The original Steamworld Dig was something of a breakout hit for Image and Form, with its deceptively simple mechanics and premise- said premise being you are a steampunk robot digging down in a mine left to you by your uncle- and budget price helping it gain a lot of positive exposure. And while the core gameplay was very strong, to many people it ended a bit too soon and the story didn’t feel asfleshed out as it could have been. And now, after giving the world the incredibly underrated turn based tactical shooter Steamworld Heist, they’ve returned to the sub series that made them famous with Steamworld Dig 2, a sequel that irons out the majority of the flaws within its predecessor and expands on its sturdy foundation.
This time around you play as Dorothy from the first game, who is on a quest to find Rusty, who disappeared after defeating an alien menace deep within his uncle’s mine. She hears tales of him being spotted in a mine near El Machino, a bigger town than the first game’s Tumbleton. A short way into her adventure, she meets Fen, a Vectron sprite who tags along with her after she defeats its totem, which is being worshipped by bizarre Steambot cultists. When she reaches El Machino, she begins the process of digging into its depths in order to find her friend.
Anyone who played the first game and reads this summary knows that there’s so much more going on in the story within the first twenty minutes than in the entire four hour run time of the original game. Some could view that as a potential detriment since the first game was really succinct in its storytelling, but thankfully, the story here is worthwhile. Not only does it meaningfully expand the lore and world of the Steamworld universe, but it is entertaining and fun in its own right, even if you haven’t played any of the prior Steamworld games (and in case you can’t tell, you absolutely should play them, particularly Heist). As is par for the course with an Image and Form game, the dialogue is well written, helping every character’s personality shine. And while it ultimately isn’t anything mind blowing or original, it’s still nice that the developers put time and effort into the frame work surrounding the game as a whole.
And what a framework it is. As mentioned above, the premise is that, armed with nothing more than a pick axe (until you unlock more tools and mobility options), you dive into one giant mine and get a little further every time you do. You have to keep an eye on your health, your water (which can be used for certain abilities like launching pressure bombs which can break blocks from afar), and your light, which allows you to see beyond Dorothy’s limited scope of view. You also collect ore and gems as you go, which can be sold and used to upgrade everything from your health to your pick axe to your backpack (to carry more ore and gems) and the other items you gather along the way. It’s a brilliantly simple feedback loop of exploring to find more valuables so you can explore more efficiently and much like the first game, even the shortest of runs through the mine can feel rewarding and worthwhile since you’re constantly upgrading your character in some way.
The thing about this game is that the developers have ditched random generation in favor of a crafted world, which leads to an arguably more focused and well-paced experience. By making every level from scratch, they are able to guide the player in a way they couldn’t with random levels. That’s not to say that the game forces you any one way. Like all good Metroidvanias, you are very limited in the beginning of the game as to where you can go and what you can do, but as you progress you become better and better. Even early on though, you choose where to dig and how to approach mining a path through the levels. It’s a wonderful balance of developer guidance and player agency. And much like the original, digging without any thought can lead to some rather difficult predicaments. The game rewards players who mine with the intention of being able to get back out while also being able to explore as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Caves from the first game make a comeback and here they are far more integral to progression. Some of them hold new tools to use in exploration (a jackhammer fist, a hookshot and more I won’t spoil) and that’s always fun. But the majority of them are short, bite sized challenge levels that hold artifacts and cogs. Artifacts are collectible items that can be found all over and turned in to a character for blue prints. Cogs are used to add mods to your various pieces of mining equivalent. Mods are unlocked either through regular upgrading of an item or through said blue prints. And here is where the real fun of character customization comes into play. Mods range from the pretty helpful (increase your lamp’s radius) to the truly great (making it so your lamp never falls below fifty percent). The best part about cogs is that, rather than being permanent upgrades, you can easily swap out previously installed mods in favor of a new one at any time from the work bench in town. So not only are caves great sources of more customization options, but they are also well designed, fun, bite sized challenges in their own way, making great use of the in game physics and mechanics. Plus, like in the main mining segments of the game, there are often secrets hidden within these caves that reward the careful eye (and helpfully, a cave will show a check mark over its icon on the map once it’s completed).
All of this is to say nothing of how absolutely gorgeous this game is. The art style in this series has always been strong and here it’s no different. From the animations to just how everything looks, the game is like a high budget animated film come to life. The robots’ designs are all lots of fun, which just further enforces the charm of the characters and world. I will say that enemy variety and level variety could be called somewhat lacking. There are only a few major zones in the game and while they are all very distinct from one another, by the end it’s easy to grow tired of a given section’s aesthetic. There aren’t a whole bunch of enemy types in the game either, and later on there are even pallet swaps of earlier foes who function much the same way as their earlier counterparts only with more lethality. Each area has enough gameplay ideas and structural variety to make up for it, but it still would have been nice to see more creativity in the mining segments and enemies as there are with the robots and overall look of the game.
But those are truly minor complaints against what is an otherwise must play title. Image and Form started small with the barely remembered Steamworld Tower Defense and the surprise eshop hit of Steamworld Dig. And the reason I’m talking about them so much is that they truly hit it out of the park with Heist and now Dig 2. They understand what makes the Metroidvania genre so popular and have refined the already solid base of the first game in this series to deliver an exploration based game that belongs on any gamer’s shelf. Everything about is structure is satisfying, from customizing Dorothy, to finding upgrade material, and even to simply digging an efficient path through a given level. Add on top of that a fun story and a gorgeous look and you have another must play exploration game on the Nintendo Switch. I can’t wait to see what Image and Form gives the world next.
+ Fun story that meaningfully expands the Steamworld universe but also works as a standalone tale
+ Exploring to find upgrade materials so you can explore more efficiently is a great feedback loop
+ Caves are well designed mini challenges that break up exploration well
+ New cog mechanic is a terrific way to allow players to tailor the game to their preferred play style (and said play style can be changed whenever you please)
+ Loads of hidden secrets that reward careful observation and a keen eye
+ Absolutely gorgeous to look at
- Environmental designs have the potential to get old after a while
- Would have been nice to see more enemy variety