In SteamWorld Dig 2 you play as Dorothy, a steam powered mining robot. Your ally Rusty, who eagle-eyed readers will remember as the protagonist of the first game in the franchise, has gone missing. Your mission is to find him. This sends you deep into the mines once again, in a game that shares a lot of its progenitor’s DNA.
First and foremost, the digging feels just as satisfying as before. The combination of audio and visual feedback makes each swing of the pickaxe feel chunky and tangible. The basic combat also remains relatively unchanged— it’s all a matter of timing jumps while ensuring you’ve dug yourself ample space in which to engage your enemy. With that said, there are some significant structural changes to be found in the game’s gas lit depths.
Firstly, it forgoes its predecessor’s randomly generated levels for a much more focussed approach. The map is one massive specifically designed space, which intersects and overlaps at various points. As you explore, you’ll come across hard roadblocks that you’ll have to revisit later once you’ve unlocked a relevant power-up that will act as the key to let you pass.
Next, there is a bigger focus on platforming than in the previous instalment. Numerous sections of the game see you jumping about while dodging intense enemy fire. Thankfully, the controls are up to the challenge. Dorothy’s unique momentum can be a little tricky to navigate at first, but quickly becomes second nature.
Which is not to say that you won’t be spending most of your time digging. On the contrary, you absolutely will —this is, after all, primarily a game about downward movement. However, the broader focus means that the experience is richer and more mechanically interesting.
It also makes for a more diverse set of upgrades. Some of these include a strong drill, a hookshot, a bomb, and a couple of others we won’t spoil. Crucially, none of these upgrades are single use. Most of them help you get past a specific obstacle blocking your progression, but they’ll also help you in many other situations. The hookshot, for instance, makes vertical traversal significantly easier, while the bomb gives you a ranged combat option.
This diversity makes the gameplay loop more enticing. You dig for gems, then once your torch runs out you return to the surface to collect payment for your spoils. This money can then be spent on upgrades and augmentations for your gear. Since all the gear is so fundamentally tied into the way your move around the game, the decisions surrounding what to upgrade are key. Do you prioritise defence or offence? Do you upgrade your ammo capabilities early, or opt for large health reserves?
There are also cogs hidden throughout the world which allow you to modify your abilities in more nonconventional ways. One makes dirt with gems in it explode when its dug through, for example, while another makes gems light up so that you can spot them easily. Collecting these cogs is a joy, and often requires you to locate and then best tricky challenge rooms.
Even with these cogs, you’re unlikely to come across any strategic decisions you haven’t had to make in another game before. But this sprightly sequel pulls the genre off with such aplomb that it’s hard not to get sucked in. This goes for the whole experience: this is a classic Metroidvania game through and through, but the polish and clarity in design makes up for any lack of originality.
It also helps that the writing is so consistently fun and sharp. Dorothy is a charming protagonist, and her stringent sense of justice is offset perfectly by a cynical companion. The townspeople are just as delightful, offering up nonsensical and hilarious takes on the chaos unfolding around them.
This is the fourth game in the SteamWorld universe, and as such its aesthetic is well established. Yet, the gorgeous painterly visuals combined with a western meets steampunk vibe are just as wonderful as ever. The music, similarly, is vibrant and eclectic. There’s some subtle but effective use of sound on display as well, such as the way the music dampens and becomes ethereal as your lamp runs out.
SteamWorld Dig 2 is just about as competent a Metroidvania game as you’re likely to find in 2017. Its platforming and combat is solid, and its exploration is always a joy. What this fun sequel lacks in ambition, it makes up for in polish and charm.