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My 2014 Game of the Year: Shovel Knight

2014 has been a relatively good year in terms of gaming for me. I did pick up a few releases that came out this year — I typically pick things up later on, as they tend to be a lot cheaper  and one of those was Yacht Club Games' wondrous Shovel Knight.

If my euphoric adjective wasn't indication enough, I loved this game, and I'd like to take some time to share why.

Shovel Knight does three things beautifully: the game looks, sounds and plays like the classic NES games of yore, but subtly is a vast improvement on many of those titles; the game's plot subverts the trope of a damsel in distress in a rather remarkable way; and the gameplay treads the perfect degree of challenge that rarely frustrates. Let's break that down.

Shovel Knight, as evidenced by the screenshot above, mimics the style of the glory days of the NES. Pixels rule the day visually, with amazing animation and charming designs pouring over the eyes. Jake "virt" Kaufman (frequent Wayforward musician) and Manami Matsumae (composer of the original Mega Man) combine their talents to create one of the most amazing tributes to the sounds of the 80s video game. And Yacht Club borrowed elements from several games of that era, namely Ducktales' nifty pogo mechanic, to power the gameplay to glorious effect. This is a labor of love, and every minute detail drips with that love.

Secondly, Shovel Knight twists the oft-used damsel motif into something novel. USGamer's Kat Bailey noticed this herself in her article on the game's plot (massive spoilers at the link!), and in her discussion with Yacht Club Games' David D'Angelo, the developer confirmed that the company decided to avoid lumping the female lead, Shield Knight, into the same kind of trope as "Roll, Peach, Zelda, and other Damsel in Distress models from the NES era."

Moving away from that notion, the team

"started discussing how we could modernize and improve the model for today. We saw the idea of seeking out a loved one a worthwhile theme, but we felt in doing so, we needed to make Shield Knight just as strong a hero as Shovel Knight. In that way, we felt the connection between the player and Shield Knight would be even more powerful, as Shield Knight wouldn't be just an object—Shield Knight would be as meaningful as a loved one."

The beautiful thing about this statement is that they succeeded in that mission. Shield Knight is a central narrative tool — the means for Shovel Knight's motivation to quest — but there's an actual relationship between the two that the game expertly builds as you progress through the game, culminating in the game's final moments. I won't reveal that to you here, as I think experiencing it yourself is more worthwhile. But the careful, thoughtful crafting of the game's narrative focus turned the game away from "yet another princess to rescue" story into one that shows the genuine force of a strong, equal relationship.

The last reason I adored Shovel Knight was that it was perfectly paced. The game starts you off with a solid tutorial level, and provides plenty of incentives to make the game easier or harder for the player. Checkpoints litter the landscape, but they can be destroyed to earn more treasure. Once broken, they won't be checkpoints anymore, making the risk vs. reward model a very real, crucial gameplay element. Life and magic powerups can be optionally gained. Potions to refill your life meter can be quaffed. If the player fails, a Demon's/Dark Souls "lose some of your experience" concept is put into play in the form of losing treasure which can be regained if the player can return to that spot. There are no extra lives to fret about. The game's levels are rife with hidden secrets, passages and treasure nooks. The bosses are all unique, challenging and engaging to battle. And the game increases its difficulty in a moderate fashion, steadily raising the enemy and environmental threats with each map reveal. There's ample opportunity to gain treasure to beef up Shovel Knight through optional levels and replaying old ones, too.

Hopefully I have explained why Shovel Knight is the ideal game for me, and why I feel it's the finest of 2014.

Its retro decadence, the compelling narrative that gives a woman equal status to its male lead, and a difficulty that straddles the sweet spot all the way through combine for one of the greatest games I've had the pleasure of playing in any year.

If you haven't given Shovel Knight a shot yet, you really ought to consider it!


In Defense of Barbie (and Her Dream House)

I spent a great deal of my childhood playing with dolls. Recently, I was looking back through my baby book and realized my mom had a tradition of giving me a Christmas doll every year. She still has most of them... who am I kidding? She has ALL of them, safe and on display in her living room. These were special dolls, ones I didn't play with, mostly Madame Alexander's, including the First Ladies series (the presidents' wives in their inaugural dresses). They were kept safely in a glass front, display cabinet. I took them out from time to time to look them over, read the names and the descriptions on the cards about their lives. 

The dolls I mainly played with were Barbies. My mom didn't care what happened to my Barbies, if I cut their hair or mangled their legs. She loved dolls when she was a child and was reliving some of her own desires with the Alexander's, hence the need for them to be kept safe.

But that's a story for a different time. 

My Barbies and my Barbie Dream House were some of the most versatile toys I had. I spent hours in front of that doll house, setting up the furniture, rearranging and moving items, acting out scenarios between whatever Barbie was my favorite at the moment and her roommate or friends. I had the obligatory Ken doll and I occasionally had them go on dates, but I was far more interested in Barbie's life on her own than reenacting a romantic comedy. 

Always with the cheesy smile and bad glasses

I have a distinct memory of making textbooks for my Barbie when she was going to vet school. I took paper and pencils and folded and glued the pages together and then wrote several sentences about animals in each book. They were as profound as, "Dogs have four legs and bark." There may have been pictures, too. Ah, my early impressions of what grad school might be like!

I don't remember thinking I wanted to look like my Barbies. I didn't look at her curves, or impossibly small waist, and high heeled molded feet and think, "This is what it means to be a woman."

I know that isn't how cultural norms work, but I do remember needing to be worried about my weight from a young age, not because I was overweight, but because I have many, many memories of my mom talking about needing to lose weight herself. 

Barbies were an outlet for imagination and even though I had watched the Disney Princesses, my dreams and plans for my Barbie had a lot more to do with making her own life. Her dream house wasn't a house she shared with a husband, I didn't dress her in wedding gowns, or have storylines that revolved around Ken at all. He was just another accessory in her fantastic life. Just like that little shower you can see in the picture, kept outside the actual house but fun to fill with water and play with from time to time.

I don't know how I managed to be the child that looked past all the narratives we're told about romantic love and unrealistic body expectations and make my Barbie stories my own. It just seemed logical to me, I think.

It was a Barbie Dream House, after all; not Barbie and Ken's Dream House. 


episode 144 - Headlines: Mexico, TBBT, and Tequila

This week, we discuss some current events in a headline show. For those fans of the times we disagree, this is a show for you! Listen to us debate the responsibility of celebrities to understand feminism before they answer certain loaded questions. 

We are going to be doing more headlines shows this year and we'd love to hear from you about topics you'd like to hear us discuss. Leave a comment here or on our twitter @game_on_girl

You can find us on facebookgoogle+tumblr, and twitter.  If you haven't done so already, please consider leaving us a rating and/or review on iTunes

Until next time, game on! 
Regina & Rhonda



League of Legends Rewarding People Who Played Nice for all of 2014

Big Band Theory's Kaley Cuoco Says She isn't Feminist, Rounds out a Year of Celebrities Who Don't Understand Feminism

Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting Apologizes, Leighton Meester Argues for De-sensationalization of the word Feminist

Six Women Die Daily as Murders of Mexican Women Reach Pandemic Levels

Play 2,400 Old DOS Games


DC Public Library presents a 10-day series titled "Orwellian America?" about government transparency and personal privacy in the digital age. January 21 begins with a live reading of George Orwell's "1984."

"Parks & Recreation", NBC, final season premiere this week
"Face Off", SyFy, season 8 premiere this week
"Man Seeking Woman", new series on FXX
"12 Monkeys", new on SyFy

"Blackhat" with Chris Hemsworth
"Spare Parts"
"Match" with Patrick Stewart


THOMPSON:  Carter. Gonna be a little busy with your friend Stark. If you don’t mind, these surveillance reports need to be filed, and you’re really so much better at that kind of thing.

CARTER:  What kind of thing is that, Agent Thompson? The alphabet? I can teach you. Let’s start with words beginning with ‘A.’

- "Agent Carter", episode 1, ABC

Episode 144


"Agent Carter" — Will Men Watch It?

The premiere of the long-anticipated “Agent Carter” was on ABC Tuesday, January 6. To say everyone involved with “Agent Carter” is in the hot seat would be an understatement. Writers, directors, producers, casting, costuming, marketing, personal assistants, catering… let’s just call them “The Crew.”

In 2014 a lightning rod was attached to the word feminism. Now everyone is under the microscope for how women are represented in media. Bloggers must have been bent, quivering in anticipation, over their keyboards to let everyone know how the “Agent Carter” Crew failed. (I haven’t read any reviews yet. I’m saving that for desert.)

Overall, I thought the premiere was quite good. There were some plot holes and minor gender issues, but above all, you can tell it was developed with respect and awareness.

Agent Peggy Carter is the lone female agent assigned to the New York Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) office. In post-WWII America the attitude toward gender roles has boomeranged: men returning from war are going back to work and the women are encouraged to return to more ‘feminine’ responsibilities. Although a highly praised agent in the war, Carter is treated like a secretary.

"Agent Carter", ABC, PilotCarter's secret mission is to clear Howard Stark’s name. Stark is pursued by the SSR under suspicion of selling weapons to the enemy. Because of Carter’s close association to Stark in the past, her judgment isn’t trusted — at least not by the SSR. Stark, on the other hand, trusts her completely. He gives her the information he has in the plot to set him up and leaves his butler, Edwin Jarvis, to assist her.


Gender issues are up front in “Agent Carter”; they come with everything except a freeze frame, buzzer, and giant pointing finger labeled “Gender!” It’s not a bad thing — gender is a major theme the show gladly embraces.

There are more kudos to hand out to The Crew than demerits in this category.

  • Carter dispatches an assassin after he’s committed a particularly senseless murder. Afterwards, Carter sits next to the victim and weeps openly without being construed as weak.
  • Sexual harassment and sexism are rampant in the SSR office and Carter handles it with wit and finesse. She knows when to fight battles (refusing to be left out of an agent briefing meeting) and when to simply throw a left hook (when told she’s better at filing she turns the back-handed compliment into the ignorant statement that it is).
  • When a fellow agent, Daniel Sousa, tries to stand up for Carter, she respectfully asks him not to. If Carter is to achieve any respect, chivalry will have to take a back seat.
  • Carter is not unaware of her power as a sexual creature and doesn’t despise it.

There are two scenes that I think are polar opposites in getting gender right.

"Agent Carter", ABC, PilotWhen Jarvis and Carter first get together, he opens the back door of the car for her to get in so he can drive her. Carter opens the front passenger door and lets herself in there instead. At first I thought this was a slight on Jarvis but, after reviewing the context I realize it's actually a compliment. As a butler, Jarvis is the driver and Stark rides in the back. By putting herself in the front seat Carter sees Jarvis and her as equals.

The opposite of this is what I consider the worst moment for Carter. She is waiting in front of a cafe for Jarvis to pick her up. He stops the car and runs around the front to open her door. She doesn't wait for him but hops in saying, "Too late." This is rude. At no point has Jarvis treated Carter disrespectfully yet her words were belittling and there was no explanation for it.

Gender roles are somewhat flipped for Jarvis. At home he does the cooking and cleaning. At no point is he seen as a weak man because of his profession or place at home. He’s intelligent, wise, and courageous.

"Captain America: The First Avenger", 2011Men are not the only sexists on the show. Angie, the waitress, is less concerned with the “damsel in distress” trope in the live radio program, “The Captain America Adventure Show,” than the fact that she didn’t get the role of the damsel. And the manager of the all-female Griffith Hotel outlines quite specifically what is expected of a ‘proper’ young lady.


There is no question that Carter is a formidable opponent and can handle herself. That’s what I love about her in the “Captain America: The First Avenger” film, when she stands off and plays chicken with a car! But there is nothing more annoying to me than a woman constantly in hand-to-hand combat with a man.

There are fights in “Agent Carter” that I found thoroughly enjoyable, like when she beats up the bouncer with a stapler. (And how badass was it when she climbed the electric fence?)

The fight in her apartment with the Green Suit assassin is reasonable. The assassin primarily uses a gun; I don’t think he’s very specialized in hand-to-hand. Carter is very adept at using her environment to her advantage and what more of an advantage when it’s your own apartment.

"Agent Carter", ABC, "Bridge and Tunnel"But when Carter threw McFee, a very big man, up and crashing down into the furniture, it was just ridiculous. Carter, known for her preparedness and strategy, had the element of surprise as well. And the fight on top of the milk truck was cliché.


I’m very excited to see what The Crew is going to do. Carter’s disguises are great fun, as are her spy gadgets. There’s a great deal of potential in the characters and story.

I look forward to more episodes, which I hope are many, so that The Crew can refine the notes they’ve struck so well.


episode 143 - Year in Review 2014

It's that time of year again. Mark and Ryan join us to discuss some of our favorite media from 2014. We share music, movies, TV shows, books, games, and a personal wild card. Check out the show and share your favorites in the comments! 


"A Dirty Job" by Christopher Moore
D&D "Player's Handbook", 5th edition
"Redeemed", (House of Night series) by P. C. Cast
"The Martian" by Andy Weir


"Child of Light" by Ubisoft Montreal
"The Last of Us" remastered by Naughty Dogs
"Warlords of Draenor" by Blizzard Entertainment
"Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor" by Warner Brothers Interactive, Monolith Productions, Behavior Interactive


"Captain America: Winter Soldier"
"Gone Girl"
"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1"

"Guardians of the Galaxy" added to canon


"1989", Taylor Swift
"The Hanging Tree", James Newton Howard and Jennifer Lawrence from "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1"
"The Last Goodbye", Billy Boyd from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"
"Once More 'Round the Sun", Mastodon
The Pretty Wreckless
Royal Blood


"Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssy"
"Dancing with the Stars", ABC
"Game of Thrones", HBO
"Gotham", Fox
"Homeland", Showtime
"Jane the Virgin", CWTV, for the best show I'm not watching
"The Newsroom", HBO
"Selfie", ABC, for the best cancelled show

"The Walking Dead", AMC, added to canon

Wild Card

"Bitch Planet", Image Comics, Writer: Kelly Sue Deconnick, Artist: Valentine De Landro
Regina: favorite moment: having a drink with Isabela and Rhonda at GeekGirlCon


January: "Galavant", ABC, premieres January 4
January: Rhonda getting a job
March: Emerald City ComicCon with Regina, Isabela
October: GeekGirlCon with Regina, Rhonda, Sandi Glahn, and Isabela
May: "The Avengers: Age of Ultron"
December: "Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens"
December?: "Uncharted 4"

I'd expected to wake up ahead of the rest of them. Oh, well, some women would be pleased to find a shirtless young man on the couch in the morning.

- Lincoln Perry in "Tonight I Said Goodbye" by Michael Koryta

Episode 143