Review – Shovel Knight Dig

It’s been eight years since the release of Shovel Knight, arguably one of the best indie games of all time, a poster child of retro revival and crowdfunding delivery done right. This doesn’t mean Yacht Club Games hasn’t done anything worth mentioning over the past few years: besides the various ports and expansions for the main game, we’ve seen spinoffs such as the Smash-esque Shovel Knight Showdown and the puzzler Pocket Dungeon. Ready for another spinoff? You better be, as our favorite knight in azure armor will now star in his first platforming roguelike, Shovel Knight Dig.

Shovel Knight Dig

The same Shovel Knight gameplay loop you know and love, but with a 16-bit art style, and randomly generated.

For as much as I cherish Shovel Knight‘s pristine level design, and will always prefer a well-crafted level designed by humans instead of an algorithm, the idea of having a Shovel Knight-themed roguelike, mixing the franchise’s core platforming gameplay with some randomly generated challenges and gauntlets, sounded appealing on paper. Yacht Club also decided to draw inspiration on a very thematically appropriate roguelike when designing Dig, as this game feels almost like a spiritual sequel to Devolver Digital’s Downwell. The premise is as simple as it could be: keep digging down towards the end of a subterranean dungeon, collecting as much treasure as possible along the way.

Using the same control scheme from previous Shovel Knight games in a roguelike environment, complete with 16-bit graphics instead of the original’s already iconic NES visuals, gives the game an odd but pleasing feeling of “old, but also refreshing”. It feels like the natural evolution of the Shovel Knight formula, even though I’m somewhat disappointed that the series did not officially debut as a 16-bit platformer with a full-fledged sequel, the long awaited Shovel Knight 2.

Shovel Knight Dig Chester

Aaaaaaand he’s back.

The gameplay loop is pretty good. You have, as always, a limited health bar, which can only be replenished at the end of each minilevel, and only if you collect three golden cogs randomly scattered throughout each area. They aren’t exactly hard to collect, but one mistake might result in the ruin of your run. You don’t have a lot of space to avoid enemy attacks, and these foes keep showing up from every direction. You might even be attacked by an invincible enemy if you stay put for a longer period of time. You need to keep digging down at all times, and not waste time on missed items or treasure as the game is massively punishing in this regard.

I have issues with the game, however. It does feel a bit unfair at times, given how menial its in-between-runs upgrades feel. That said, my main issues are tied to the gameplay itself, mostly due to an uneven camera which is always placed in a way that makes your traversal harder than it should, as well as the fact it’s not properly zoomed out, like Shovel Knight‘s 8-bit adventures. It also negatively impacts upon the game’s overal movement speed. It’s all stuff you can get used to, however. It’s just a bit jarring if you, like me, are way too used to classic Shovel Knight‘s ultra-fast, ultra-nimble controls.

Shovel Knight Dig Surface

You can still explore the surface in order to purchase permanent upgrades and talk to the most adorable of NPCs.

Shovel Knight Dig is a great Downwell-esque roguelike adaptation of the franchise’s formula, though its somewhat unfair steep difficulty curve can be a bit irritating at times. There’s also that sinking feeling that the first 16-bit-esque platforming game in the franchise should have been a full-fledged sequel, the long awaited follow-up to the 2014 magnum opus, and not just a mere spinoff. That said, it’s hard not to fall for a game that, just like previous spinoff outings, takes the core elements of what made the original Shovel Knight so damn appealing, and adapts them into yet another genre experimentation. Yacht Club just can’t go wrong with this franchise, and Dig is further proof.

 

Graphics: 9.0

Shovel Knight Dig features the first Super Nintendo-esque visual coat of paint for a platformer in the series, and it does look great.

Gameplay: 8.5

The same controls you’re used to are as responsive as they have ever been, and the gameplay loop is pretty decent, but there are issues related to movement speed and camera placements.

Sound: 8.5

Yet another fantastic soundtrack to keep the franchise’s momentum, though not as iconic as previous outings.

Fun Factor: 8.0

Shovel Knight Dig is a great roguelike adaptation of the franchise’s formula, though its steep difficulty curve can irritate at times. There’s also that sinking feeling that the first 16-bit-esque platforming game in the franchise should have been a full-fledged sequel, not just a mere spinoff.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Shovel Knight Dig is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of Shovel Knight Dig was provided by the publisher.