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Why Shovel Knight couldn't run on a real NES

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Shovel Knight is a well-crafted homage to the golden age of NES platformers (read our review!), but that doesn't mean it could actually run on Nintendo's beloved 8-bit console. Children of the 80s and 90s will probably notice, for example, that there is no sprite flickering in Shovel Knight. As it turns out, that was a deliberate choice on the part of developer Yacht Club Games. In a fascinating piece on Gamasutra, Yacht Club programmer David D'Angelo breaks down exactly what the studio did to stay true to the NES hardware – and also where Shovel Knight departs from it for the sake of better gameplay or design.

Some of the obvious departures are internet-enabled features like StreetPass and MiiVerse, and the addition of a 16:9 perspective. Even with the wider horizontal perspective, Shovel Knight retains an accurate vertical resolution, although each of the game's "pixels" are actually 4.5 x 4.5 pixels on a 1080p display. There are also a few colors used that weren't available in the NES color palette. In addition to the NES' 54 possible colors, Yacht Club added 4 more to enable more detail in certain levels and include characters with darker skin tones.

The game also abandons memory limitations, futzes with the number of colors that can be used simultaneously and allows for much larger sprites. One of the best bits in the piece involves Shovel Knight's excellent soundtrack. It's completely authentic to the era ... but only if Shovel Knight were created for the Japanese version of the NES, the Famicom. Some late NES-era cartridges used a chip that offered 3 additional sound channels, allowing games to have richer soundtracks. The western NES "lacked the necessary cartridge connections" for the sound chip, says D'Angelo, "so it's an unfamiliar sound to most western gamers."

[Image: Yacht Club Games]







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