Sunday, October 8, 2017

SteamWorld Dig 2 (NS, PS4, PC, Vita) Review

SteamWorld Dig 2 launched a couple of weeks ago on the Nintendo Switch, and then on multiple other platforms. SuperPhillip Central's review for the game covers the Switch version, but all iterations seem to play just as well. Here's my review.

A Diggin' Delight

Despite struggling to find a foothold or get a bearing on the market with its early efforts with WiiWare, Nintendo has built a relationship with the indie market that has grown immensely, resulting in numerous success stories ever since. One of the earliest of these stories came from a small developer known as Image & Form in 2013 when they released a little title known as SteamWorld Dig on the Nintendo 3DS. Countless games sold with multiple ports soon thereafter, and Image & Form became a known entity among gamers both on and off Nintendo platforms.

Now, it's four years later and a new chapter in the SteamWorld Dig franchise is here with SteamWorld Dig 2. Having launched first on the Switch, on a Nintendo platform just like where the first Dig successfully got its start, SteamWorld Dig 2 is ready for players to dig in to and discover the treasures inside.

If you played the original SteamWorld Dig (which by no means is a requirement to fully enjoy the sequel), you'll be quite accustomed to the exploration found in SteamWorld Dig 2. This consists of digging through blocks of dirt and rock with your trusty pickaxe, creating pathways to safely navigate your way through the darkened cavernous catacombs. This time around, however, the caverns are not randomized regarding block and treasure placement. And yep, you read that right. There be treasure in them there caves. With the randomization of the world design removed, this has allowed the designers to craft a much more well paced adventure, as well as show off their impressive level design skills in the process.

The deeper you go in this main tunnel, the better the treasures, but the more vicious the dangers!

While digging deep, the treasures you acquire need to be brought up to the main hub of the game, a machinery town at the surface. As you're limited in how much treasure you can carry throughout the game, constant trips to the top are necessary, but it's never anything where you collect a small amount and immediately find yourself needing to head up to the surface once again. With the treasure you collect, it gets turned into currency which can be used to purchase upgrades for your arsenal of ever-increasing tools, each discovered in a typical Metroid kind of way. These arsenal upgrades include everything from an extended light source from your torch, the ability to carry enough slot of treasure, and more power for your pickaxe, to name a few.

New tools and abilities for Dot are found in pods like these that are hidden underground.
Thus, there's a gameplay loop that is immensely satisfying on display here in SteamWorld Dig 2 where you're entering below the surface to mine, find treasure, return to the surface to sell said treasure, and use the money from your sold goods to purchase new upgrades. There is a "let's go for one more dig underground before I quit" type of feeling that ensures a compelling nature to the loop, showing off how well it was conceived by the designers.

Of course, there is more to SteamWorld Dig 2 than merely digging for, scoping for, discovering, and selling treasure. There is an entire adventure to be found, and in Dig 2 it involves Dot, a character who was in the background in the original game. This time around, she's in the starring role alongside a helpful companion named Fen. The story's too intriguing to spoil the good stuff, but the main premise has Dot searching for the hero of the first Dig, Rusty, who has mysterious gone AWOL. Dot's search leads her something that becomes even more of a concern. The combination of humor and seriousness is performed well by the writing theme, whether it's in the goofy NPCs or throughout the story itself. The point being is that it's all enjoyable to read.

A helpful discovery along the way, the grappling hook allows
unparalleled mobility, whether upwards, downwards, or to the sides.
Outside of finding treasure to sell and following along with the story through the game's several unique areas (that aren't all pure digging), there is a variety of things to discover in the world of Dig 2. As traditional for any Metroid-style game, there is the goal of shooting for a perfect 100% completion rating. This revolves around collecting over 40 artifacts and all of the cogs hidden throughout the world. Handing over a specific amount of artifacts in the hub village of Dig 2 results in gaining blueprints that add new capabilities to Dot's gear that the aforementioned cogs can be used on.

A town all the way down here? At least they have working lights!
These artifacts and cogs can be found all over the place, but areas in particular where they are discovered are in caves that serve as Dig 2's challenge rooms, requiring the player to solve them using one particular skill or tool from Dot's arsenal. These rooms are essentially ways for Dot (and by extension, the player) to show their mastery of a given gameplay element in Dig 2. While one cave forces Dot to dig and move quickly at once (or find themselves crushed underneath large rocks), another requires a clever mind, such as positioning a trio of mine carts in way that serves as platforms to reach a cracked part of wall. After all, Dot can't use her pickaxe in midair to break cracked blocks. These challenge rooms feature the grandest difficult tasks in Dig 2, outside of the trials that unlock after all of the main artifacts in the game have been collected. These trials are for true masters of SteamWorld Dig 2 only.

One such challenge room requires reaching the end without touching any buttons.
SteamWorld Dig 2 is an adventure that will last most gamers over 10 hours in their first run. If one finds the game too easy, there are certain blueprints that can be found and turned on to activate harder experiences with the game, such as explosive enemies, more damage taken, and so forth. Exploring the lands of Dig 2 for leftover treasure such as artifacts and cogs in faraway areas isn't so much an issue due to the helpful fast travel tube system in the game.

Those looking for one of the best indie games released not just on the Nintendo eShop this year but from any indie developer on any platform this year, look no further than Image & Form's SteamWorld Dig 2. It's much improved from the original game, offering a larger world, a more precise design focus to ensure a grander sense of pacing, and possesses a greater "I need to keep playing" mindset within its players. If you like Metroid-style games with a healthy dose of treasure-hunting and platforming fun, then yeah, you can probably dig SteamWorld Dig 2 like I very much did.

[SPC Says: A]

Review code provided by Image & Form.

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