Developed by Los Angeles-based Yacht Club Games, Shovel Knight has challenged video game industry norms by introducing a feature that allows players to alter the gender characteristics of the main characters.
In a statement on Yacht Club Games' website, the company discussed how they recognised the regressive nature that existed in the games from the 1980s, and how this contributed to Shovel Knight casting the vast majority of female characters as damsels in distress.
"Thinking back, many games during the '80s didn’t have too much in the way of representation - Mega Man is almost entirely a boy’s club, or even the cast of Super Mario Bros 3," the Yacht Club Games statement said.
"The female cast in both of those games consists of either token additions or damsels in distress. We wanted to do something to better address this oversight."
Initially released on Windows and a number of Nintendo products in June 2014, the production team noted their oversight and decided to develop a 'Body Swap' feature that allows players to switch a number of the characters body parts between male and female, in addition to the gender-specific pronouns.
"The concept behind 'Body Swap' (originally called 'Gender Swap') was that all of the male characters would become female, and vice versa. But after some discussions both internal and external, we quickly realised that we could do more than just a simple reversing of all the genders of the characters."
"We would create the opposite bodies for our main characters... Each of these character swaps could be controlled independently, to give whatever mix of character bodies the player wanted."
Part of the difficulty for the design team was creating female representations of male characters such as 'King Knight', while trying to fit them within the guidelines the company decided upon, with the body-swapped characters needing to be "exactly as gendered as the original character" while matching the original's personality.
The Yacht Club team is still in the development phase of the 'Body Swap' feature and are continuing to fund the project via Kickstarter.