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August 2018

SteamWorld Dig 2

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Image & Form Games
Release Date: Sept. 21, 2017

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Switch Review - 'SteamWorld Dig 2'

by Andreas Salmen on Oct. 10, 2017 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Grab your pickaxe and dig into SteamWorld Dig 2, a platform mining adventure forged in Metroidvania flames.

Buy SteamWorld Dig 2

Developer Image & Form has managed to create a handful of great games under the name of SteamWorld, so the expectations for SteamWorld Dig 2 were high for an indie developer. The first title in the series was one of the better indie games to be released in past years, as it combined the feeling of freedom with platforming and Metroidvania-like gameplay.

Dig 2 picks up right where the previous title left off by continuing the simple story and improving on the fun gameplay mechanics. A new robotic protagonist, Dorothy, is on a journey to search for Rusty, the main character from the first SteamWorld Dig. Dig 2 features a new city and mines to explore, and there are even a few earthquakes. The presentation of a world littered with robots and steampunk technology is quirky and fun, but it feels like there is some wasted potential, and most characters lack dimension.

Gameplay-wise, the basic principle is similar to the mining parts in Minecraft or Terraria. On a 2-D grid, we dig as deep as we can and collect valuable metals to sell in the capital city for a pretty penny. Digging and retrieving valuable resources isn't very engaging on its own, so the story marks prominent points on our map to investigate. While the first SteamWorld Dig had a procedurally generated world, the sequel is much more refined. The random generation kept things fresh, but the lack of curated and precisely created content was noticeable, so the story in the original title lacked signature moments. The sequel successfully addresses that. The exploration of underground mines feels unrestricted and gives the player a feeling of freedom seldom found in other story-driven single-player experiences, but it manages to maintain a high level of quality throughout.

Hidden areas frequently test our jumping skills, which are supplemented by accurate controls. The caves and hidden areas are the most fun to search for and investigate, as they test our skills more than the main game does. Some of them are well designed and fun to complete, and the difficulty level is just right so players are motivated to continue, especially since they are filled with collectibles and parts to upgrade abilities and tools.

As with other Metroidvania games, we spend most of the time exploring and trying to advance the story. Along the way, we continually learn new skills and collect additional tools that grant us access to previously inaccessible areas. We start with a basic pickax and lamp, and we soon wield a jackhammer, a jetpack and pressure bombs.

There is a noticeable and satisfying development throughout the game in terms of character movement. In the beginning, we have to be very strategic in thinking about which blocks to remove in a mine, since we cannot replace blocks. Dorothy has a wall-jump in her repertoire, but even then, we have to ensure that we have an available exit route. By the end of the game, we have enough tools and experience to fluidly move in either direction, and that can be great fun.

The underlying progression system not only relies on us finding new tools to reach new areas but also to find and master caves and secret areas to locate minerals to sell, cogs to upgrade tools, and collectibles to receive new blueprints for tool enhancements. With the money earned by selling minerals, we can improve all of the tools individually to make them more efficient, increase stats like health, or to receive blueprints that we can activate with the required number of cogs. Additional blueprints can also be obtained as rewards for collectibles.

Blueprints can include gaining more experience points through your pickax, not losing collected minerals after death, and being immune to some projectiles. Blueprints are also interchangeable, so we can always remove a blueprint if it's not needed and activate another one. This makes it easy to adjust our toolset for the current task, and it creates some additional depth.

Dig 2 is incredibly well balanced. All the gameplay systems work well, and while certain segments can be more challenging, especially in caves, the overall game is designed to be accessible and not frustrating. There are a few minor boss battles, but they're rare occurrences and not necessarily difficult.

There is a fast-travel system in place, which must be uncovered before it can be used. It creates a feeling of uncertainty about whether we should press on to find the next fast-travel point or head back to town to avoid dying and losing our valuables. Even if we die, we respawn in the city and can quickly return to action. Loading times are almost nonexistent. This makes it less annoying to return to the city to sell minerals constantly, since it can be frustrating to backtrack just because our backpack's full again.

Visually, the game looks incredibly beautiful. The environments are varied, more so than in its predecessor, and the game world is a testament to the passion that the developers have poured into it. The Nintendo Switch version looks incredible both in handheld and TV mode, with the added benefit of being able to take the adventure with you. That alone makes this the best version of the game to own.

The campaign lasts approximately eight hours, not including the time one would need to find all of the collectibles and upgrades. There is no difficulty beyond the normal setting, which is a shame considering how well a NewGame+ mode would've fit the concept. Nevertheless, if you're in for a challenge, there is a blueprint available in-game that increases the enemy's stats to pose a higher challenge.

SteamWorld Dig 2 is a masterfully created exploration-platformer in a Metroidvania package. If Dig 2 could offer an additional difficulty level, introduce more boss fights, and capitalize on the potential of the world and story, this could've been extraordinary. As it stands, it's an incredible experience and excellent value for fans of the genre or video games in general. One has to bear in mind that we are talking about a $20 indie game made by a small team, so Dig 2 is far from a full-fledged AAA experience. What's astonishing is how the title manages to capture and entertain us during its runtime and beyond.

Score: 9.0/10

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