Development studio Image & Form is taking its SteamWorld series back to its foundation with SteamWorld Dig 2, but this game shouldn’t only appeal to fans of the original. It is one of my favorite games I played this year, and I barely touched the original.
SteamWorld Dig 2 is out now on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Vita for $20. It is a Metroid- or Castlevania-style exploration platformer with leveling up and unlockable abilities. You take on the role of Dorothy, a steam-powered robot looking for her pal, Rusty — the hero from the last adventure. You progress through the world map by digging through a map that is primarily underground. As you find new tunnels, caves, and temples, you will also come across permanent powerups that make it easier for you to get around and fight enemies.
That might sound like a basic setup, but developer Image & Form did an impeccable job piecing it all together. I tested it on both PC and Switch, and I think it’s one of the can’t-miss indie releases of 2017.
What you’ll like
Tight, satisfying loop
Dig 2 excels at keeping you hooked — especially through its early hours. You start out with a pick ax and not much else when it comes to gear and abilities, but that’s enough to get you down into the first set of mines. But as soon as you uncover the lamp and the speed dash, you kinda won’t stop finding upgrades until you’re near the end.
So you always have this key motivation to head back underground to look for the next big improvement to your loadout. Each trip underground, however, doesn’t last forever, because you can only carry a limited number of precious stones. Once your bag is full, you need to try to get back to the main town to sell them for gold. You can then use that gold to buy upgrades to your tools and weapons.
That loop is so refined that you’ll find yourself saying “just one more time” over and over about heading back into the mines. You always feel like the next brick of dirt you break could unveil your next major powerup, and that makes it hard to put down.
But it’s not just a feeling. Image & Form keeps up the pace by littering the world with power-ups. And those typically aren’t about improving your combat abilities. Instead, most of the upgrades you find underground will change the way you explore the map. That also keeps things fresh through the encounter with the final boss.
SteamWorld Dig 2 isn’t just a cycle of strong mechanics. It has character and style, and its environments best exemplify that.
The map has five or so major biomes. You have the molten lava temple to the east or the dingy underground caverns to the west. They are all brimming with unique lighting, like glowing-green acid swamps. And they also all have gorgeous, detailed backgrounds that feature various flora and fauna. But even within each one of these larger areas, the look and feel can shift and change as the backgrounds and lighting change.
That variety helps to keep it exciting to explore every corner. Dozens of secret nooks are hiding underground in Dig 2, and I never got sick of looking for them. I even delayed beating the game to keep searching for more secrets.
And while I don’t think I’ll have the time to get a 100 percent-finished score in SteamWorld Dig 2, I’m considering it.
SteamWorld Dig and Heist both have excellent soundtracks, and Dig 2 doesn’t disappoint. Every area has its own theme, and that music can morph and add extra beats and instruments depending on your proximity to certain areas.
I like to play a lot of my games while listening to something else, but I played a majority of Dig 2 with my headphones plugged into the Switch and PC so I could hear the game better. It has an incredible mix of ambient instrumental tunes, but then it can also do swinging numbers that sound like they’re coming from a modern three-piece band.
It’s a soundtrack that I’m definitely going to listen to on its own while I write in the future.
What you won’t like
Abilities are limited to protect exploration
I love the exploration in Dig 2, but I am still hung up about one thing: You can’t swing your pick ax or shoot your pressure-bomb launcher and jump at the same time. The designers did this so that you can’t jump and break certain bricks. This ensures you can’t get into certain areas before you’re supposed to. I understand the need for those kinds of gates, but I wish Image & Form had a more creative way of holding me back. As it is, I can see the seams, and that is distracting.
Needs more enemy variety
The only other major negative is that you’ll only come across a handful of enemy types. Each area only really has one big monster type. That can grow kinda stale — especially late in the game when you want to retread the same areas looking for secrets you missed the first time around.
Combat isn’t a huge part of Dig 2. It’s something you do on your way to explore something new, but you do still level up by getting experienced points from defeated monsters. So I would have preferred a lot more variety.
I adored Heist and didn’t really play much of the first Dig, but I now consider myself a fan of the SteamWorld canon. Image & Form is doing great work with this universe, and I wouldn’t want to miss this sequel. Even if you’re going from Metroid: Samus Returns, which is similar, directly into Dig 2, I still think you’ll come away thrilled and looking in the developer’s direction hoping they have something else new coming very soon.
SteamWorld Dig 2 is available now for $20 on consoles and PC. Image & Form provided GamesBeat with a downloadable code for the purpose of this review.