SteamWorld Dig 2 Review: Groundbreaking

It’s hard to believe that four years have already passed since the original SteamWorld Dig first graced gaming systems. Image & Form’s platformer came out of left field and garnered attention and praise from gamers and critics alike (it was even in the running for the “‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson Award” in our annual Golden Pixel Awards roundup). At the time, we couldn’t wait to return to the SteamWorld universe and see the characters “fleshed out” in a sequel, so-to-speak.

Instead, the next entry we got in the series was a spinoff, SteamWorld Heist. It was still set in the same universe as Dig, but Heist wasn’t a direct sequel, and took place much further in the future. Gameplay was also different, as Heist took on a turn-based strategy approach as opposed to Dig’s resource-collecting, mining, MetroidVania style. While fun in its own right, many wanted to see a return to SteamWorld Dig’s roots.

And almost half a decade later, we got our wish.

Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch (Version Played), Vita
Publisher: Image & Form
Developer: Image & Form
Genre: An Action-Adventure Archeological Affray
Release Date: September 21, 2017
ESRB Rating: Everyone

SteamWorld Dig 2 picks up shortly after the first game, and players take on the role of Dorothy, a support character from Dig who assisted Rusty on his adventure. She is on a mission to find Rusty, who went missing after his battle with Vectron, and her search brings her to the town of El Machino, where rumors of cults and earthquakes compel her to dig a little deeper, both literally and figuratively.

Dorothy’s adventure takes her deep below the city, discovering new ruins, new friends, and, of course, new enemies. I won’t give too much away about the story, but it is very captivating and held my interest to the very end. You will see nods to both the original SteamWorld Dig and its followup, SteamWorld Heist. The references to the latter are really fascinating, and they really help bridge the gap between the two titles.

SteamWorld Dig 2’s art style also gets a bit of an upgrade. Characters have lost their lean appearance, and look much more “cartoony.” They still retain their mechanical mannerisms, but the new look is quite welcome. Overall, the game does look much like the first one, so you will definitely recognize your surroundings. Animations are also smooth, and the game runs consistently with no slowdown. Environments look bleak and desolate, just as one would expect when exploring so deep underground. You actually start to become nervous as you travel further away from the sanctity of El Machina’s surface, and distress slowly builds as you descend further. And one area in particular really ramps that fear factor up to 11.

What would an effective environment be without the music to go along with it? In this case, SteamWorld Dig 2’s soundtrack matches perfectly with each area you discover. You actually get that feeling of despair and isolation, and the music plays a big part in that. Sound effects are also crisp, metallic, and echo throughout the caves as you explore. Even subtle sounds like echoing water drops significantly adds to the experience.

But the gameplay is where SteamWorld Dig 2 really shines. The game takes all the elements that made the first SteamWorld Dig such a success, and greatly expands upon them. The world is not randomized; it was built from the ground up so that everyone has the same experience. There is also more variety in the game’s areas. You’ll navigate dusty underground mines, lava-filled temples, and luminescent, toxic waste-filled biomes. This, in addition to a much larger overworld, makes Dig 2 more varied than its predecessor.

It’s not just the setting that’s been ramped up. Much like the first title, you will explore underground, collect resources, and bring them back up to the surface in order to turn a quick profit. Throughout the game, you will earn power-ups that allow you to go back and reach an area that was previously inaccessible. Like any good Metroidvania game worth its salt, SteamWorld Dig 2 rewards your tireless searching with some awesome upgrades… and these are much more plentiful than in the first title. You’ll embark on a varied amount of missions, and encounter all kinds of twists and turns in the game’s story before you complete the at least ten-hour undertaking.

But once you’ve finished the game, there’s still plenty to do. Secrets abound in SteamWorld Dig 2, including the previously-mentioned resources, upgradeable Cogs, and tongue-in-cheek Artifacts. The Cogs you collect (and purchase) are used to add modifications to your equipment and upgrades. Artifacts can be turned in to the local archaeologist in exchange for modification blueprints, and they’re really funny (case in point, one Artifact looks just like a certain brand of Nintendo-made collectible statues).

SteamWorld Dig 2 is everything a sequel should be – it provides exactly what made the first game so enjoyable, while at the same time adding enough new content to make it feel fresh again. I honestly could not think of a single thing to criticize the game on. It’s yet another amazing indie game to grace the Switch, and belongs in everyone’s catalog.

And there’s a good chance that SteamWorld Dig 2 will make an appearance in this year’s Golden Pixel Awards too.

Review Disclosure: A review copy of SteamWorld Dig 2 was provided by Image & Form for the purposes of this review.

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Mike Ryan is a Staff Writer who has been playing video games ever since the Atari 2600. He loves fighting games, survival horror, and he sure plays a mean pinball.

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