SteamWorld Dig 2 (Switch) Review
Let’s start this off with an obvious statement- games are meant to be fun. We all feel that’s the case, but all too often do we have games that fight against your expectation of how the game should play out. SteamWorld Dig 2 is not one of those games- the world and gameplay openly invite you to take part, to explore the vast underground, and interact with the world. And I’m really excited to tell you of all the ways this game succeeds in this belief.
Basically, this game is about digging. You just start with a pickaxe and a small bag, but the game offers you more functions as you progress. You collect gems and minerals underground, which you then sell for money, which buys you more gear and upgrades. Those upgrades let you mine quicker, or hold more stuff to take to the surface, which gets you money quicker, and so on. But the way it all gradually builds up your capability along with your own understanding of the game, means that you always have short-term goals to achieve. Too often did I think to myself “just one more upgrade” only to find an hour had passed.
It’s a loop of exploration, collecting resources, upgrading gear, to then explore and collect even more, and so on. Everything else in the game revolves around this loop, but nothing gets in the way of you doing your thing. The more you play, the more competent you become, and the game rewards that with adding more complexity. It’s so natural, and it’s all at your own pace.
Part of what makes this loop so satisfying, is the world around you. Even if you’ve played the first, the entirety of SteamWorld feels so lived in. Most of the people you’ll interact with are steam powered robots, including yourself. And while a bulk of the game happens throughout a mining themed shaft, there’s a lot of surprises down there I didn’t expect! And it still feels like I’ve only scratched the surface of it all.
All the different themes throughout the world are fantastic as well, with an amazing sense of scale in some areas, and some absolutely gorgeous areas. All of this is complimented by some stunning sound work, especially the music. My favourite use is when you run out of light, the music shifts to a really sinister mood. And the main town music has an interesting vaporwave quality about it…
But of course, the game does pace your progress a bit, and it’s done so cleverly. There will be some areas that you will find you just can’t move through- bricks your pickaxe won’t make a dent on, or gaps that are just a bit too wide to jump over. This is the game sort of getting in your head, suggesting there’s a demand for a powerup that you’ll need to progress over these areas soon. And funnily enough, not long after, you’ll have that very powerup that you needed, along with an opportunity to use it.
I can’t stress how much I love when a video game uses in-game context to teach you new mechanics, instead of beating you over the head with them. It’s honestly insulting, but SteamWorld Dig 2 just gives you the upgrade, and a small prompt on which button to press to use it. That’s it, it really does trust you as the player to figure it out on your own!
The simple controls and intuitive in-game traversal really help as well. Moving around the underground feels fantastic, and the more upgrades you get, the more mobile you can become. But starting you off slow means the method that you dig through the earth is very calculated. You only start off with a wall jump, but you can only use that on straight vertical walls. You get a grappling hook fairly early on, but even that has a limited range, and some walls can’t be grabbed onto at all. It’s fascinating how the game designers really only designed half of the world, whereas you’re left to design the other half.
And while the main idea of the game is mining, combat also plays a large part in the experience. It’s not in-depth, you whack things with a pickaxe until they die. Killing enemies gives you XP, which increases how much money you get when you sell stuff, and unlocks more upgrades to buy. It’s great to see how well a side-mechanic works alongside the core gameplay loop, without feeling tacked on at all. When you’re spending so much time digging, the monsters give you something else to do, and also make digging feel far less lonely.
The underground is also littered with caves, which are self contained challenge rooms, with rewards ranging anywhere from upgrade points, to new abilities. These caves are less about digging, and more about providing you with a chance to push your understanding of your current abilities. None of them are particularly hard to figure out, but a lot of caves have hidden collectables and upgrade points, which do require a bit of thinking or exploration outside of the straight path.
I usually try to think of a few things a game could do better, even in games that I adore. But even if I’m nitpicking, it’s hard to come up with much. Some of the caves have some really tedious moments, but they’re only usually that tedious if you’re doing the optional challenges to get even more gear out of it. Even death has consequence in the game, and the penalty is fair in that it just means you lose some of your minerals and gems.
Even the story is as deep as you’d need it to be. Your character, Dorothy, is looking for her lost friend Rusty, the protagonist from the first SteamWorld Dig. The further you get in the game, the more details are revealed, but it’s all interwoven with that main drive to dig deeper. While it helps to have the narrative there, I often got lost in digging and exploring, that I forgot I had an objective to complete. I’d usually stumble upon the objective while just merely digging.
SteamWorld Dig 2 is what I want out of more games. A game that wants to be played, that doesn’t punish you for enjoying it your own way. You can tell that everything about this game is so deliberate and thought out, so much care went into this world, and you’re invited to be a part of it. So don’t wait, dig in!
-Introduces new mechanics cleverly
-Some challenges are tedious
-Story is lighter than it could be