The second time I started Shovel Night Dig, it felt like returning home. As someone who hadn’t played much of Shovel Knight’s post-launch DLC, the last time I touched on the series was almost a decade ago. Gaining control of the titular character immediately felt familiar, and my old Shovel Knight habits returned to compliment this new take on the series, this time led by developer Nitrome. The moment-to-moment experience plays somewhat excellently, as it’s more Shovel Knight with some well-designed gameplay twists. However, the game’s venture into roguelite territory feels inevitable and so light-hearted that it didn’t convince me it needed to be part of this ever-expanding genre. Still, Shovel Knight Dig is more Shovel Knight, which means retro-game and platforming enthusiasts will enjoy it to the fullest.
Instead of proceeding right through a beautifully pixelated stage, Digg lets players dig deeper, deeper and deeper into procedurally generated levels. It introduces new emotions into the pantheon of emotions I feel while playing a Shovel Knight game: urgency and tension. Unlike many platformers out there, you can’t take the time to see where you need to go and how to get there. You have to keep digging down and it’s possible to go back in some places, it’s not easy. You are not one to hold back because your goal is far below you. If you miss some gems or one of the platform’s three machine cogs that unlock a special bonus reward, you probably missed your chance.
On top of that, if you spend too long in one place, the antagonist Drill Knight will bury you deep in the Smeltworks, Secret Fountain, Grub Pit, or one of the game’s other giant one-hit-kill excavation machines. will use. phase. I like this added stress on Digg’s platforming, which feels largely similar to the original Shovel Knight game.
After completing three stages in a given lair, you are faced with a boss. I love these boss fights, but they are disappointing in the context of Digg. They feel like Shovel Knight bosses, fast-paced and fun, but they don’t take advantage of the new mechanics typical of Digg. You jump around an arena while attempting to damage a boss while dodging his attacks. Only the final boss implements the game’s unique Digg platforming mechanics and I wish this type of design existed in many other opponents I’ve encountered before.
With the hours I spent digging through stage after stage, I rarely felt like I was playing a roguelite. It was only when I died and returned to the land above, where a camp of NPCs you’ve met and shopkeepers live, I was reminded of the game’s tip-toe to the roguelite mechanics. You lose your stage progress and some of your gems after death, but these losses are so small that I didn’t feel compelled to go out of my way to recover my lost currency in the next run.
I never felt the need to equip new sets of armor, which can only be purchased after finding their templates in secret areas scattered throughout the various stages. In fact, the only permanent upgrade I could make was to my bag, which allowed me to hold more than one item at a time, such as a door or chest key. Part of the fun of a roguelite is keeping track of your progress and making each run more powerful, but in Digg, each run felt like a fresh start. I didn’t hate it, but it’s not my cup of tea.
Still, because most of my eight hours with Digg were spent sifting through the stages that go downhill, I rarely had to think about the game’s roguelite efforts. I spent most of my time playing through beautiful stages to the tune of chippy synth tunes, fascinated by how far Nitrom and Yacht Club were able to stretch the “dig” aspect of the game. Perhaps the evil nature of Digg will play a bigger part in my post-game digs as I retreat to jump back in to discover all of its secrets. Even if it doesn’t, however, I know I still have at least a few hours of great Shovel Knight gameplay ahead of me and in the world of platforming, it’s a treasure worth digging into.