in just under a year. So not only was including Blue a great decision in regards to Nintendo’s reputation; it was a great business decision as well.
This is progress for Nintendo because they have had their iconic characters under lock and key since they became a gaming superpower in the ’90s — until now. Nobody touched Link or Mario; it was first-party development only for the superstar mascots. Super Smash Bros. in particular has always included an extremely deep amount of content, even in the N64 days. The number of stages, playable characters, and gallery content are regularly gigantic in comparison to other games. But indie-developed IPs making any sort of tangible appearance was essentially impossible up till now.
Nintendo has realized they have to adapt, and it’s been more obvious as of late. They’ve started to open their doors and compromise on controling every aspect of their own IPs. Things like Super Mario Run for mobile, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle with Ubisoft, and Fortnite on the Switch are proof of their growing adaptation.
What does this mean for the indie industry?
Finally, why is this so important for other indie developers? Well, that’s simple! Before, there wasn’t a precedent that “indie” characters could hang out with the AAA icons, at least not in a Nintendo capacity. But now, Blue has paved the way! The Nintendo Switch currently has a reputation of porting over just about everything from other consoles. Plus, now that the Switch has sold insanely well in comparison to the Wii U, developers are consistently making new games for it. There are more chances than ever for more indie characters to make it into the bigger Nintendo games. Super Smash Bros. is no longer a VIP club of Nintendo elites. It’s become a best-of-the-best fighter for iconic game characters and a true collaboration between video game giants.
Lastly, some speculation: I’m thrilled about Blue being an assist trophy, because both Little Mac and Dark Samus were assist trophies originally. Just in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U alone we got three characters from completely different companies. Bayonetta, Ryu, and Cloud represent Nintendo’s willingness to compromise. Ryu represents fighting games, Cloud is RPGs, and Bayonetta is the high-octane action, so where’s the indie? That’s where our little knight Blue shows up. Plus, Blue has already debuted as a guest fighting game character in other games. In Rivals of Aether, Indie Pogo, and Blade Strangers, Blue has been shown to be a perfectly capable, creative fighter. All in all, Blue’s inclusion in the Smash franchise is great news — both for Nintendo’s growth, and the indie gaming industry. I personally can’t wait to see where this inclusion takes companies like Yacht Club, and what this means for the gaming ecosystem going forward.
Related video: Shovel Knight in Smash Bros. Ultimate Could be a Big Deal