Monday 17 October 2022

Shovel Knight Dig Review (Steam)


Review by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

It seemed inevitable, prefigured, or maybe just good ol’, home-farmed, shruggy-shouldered bad luck, that my down cursor key on my Logitech G213 keyboard (the closest I ever want to get to any sort of “gamer” designed peripheral) decided to become 50% less responsive. Being someone that avoids controllers as much as possible, it had to be Yacht Club/Nitrome’s downward themed Shovel Knight that I was meant to be playing. Shovel Knight Dig joins a small, but compelling, coterie of games that plunge down ‘tward the core like in that film where a group of scientists go to the centre of the earth to restart it with nukes, but the name escapes me.

Dig is on one hand really familiar territory. Blue Knight is back with his sort of unflappable-yet-flailing charm. The moveset is pretty much the same, as it has been, since Shovel of Hope, but there’s an emphasis on the digging (deeply unsurprising). You’re urged downward, making the most of Blue’s Duck Tails-esque pogo-shovel jump attack. Enough is changed by this 90-degree clockwise spin rotate, to give a fun, if short, addition to the series. Unlike Downwell, for instance, you are not in free fall. And unlike Raising Hell, you’re not going up. There is still a “room” quality to the progression. You go down, dig, collect loot, traverse environmental traps, shovel enemies, and that’s about it. Occasionally there are bosses to cap off sections, where you get a choice of two paths. Also, shops to change your loadout and thus alter your stats, help to give some purpose to the greed.

It is important to stress that this has rogue-lite elements to it. A persistent hub area with a host of wonderfully realised characters (by far, to me, the crowning glory of the series is the character design, animation, and writing). You collect armour sets, trade in gems for relics, and therefore have some control over your gameplay feel. This is, admittedly, quite thin, as the level traversal is the real loop here. And by loop, yeah, you go back into the hole in the ground caused by the schemes of (checks notes) Drill Knight, to pursue him and your pilfered loot, over and over until you get to the end. I haven’t gotten to the end, but all reports I have read seem to suggest a reasonably short experience of around five hours if you slightly backseated a 100% completion of collectibles, and were any good at it. I, for one, am not enhanced in my ability to play platformers whichever way the action in the game is moving toward, be it down, up, or the traditional right.

I cannot comment on other versions or platforms, but the PC version (with a controller) was responsive, looked great, and sounded superb. Another highlight of this series is the music, and this is no exception. Shovel Knight has consistently managed to find that sweet spot of nostalgia and newness, evoking something at once familiar and yet not tired, or second-hand. With a toe dipped into the one-more-round paddling pool, there is a different motivation than a traditional level-beating goal. It puts a lot of the load onto the satisfaction of competency through iteration. If you must repeat sections (however differently randomised) you get a keen sense of your change as a player. Part of my love of Hades for instance, was the creeping skill wall. The risk is, perhaps, how this sense of progression is felt by the player, and those permanent upgrades do help, but sometimes short play time can do it too. I will see where the load shifts to, or whether the pursuit of collectibles rears its strange head.

All in all, Dig is as consistent, enjoyable, and effective as ever. I consider these games to be a part of the high-water mark of the new platforming set. With the exemplary visual design, they’re not afraid to try these twists, like Pocket Dungeon, to capture a whole new way to engage with their gorgeous world and loveable characters.

Overall 8/10

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