Thanks to Yacht Club Games for the review code
Title: Shovel Knight Dig
Release Date: 09/23/2022
In this roguelike action game, Shovel Knight is minding his own business when he gets bullied by Drill Knight so badly he loses his stuff down a pit and has to go chase him. That just about covers it, outside of boss dialogue and finding optional characters hidden in the zones, just being an excuse to get to digging!
However, the game does have some interesting dialogue that appears to hint at future events, and it wasn’t until Yacht Club themselves posted a timeline of the Shovel Knight series that I realized this game is a prequel to everything else, so if you wanted to see Shovel Knight encountering some foes for the first time ever, this is how you can!
Like with Pocket Dungeon, this Shovel Knight spinoff also goes for an enhanced pixel art look, with Dig having a pretty lovely set of animations and feeling as if these sprites could be reused for a traditional sequel! It’s not exactly 16/32 bit per say, but Dig is definitely a looker that shows some impressive effects the deeper you progress down the well.
The true highlight of Dig’s presentation here comes from the soundtrack, which is no shocker as it’s done by the same composer as every other Shovel Knight title to date, but while Pocket Dungeon remixed some older songs and the newer ones were more mellowed out to fit the puzzle nature, Dig sports a ton of original new tracks, all with a brand spanking new soundfont unlike anything previously heard in the Shovel Knight series. I thought it was trying to mimic the Sega Genesis at first in all honesty, but the more I listed, and having done a ton of research into the platform for an upcoming retrospective video, I found the samples more akin to the PC88/98 series of Japanese computers, and indeed, that was properly confirmed when the game released.
Needless to say, with this instrumentation choice, these tracks are really killer, and seriously may be my favorite set of songs in the series. In all honesty, I’m kinda bummed there weren’t many remixes of older tracks, here since the PC98 sounds so rich and soulful that it far trounces the VRC6 used in the original Shovel Knight for me. The whole OST is literally a click away on Bandcamp so go support it for yourselves!
It may seem pretty odd that the second Shovel Knight spinoff is also a roguelike, seeing how Pocket Dungeon was one as well, but since that one was more of a puzzler, this one returns closer to Shovel Knight’s platforming roots, as you have the traditional jump and attack setup, along with a subweapon, making this more right at home for those who played his original adventure, though of course, the progression is nowhere near the way it was in that original game, and parts of Shovel Knight’s moveset in general got simplified.
See, the main objective of this game, is to just dig! You start at the top of the tunnel, and can dig through dirt by attacking towards it, obtaining gems and items along the way as you dig, break and smash up anything in your path, all the while avoiding hazards, enemies, and the new knights that dominate each area Shovel Knight travels to. Being a roguelike, every attempt has a completely different level layout, with each world keeping the same basic enemies, elements, and gimmick, but otherwise you may have a very easy time one attempt, or get met with lots of spikes and tricky enemies in another. Each stage has three gears spread out, not unlike Mario’s star coins, and obtaining all of them in the stage will power up a drill at the end of it, giving you the option to pick between a full health refill or a new relic to help give some beneficial attributes. If you don’t have all the gears, it still gives you a random assortment of gems and health items, but if you nab all three, these relics can be a huge game changer into making a run much smoother.
There are also branching paths at this point, usually leading to the next level having one of several gimmicks to it, which get more and more intense the further you progress. Some paths are even gated by keys, whether that be ordinary ones you find during a stage and have to keep with you until finding a secret door or the end of the level, or specialized Relic Keys purchased from a shop on the surface, leading to new discoveries.
Of course, with your digging arsenal at the ready and the controls down, you may think that Dig is just a simple test of patience, and while patience and careful planning do pay off a lot in this one, the game definitely will not let you take your time or fiddle around, as there’s a deathly rotating saw chasing you in each stage, getting closer and closer to you the longer you stay in one place. Switching screens will have it back off for a lil bit, but even if you play at a normal pace it can get scarily close to catching up with you; especially if one of the routes you take has it moving at a faster speed. This is a pretty frustrating mechanic, especially if you’re trying to clear everything in a stage, but it does lead to some risk and reward by having you choose whether or not going after optional gems is really worth your time.
Speaking of gems, those are the big bonus to dying, since you do keep quite a lot of them upon death, and banking them on the surface will lead to you being able to afford all sorts of handy things, from extra subweapons that can show up in the tunnels, tickets to shortcut to a later stage. (though you start with the default HP and such, so this arguably makes the levels even tougher) Heck, you can even get lucky and be able to keep one of your dropped relics, letting you start the next run with a really cool advantage! (My personal tip: if you get the downward trust upgrade, keep it like it’s your lifeline)
This all leads to a satisfying gameplay loop, and being able to find secrets such as armor blueprints, hidden gems and relics really does lead to the constant runs feeling fun enough to stick with and see how much farther you can get. If you want to be a real maniac, the game’s true ending requires following a specific order and doing some pretty crazy tasks with secret finding to the point it almost requires a guide, but the normal ending isn’t really a downer either, so if you go for the traditional route, you won’t be disappointed.
The boss fights are all rather fun, consisting of a mix of new and old foes from the Shovel Knight universe, and playing a lot closer to how the original game would, with you having to outwit the boss and lower their HP to zero. It can get a little tiring to constantly duel the same bosses in every single run, but luckily their rooms shift around just enough to keep things interesting. You may have a super handy spot to avoid their attacks or cheese them with, or they may have the advantage on targeting you. It all depends on the luck of the draw, and that’s the fun of Dig!
In conclusion, Shovel Knight Dig is a pretty fun time, being a roguelike where the runs don’t take too long and the engagement factor is deep enough that you’ll want to keep trying, upgrading, and getting further and further down the well. While it didn’t have the same addictive factors that made Pocket Dungeon so stellar, Dig was certainly a fun take on the original game’s formula, and I had fun with every run I made, which has to account for something.
Just like with Pocket Dungeon too, there’s also a boatload of accessibility toggles to make the game easier or harder, but that will disable achievements for those who care about that. However, these do make for a fantastic way to practice the full game loop and see which areas trip you up the most and learning how to avoid those tough spots, plus all the gems you get with these options on do count, so I actually do advise using these as a bit of a practice mode before going into the full original experience.
With helpful accessibility options like that, along with fun bonuses such as daily and weekly runs and online leaderboards, there’s a ton to enjoy about Shovel Knight Dig. While it’s definitely the weaker of the two spinoffs for me, that doesn’t mean that Dig’s unenjoyable, as I found myself having quite a lot of fun with it! Nitrome definitely did a good job at making a fun gameplay loop, and with all the different options and modes to tinker with, fans of the original game will certainly enjoy this roguelike twist. Dig to it!
I give Shovel Knight Dig an 8 out of 10.