(Developer update at the bottom of our review!)
SteamWorld Dig 2, the long-awaited sequel to Image and Form’s SteamWorld Dig, is a 2D platformer akin to retro titles like Dig Dug and Metroid, where exploration is key. This sequel begins where the original game left off: Rusty (SteamWorld Dig’s hero) is missing, and Dorothy, a.k.a Dot, is determined to find him.
Her first stop is El Machino, a unique steampunk-and-old-western-infused town where Rusty was last spotted—but on her way there, she runs into Fen, a tiny (and mean) sprite who agrees to help her after she defeats his totem in battle. When Dot and Fen arrive in El Machino, Dot learns that dangerous and mysterious earthquakes have plagued the town; she plans to explore the town’s mines, where she hopes to find Rusty and investigate the puzzling earthquakes.
This is where the game really starts, since you may finally begin your exploration of the mines. The mine entrance lies directly beneath El Machino, so drop down from the town’s wooden platforms and into the hole in the ground to start digging. While digging at this early stage in the game, remember that you must be able to climb back up through the tunnels you’ve dug to resurface from time to time. Resurfacing is necessary to refill your lantern, water, and life, and it also lets you sell the items you’ve collected, which earns you money for much-needed (and rather expensive) upgrades and makes room in your pockets.
Once you’ve sold your stuff and upgraded what you can, it’s time to drop back down into the mines and continue your exploration. Of course, as you progress, you’ll discover other methods that transport you to the surface with ease, and you won’t have to worry about climbing back up anymore. This is good: as we’ve said, the map is gigantic, and once you’ve explored deep enough, it would be virtually impossible for you to climb back up.
One of our favorite parts about this game is its mining concept: beneath the hub world of El Machino is a vast expanse of underground territory, and it’s up to you to explore it. This can feel quite exhilarating, and you’ll probably find yourself a bit breathless when you scroll through your empty map and realize just how vast and unknown this place really is.
As you mine and explore, your map gradually fills itself in, so you can easily gage your progress and identify empty places that you might like to explore. You also have the option of letting the game show you where to go with directional arrows, which help you stay on the right path.
We’d love to keep talking about gameplay, but we also want you to figure out some of this stuff on your own, so we’re going to move on and discuss SWD2’s tight controls instead. Tight controls are crucial in a platformer like SteamWorld Dig 2 since they allow for precise platforming, and this game’s controls really deliver in this department. However, we should note that the controls can take some time to get used to, depending on your level of experience. For instance, you press Y to run (once you gain that ability) and B to jump. But sometimes, you have to perform a run-jump by running (holding Y) and pressing B when you’re ready to launch, and this can be quite challenging for players who aren’t used to such controls—but if you’re a Mario Master like Nick, we think you’ll have no trouble at all.
We’ve got to talk about the game’s graphics, which are vibrant, gorgeous, and sharply polished; these graphics also vary widely in color. For instance, El Machino (the hub world) is primarily yellow and bronze, with orange and rocky ground; by contrast, The Oasis (which you’ll find later) is filled with a glowing green acid. This Oasis is dimly lit with colorful strings of lights, which help to soften the mood of the place and lessen your fear of falling into the deadly acid. In short, you’ll find a wide variety of gorgeous color schemes in SWD2, and you’ll never find yourself bored with the game’s colors.
SteamWorld Dig 2 has one of the best soundtracks we’ve heard this year, featuring a wide variety of catchy tunes. The music that plays in El Machino is one of the game’s best songs, which is perfect because you find yourself at the town so often. This particular tune opens with a catchy, simple, and bright piano riff and builds into something you can really groove to. The game’s brilliant music works with its smooth graphics and vibrant color schemes to set the perfect mood.
Also, we should note that the game features a volume-setting feature: you can toggle the volume levels of the background music and all other sounds, like your pickaxe clinking against a rock. So if you’d rather hear more music than axe-hitting-rock sounds, you totally can! And if you really like the sound of metal slamming against a rock, you’re free to jam out to that instead! Rumble can also be adjusted to your liking-which we find really cool!
To wrap up, we think SteamWorld Dig 2 is a fantastic game: it runs smoothly; it looks, feels, and handles great in both handheld and TV modes; and it provides countless hours of serious fun. Exploring the mines feels open and free, and since you’re continually upgrading your weapons and exploring new territory, mining never really gets old. We loved playing SWD2, and we’re excited to continue exploring the depths beneath El Machino—and if you like what you’ve seen in this review, we think you will, too! SteamWorld Dig 2 is out now: $19.99 on the Nintendo eShop.
Developer update 9/21/17:
The biggest gem in SteamWorld Dig 2 lies buried deep
Now 15 months of efforts are out in the open, and everything about the game has been laid bare.Well, ALMOST everything…One of the things we promised ourselves when we set out to make SWD2 was to include a big reward at the very end of the game. A chunk of bonus gameplay that justified getting to the core of what SWD2 is all about: exploration.We thought it was a fun to surprise completionists this way, but now we realize that players deserve to know that completing the game 100% unlocks post-game content. Of course we’ll let players discover for themselves WHAT that is… suffice it to say that it is as surprising as it is challenging!
Nick and Sarah are the ultimate gaming couple. Nick is a Super Mario Maker 2 enthusiast, but working with Nintendeal has fostered a love for tough-as-nails indies such as Enter the Gungeon, Celeste, and Cuphead. Sarah prefers sim games like Animal Crossing, Don’t Starve, and Stardew Valley, but she challenges herself by grinding Slay the Spire from time to time.