SteamWorld Dig 2 revisits the colourful and volatile mines of the 2D dig-em-up from 2013, and gives things a good shaking up. Here’s what I think…
I found this game an incredibly refreshing break from other bloated, modern titles being released this time of year. A nice little escape into a 2D, cute steampunk world filled with mutants and robots, where the main gameplay mechanic is smashing square tiles. Often games will try to chuck endless content into their compressed innards, giving you stuff like randomly generated levels or insane difficulty to create an almost false sense of content. I struggle to “complete” these games and I’m not one for grabbing every single “Achievement” available. SteamWorld Dig 2 is different, as it respected my time and never got repetitive. In the 10 hours or so of time I spent with the game, i’d felt like I finished something that had a sizeable amount of content despite its simplicity.
But it’s not so simple that’s that it’s not fun. You play Dorothy, a steampunk robot who looks a bit like a WW2 fighter pilot. You dig with your trusty pickaxe, fill your bags with loot and you go as far as you can before your bags get filled up. Then you return to surface, sell your booty, and return to the depths. The cycle repeats but with each loop, you upgrade your gear, you uncover a little bit more of the story in the caves below, and this is what pulls you in. This is same gameplay loop as when you played as Rusty in the first title, but there are now some additional layers to this gameplay.
Modifications are the new big thing in this game, and they really do change things up. For example, giving your pickaxe the ability to automatically destroy any tiles around a tile that contains a resource. This allows you to either speedily plow on further into the mine or even instantly kill enemies around it, or instantly mine resource that usually takes a few hits. Pair this with an ability that allows you to carry more loot, then you’re suddenly clearing a lot of ground at an extreme pace.
Maybe you want to be more mobile, so equip a mod that lets you run faster and also not take any falling damage (something that killed me far too often). The combinations cater for many different playstyles, plus some combos work better in certain zones than others. You really do have to choose carefully what you enable or disable, as all of these mods cost “cogs”. Items that are scattered all over the mines in hard to reach locations, or in secret challenge dungeons. Luckily you can disable mods to free up cogs to put into another mod, so there’s a bit of simple resource management involved. I quite enjoyed this aspect of the game, choosing what ability to sacrifice over another. My only wish is that there were actually more modifications, but this perhaps could have made things overly complex. Maybe i’m a bit spoiled by the diversity of games like The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth.
With diversity in mind, the game could also use more types of enemies. Sure the monsters included all look different and forced you to tackle them in different ways to each other early on. But ultimately once you have a certain amount of upgrades, you’re just doing the usual running up to their face and hitting them with the axe two or three times.
More on those challenge dungeons, they are mini-games within themselves; instances that test all the abilities and the equipment you’ve picked up so far. They do this by combining platforming elements and puzzles to test your skills. Cogs are the reward for completing these mini-dungeons, but have work a little bit harder to find the hidden “Relics”. These are rarer than cogs and you can take them back to town to unlock more obscure modifications. I found this all a welcome side-step from the usual game-play loop, and it’s great seeing games putting all its tools to use to constantly test you.
Among those tools are the environments, and the atmosphere they create. The level design is handcrafted this time around as opposed to procedurally generated mines, but I prefer this. The deliberate placing of traps, enemies and hazards creates the best platforming experience. I found myself jet-packing over giant lakes of lava in one area, praying the fuel didn’t run out mid-jump. In other areas, dodging homing projectiles fired from sentient fungus turrets. It’s definitely a big diversion from the first game, and the sequel needed it. A good platformer should always be changing up the mechanics as you progress.
The soundtrack, created by El Heurvo of Hotline Miami fame has done another stellar job with Steamworld Dig 2. It has an ambient Western feel to it, chucking in some lazy steel guitar riffs with more modern-synthetic sounds; this all really fits the theme of the game. Each track perfectly represents each new environment you break into, and I think is a pretty stand-out feature.
I think 2D platformers really need to nail the sound effects and music to pull you in. So it’s a good job this game does will in this regard.
I’ve not really touched on the narrative up til now. That’s probably because it is the least impactful and weakest element of the game. Sure it serves a purpose and it drives you forward; Dorothy is looking for her uncle (Rusty) who went missing shortly after the events of the last game. She gets a lead that he went mining in this new town, looking for something. There’s a couple of twists here and there that are pretty predictable; then before you know it the game is over without much warning. At this point, you can reload to a save point before the finale. From here you can go back to the mine and collect some more treasure or cogs, but that’s it.
Now I can’t moan too much, I was saying that many games these days do try to cram a lot of content. But I can’t help but feel this could have done with a New Game + mode or the like. Something to push you back into those mines and face tougher monsters and tougher challenges.
I played Steamworld Dig 2 on the PS4, but from what I’ve read and watched on the web, the PC, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch versions all play very similarly without issue. Of course, the Switch has the benefit of being able to make this game portable.
Apart from perhaps needing a little bit more content, SteamWorld Dig 2 still offers a much bigger and multi-faceted experience than the first title overall. It’s definitely a worthy sequel and clocking in at 10 hours playtime, it’s worth your time.