Shovel Knight has become a bit of a cultural icon nowadays. From his debut game he now features in multiple different games, cameos in big AAA titles and has multiple games to his name. It seems then that this trend will continue with the latest title under his belt; Shovel Knight Dig. However will this jump into the rogue-like genre be a bustling success for the excavator knight or will this be buried like most spin-offs? Let’s find out!
The story of Shovel Knight Dig is set before the events of the first Shovel Knight game as while the titular character is sleeping at a fireplace the nefarious Drill Knight steals his bag of riches and digs straight underground with it. It’s up to you to go down the massive tunnel made by Drill Knight and his band of Hexcavators, retrieve your stolen goods and discover why these evildoers are digging in the first place. The story isn’t anything particularly noteworthy however there is more to the story here than initially meets the eye. I won’t spoil anything but let’s just say this is not just a simple heist by some bad guys. I’m always a fan of games that have more complex stories while looking between the lines and Shovel Knight has this in droves. The dialogue is as witty and charming as always and it was nice to see some familiar faces take on roles before their events in the first game. You even get to see Shield Knight in this adventure and see her and Shovel Knight work as a team which was great. Sadly this was screaming for a co-op mode to play as both characters but that is sadly not present here. Regardless it was enough of a story to keep me going and while it won’t be winning any awards anytime soon it was still a nice adventure to experience.
Presentation-wise just like the original Shovel Knight this game is absolutely gorgeous to behold. While the original was a homage to 8-bit platformers this is an upgrade to the 16-bit era and you can really tell. Characters and enemies look more detailed, environments are more complicated and animations in particular look much crisper and smoother than before. The art style too has been perfectly maintained from how the series has previously looked before and is incredibly iconic to behold. The bosses in particular look great and I have a feeling some of them will go on to inspire plenty of fan-art and love from the community. The music too is once again top notch as while some of it is remixes from previous games there are plenty of new tracks to bop your head to and I imagine some of these will become classics in the Shovel Knight fandom. I also loved the use of colour and environmental design in each area to help differentiate them from each other and make them stand out as their own unique play-space. Once again it would seem that a Shovel Knight game has knocked it out the park with how it looks and sounds and I couldn’t be happier.
Gameplay-wise is where things really start to shake up. While the standard gameplay is very similar to the first game in which you play as Shovel Knight and must do standard 2D platforming and combat the main difference now is that the game is a full rogue-like. Meaning that all the dungeons you go into are randomly generated, items and equipment you unlock is only kept for that run and if you die at any point you will need to restart from the beginning. It also, unlike other platformer rogue-likes takes place entirely in a vertical space as you constantly make your way downwards while trying to avoid a giant 1-hit-kill excavator that will chase you down if you’re too slow in your descent. It certainly ramps up the difficulty of the game and it constantly keeps the pace up as it encourages you to constantly keep a move on to avoid being attacked from above whilst also challenging you to avoid getting hit as much as possible to conserve your life. During each stage you collect gems to spend on upgrades and items and for each level there are three golden cogs you can collect to give yourself a full life restore at the end of the level or a new upgrade to make Shovel Knight stronger for that run. It’s an addicting gameplay cycle and I was encouraged to keep replaying and get further and further down until I reached the end. Boss battles are also of course still here and all are equally as fun as the ones in the original game. There’s also a bevvy of accessibility options which can help make the game easier if you’re really struggling and plenty of classic Shovel Knight platforming gameplay that this really just feels like a spin on the old formula rather than a complete spin-off which was nice to experience once again. Overall the gameplay here was really fun and Shovel Knight once again proves to be at the pinnacle of 2D platforming design.
However I did have a couple of issues that annoyed me in my experience. The first was that unlike other rogue-likes there wasn’t that many permanent upgrades I could invest in once I got back to the surface to make the game easier. There was some storage upgrades and new armour but aside from those I couldn’t directly upgrade my strength or health at all. Now these options do indeed exist in the accessibility options but it felt odd that I couldn’t do something such as visit a cook to pay for some food to increase my existing magic or something similar. It meant that I didn’t feel as though I was making meaningful progress to each of my new runs aside from unlocking new things to randomly find which relied on RNG a bit too much for my liking. Secondly I didn’t really feel as though there was much reason to replay the game once I finished the final ending and that made the game feel a bit short. Yes there was an in-game leaderboard that tracked stats and a daily/weekly run to see who could get the best score but aside from scoreboards nothing really new opened up. Perhaps you could try challenge runs but that felt as though it would just open you up to more frustrations as you repeated the same areas over and over for not much gain. Finally I understand the design of only allowing you to travel downwards but only allowing you to travel back upwards by using a limited-use magic item was a pain. This was especially the case when trying to unlock the secret ending that required you to access certain areas and look for hidden places in the level and if you got knocked off a ledge or just missed seeing something and continued downwards you were essentially forced to completely restart a run which proved frustrating.
Overall however I really enjoyed my time with this game. While it won’t be the new type of rogue-like that you will sink hundreds of hours into it was still a fun experience and getting to enjoy what was essentially just another Shovel Knight title was a refreshing return to form. If you loved the original Shovel Knight then you will love this one and if you’re a rogue-like fan while this might not be as meaty of an experience for you it will still be a great time. Now time for me to jump back in and see if I can beat the game while wearing the golden armour… got to look good while I game you see!