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Shovel Knight Dig review: retro meets modern in this clever roguelike

The cast of Shovel Knight Dig stand together in promo art.

Shovel Knight Dig

MSRP $24.99

Shovel Knight Dig punches above its spin-off weight class, even though its roguelike elements certainly are a little modest.

Pros

  • Smart remix of the IP
  • Fun vertical platforming
  • Digging is really a delight
  • Ranked modes certainly are a plus

Cons

  • Inconsequential narrative
  • Short on depth
  • Lacking experimentation potential

Last December, Yacht Club Games snuck among my titles games of 2021 in only beneath the wire: Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon. The indie was a left-field surprise, ingeniously adapting important elements of retro platformer Shovel Knight right into a fast-paced puzzle/roguelike hybrid. I left that experience with a newfound appreciation for Yacht Club, respecting its capability to dissect its beloved IP and reassemble it into something new instead of spitting out an expected sequel. Its latest release, Shovel Knight Dig, only reinforces those feelings.

Launching on iOS via Apple Arcade, Nintendo Switch, and PC, Shovel Knight Dig is both completely different from and incredibly much like Pocket Dungeon. Its a far more traditional roguelike that borrows ideas from Downwell and Spelunky, rather than matching puzzle game having an action twist. The ethos of both projects, however, is consistent: Theyre both titles that connect days gone by for this.

Shovel Knight Dig could very well be too modest to be another great roguelike, but its another fascinating little bit of the franchises ongoing conversation with gaming history. It further twists Shovel Knights retro framework right into a pretzel, suggesting that the gap between classic and modern is a lot smaller than we would realize.

Buried treasure

Shovel Knight Dig once more chronicles the adventures of the series titular hero as he digs through dirt and rival knights alike. At this time, each Shovel Knight spin-off feels as though an bout of a Saturday morning cartoon. The heroes, criminals, signature aesthetics, and excellent music all carry over but theyre reshuffled into another low-stakes bottle episode. The loose narrative justification here’s as irrelevant since it is superfluous. Theres a pit that Shovel Knight must get to underneath of. Thats all you have to to learn.

an inspired game that speaks the language of modern roguelikes and arcade classics in exactly the same breath.

Whats fun about Shovel Knight all together may be the way it chases history. The initial game was an homage to NES platformers, as though someone had dug up a long-forgotten mascot from the era. Fully investing in the pastiche, Yacht Club is currently bringing us sort of alternate universe where Shovel Knight replaces something similar to Mario. The more it capitalizes on the IP with spin-offs such as this, the more it feels the part. If Pocket Dungeon was the series Dr. Mario, Dig could very well be its Wario Land.

The remix these times is that Shovel Knight makes his way down a number of vertically constructed levels (they arent fully procedural, however they shuffle different platforming sequences together), using his trust shovel to search through dirt blocks, collect gems, and pogo from enemies. You can find temporary relics and power-ups to get on each run, providing the original roguelike hook of lucking right into a great build. Its nearly the same as Downwell, another mobile roguelike that inverts expectations insurance firms players platform while falling. The idea is really a natural fit for Shovel Knight actually, that games movement techniques make a lot more sense in this context. Needless to say, hed use his shovel to dig downwards instead of move laterally!

Shovel Knight digs down into the dirt in Shovel Knight Dig.

Naturally, the human brain might get back to even older reference points once you view it. It feels as though today’s cousin of Dig Dug and Mr. Driller, taking the satisfying tunneling hook from those classics and stitching it right into a fast-paced action game. Its an ideal fit, creating some puzzle-like sequences where players have to snake through dirt quickly but carefully should they desire to reach valuable gems or each levels collectible cogs.

I really like that I could start to see the influence of both a 2015 and 1982 gaming in here, but Im especially impressed that those pieces fit together this well. Thats a thing that was fundamental to the initial Shovel Knights success, as Yacht Club created a casino game that felt both preserved in amber and new. Thats once more been accomplished here with an inspired game that speaks the language of modern roguelikes and arcade classics in exactly the same breath.

Missing links

Downwell isnt the only real modern game that springs in your thoughts when Im playing. Dig shares some DNA with Spelunky aswell, specifically in its method of secrets. Stuff like keys will trail behind the blue hero, but will undoubtedly be dropped if hes hit. Theres hook metagame along with the standard levels where players have to patch together what each item does and safely make an effort to escort it right down to its proper place. Getting an egg to a nest, for example, gives players a bird companion that may attack enemies. Those micro-discoveries layer some added intrigue into each run and present more high-level play when attempting to juggle multiple items simultaneously (something Im sure should come into play in its ranked modes, like daily runs).

I cant help but feel just like Dig is holding back sometimes, scaling back again to meet its spin-off positioning.

It stops lacking digging as deep as a genre staple like Spelunky, though. While my first two hours were challenging and pushed me to see and learn my surroundings, everything got easier when I unlocked another armor set that reduced the quantity of damage I took. I breezed through levels at that time, almost entirely ignoring the many relics and perks designed to make each run feel distinct when i melted down familiar bosses without much worry.

I certainly dont mind the thought of a breezy roguelike which can be cleared after 4 or 5 hours (Lord knows the genre might use more games such as this). Pocket Dungeon successfully took exactly the same approach, deciding on more immediate closure over an extended, slow climb. Though I cant help but feel just like Dig is holding back sometimes, scaling back again to meet its spin-off positioning. Id have loved to visit a well informed roguelike that allowed for more build experimentation not because thats what I’d like from the genre and much more so as the right pieces is there.

Shovel Knight bounces on a dirt ball in Shovel Knight Dig.

On the other hand, that limitation is section of the charm. If Im really buying in to the alternate timeline where Shovel Knight is NES franchise royalty, Dig does indeed feel like among those lovable B-games where one can start to see the developers having a great time because they remold the franchise like Playdough. The modest scale of titles like this is portion of the appeal, turning them into surprising underdogs that punch above their weight class.

I suppose well get yourself a full-scale Shovel Knight 2 at some time, but I find myself more worked up about these era-fusing side releases for the present time. Like Pocket Dungeon, Shovel Knight Dig is another little gem in Yacht Clubs growing treasure trove of a franchise.

Shovel Knight Dig was reviewed on Steam Deck with a PC build of the overall game.

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