- Platform: Nintendo Switch
- Also on: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Vita, Linux, Macintosh operating systems
- Developer: Image & Form International AB
- Number of Players: 1
The first SteamWorld Dig was one of my favorite hidden gems on the Nintendo e-Shop. It sported a cheap price, a great looking art style, and one of the most addicting gameplay loops ever. I played through the entire game in one sitting – and I loved every minute of it. SteamWorld Dig 2 takes everything that was great about the original and improves upon it in almost every way possible, making it a must-have title for any gamer’s library.
At its core, SteamWorld Dig 2 is a pretty straightforward concept. Think Metroid crossed with Dig-Dug and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’ll be getting into. Most of the action and discovery takes place underground. You’ll dig, mine, and drill to new depths, while fending off enemies, gathering loot, and discovering secrets.
You play as Dorothy, an underpowered, humanoid Steambot. You’ll quickly find yourself getting stronger, however, with the help of upgrade stations strewn throughout the environment. When acquired, these upgrade stations provide you with a new game changing power/ability which allows you to move through your environment in a much more efficient way. Armed with your new upgrade, the game pushes you to backtrack and reach new areas that were previously inaccessible. These new areas contain more secrets and loot. Some of this loot comes in the form of treasure and some in the form of gears. The treasure you find underground can be sold, which yields cash. You can then use this cash to upgrade your basic abilities and powers (think more health, bigger backpack, etc.). Gears act as a “perk currency” of sorts. You can tweak your character depending on the current situation and get small bonuses and new abilities depending on which perk you apply your gears to. Applying gears isn’t permanent, and gears can be freely swapped between the different perks, so you’re encouraged to try out different builds for different scenarios.
You’ll dig, find an upgrade, get to a new area, find gears and loot, return to the surface, sell the loot, upgrade yourself, add some perks, then you’ll be back underground digging deeper than you had on your previous attempt. You end up in an nearly perfectly paced and highly addictive gameplay loop of “dig, sell, upgrade, dig further, repeat” that turns into one of the most satisfying character progression and upgrade economies in any game of in the genre. There was only 1 very short period in which I felt like I wasn’t getting enough money to match the cost of the upgrades, but that quickly passed. For the most part, the loop will keep you moving at a brisk pace, and you’ll always want to just keep digging just a bit further.
On top of all the secrets and gear, you’ll also come across several underground caves. These caves act as mini challenges that help break up, (but also strengthen) the main gameplay loop. For instance, the trials you overcome in a cave will generally teach you about a new gameplay or movement mechanic, or test your proficiency at these mechanics. These are always perfectly timed as a way to prepare you for these same mechanics to pop up in your main digging expedition. In addition to the cave challenges, you’ll come across a few small bosses, as well as some light character interaction to help drive the story and the gameplay forward. Even if you haven’t played the first SteamWorld Dig, the story won’t alienate you. It starts off as a pretty basic “I’m looking for my friend who is missing” tale, (the friend happens to be the main character in the first game) and that’s pretty much all you need to know. I did find myself wanting to get some more explanation and context into the world however. The story snippets you get divulge a little bit of the background, however I’m really looking forward to the game that really fleshes out the hinted at lore they’ve set up for the universe. While the overall story here basically just exists to drive the gameplay forward, it does go to some surprisingly dark places. The game is also light on combat and what is there is pretty basic. I was never blown away by any enemy encounters, but I don’t think I was ever supposed to be. Enemies are only there to give you a bit of challenge as you enjoy the finely tuned exploration.
Controlling Dorothy is as much fun as it is precise. The controls in this game are not only phenomenally tight and snappy, they really add an element of fun as you move around the world. The game does a masterful job of slowly adding on additional control elements, while never letting it get too overwhelming. The way you learn where and how you should dig to make your journeys up and down through the underground environment as quick and efficient as possible adds another layer of depth to the game as well. Be it wall jumping, using one of the most enjoyable hook shots in all of gaming, or some of the other late game upgrades I won’t spoil here, anytime you’re moving, it’s a really responsive, fun, experience.
I absolutely adore the artstyle and aesthetic of SteamWorld. Image & Form have crafted and hauntingly beautiful post-apocalyptic, crusty, western, world that feels both simultaneously barren, as well as lived in. This translates into a truly vibrant and beautiful eye-popping 2D art style, that looks blisteringly great on the Switch’s small screen. The game looks equally good on the big screen while docked, but I have to say I played most of this in handheld mode, as I really enjoyed having my eyes be right up in the action. You wouldn’t think a game that takes place mostly underground would be so full of color, but then you enter the bio-luminescence section and it’s like fireworks have gone off in your retinas.
The game uses color and lighting fantastically well and I just can’t say enough about how awesome this game looks. The only very minor gripe I have (which also happens to be the only place I felt where the game took a step back) was in the design of the main character. Dorothy works well enough, but I think Image & Form hit such a homerun in the first SteamWorld Dig with Rusty, that any follow up character was going to pale in comparison to his charm and style.
The sound design and score do a great job in setting the moody atmosphere of the underground sections that make up most of the game. The music works in sync with the visuals to let you know when you’re in a new space in the underground world. The sound effects are solid and never repeated enough to become annoying. Each piece of dirt you strike with your pickaxe sounds satisfying and the whine of your drill as you rev it up sounds exactly as you’d expect. When you do happen to make your way topside, you’ll be greeted with a dusty, twangy, western piece that you might just find yourself humming throughout the day.
SteamWorld Dig 2 surpasses it’s predecessor in almost every way imaginable. Taking on the “Metroidvania” genre and firing on all cylinders in a way that not even Nintendo has managed to recently is a testament to just how great a game this indie team has built. Image & Form have set themselves up with a wonderful world and even better template for future games that they can continue to refine and perfect. The gameplay loop hits you in an almost primal way that makes you just want to stay firmly planted in the cycle and see what new discoveries you can come across with your latest upgrade. The tight controls and fun movement and traversal within the stunning world help ensure that the exploration gameplay is as refined and core to the overall experience as possible. Every piece of the SteamWorld Dig 2 experience complements the other and creates an extremely enjoyable 10 hour (+/- depending on how many secrets you find) game that no Switch owners should be without.
Pros: One of the most fun, expertly paced, and addicting gameplay loops I’ve ever been sucked into. Wonderfully realized world and atmosphere with some really interesting lore. Extremely well done and accurate controls make moving around in the game is a ton of fun.
Cons: The combat isn’t really anything special. Dorothy feels like a big of a downgrade compared to SteamWorld Dig’s Rusty.