Developed & Published by: Image & Form International AB
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC
Release Date: Out Now
Image & Form’s SteamWorld series is perhaps one of the most underrated in gaming. With SteamWorld Dig and SteamWorld Heist in particular, the Swedish developers created solid, high quality titles with plenty of character and depth; with their first direct sequel, SteamWorld Dig 2, they have taken the original Dig and really built upon what it did so well.
Just Keep Digging
The base plot of the game is pretty straightforward. Rusty, the quirky robot who we played as in the first game, has gone missing. A new female robot (do robots have genders? Why not) called Dot sets out to solve this mystery. In doing so, she comes across the town of El Machino – who have a whole bunch of other issues to keep you busy.
Dig 2 is, like the original, a 2D mining game. Digging downwards under El Machino, you collect valuable resources which, if you can return to the surface safely, can be exchanged for money with which to upgrade your character. It’s classic Metroidvania stuff, and judging whether to go that little bit further before returning to the surface has a wonderful risk/reward element. You can choose how to upgrade Dot; perhaps you are after more space for carrying materials, meaning less repeat visits to the surface. Or maybe you would like to upgrade the efficiency of your digging tools, speeding up your play. There is a great sense of freedom to approach Dig 2 in your own way.
Returning to the surface means meeting back up with the residents of El Machino. The characters here are all very entertaining to talk to, just like in Dig and Heist. From the deluded Mayor Mic Yonker (whether that is a reference to anything, I can’t say) to the adorably nervous mechanic Turtle Bucket, these are characters that are a joy to be around. Image & Form have formed a uniquely charming world with the SteamWorld series – not to mention that the steampunk and western styles mixed together are quite unlike anything else.
Dig 2 admittedly feels quite similar to the first game for quite a while. It’s a formula that works, now with a handcrafted world rather than a procedurally generated one like the original. It all feels carefully placed, comparable to the way Zelda: Breath of the Wild tempts you to go to that next peak; in Dig 2, it’s hard to resist going for that gem just off-screen. Even when it leads to demise and the loss of so much of what you have collected, there is an immediate urge to get back down there and see what can be discovered.
A Girl’s Best Friend
Things start to amp up at around the mid-point of the game. New tools and upgrades are noticeably focused on traversal, giving you a freedom to explore at a fast pace and get to areas you wouldn’t even consider in the original Dig. It even brought back memories of the drastic change the grappling hook/glider combo made in Batman: Arkham City! Along with plentiful fast travel tubes to the surface, this means the core task of getting back to El Machino becomes more trivial as you progress. The satisfaction of the mining-redeem-upgrade gameplay remains, but making fast travel points a little more sparse would have kept up more tension.
The previous point is only a slight gripe, and the flipside is the confidence you develop in traversal. By the ending section of the game, you are navigating through the environment with ease. Whilst finding a way to the surface becomes less of an issue, that doesn’t mean threats go away. New enemies and hostile environments are constantly appearing and making you change how you tackle moving forward. It all culminates in a final boss that tests your mastery of the new skills (also, the ending is fantastic for SteamWorld fans, but I won’t spoil it).
The main story took me just under 9 hours to complete, with around 50% of the secrets collected. The previously mentioned challenge caves are that right blend of tough but achievable; for example, one floor is lava challenge has you using your new traversal skills to not touch pressure pads throughout the cave. Every time it ended in failure, the next step to make was just within reach. A temptation to just give it one more go kept me coming back, and it’s incredibly satisfying to get once you get to the end and find your reward.
Rewards tend to be either a cog, which augments your core abilities, or an artifact, which can be used to get special upgrade blueprints. Secrets like these are everywhere, and hidden cleverly. Only a keen eye on the map and the world around you will be able to find them, and there is more post-game content hinted at if you keep exploring past the end. With the way Dig 2 constantly rewards you for being curious, returning to it is an enticing idea.
Image & Form should be applauded for how they go about their work. SteamWorld Dig 2 develops on the strong base that was the first game, adding dynamic ways of traversing the game with yet more bright characters. These new systems slightly undermine (pun intended) the gameplay sequence at the heart of the Dig games at times, but it can be hard to notice when it’s so much fun. The SteamWorld series just goes from strength to strength – what jewel will come next?