Steamworld Dig 2: Diggy diggy hole 2
I have never played Steamworld Dig, so I cannot say for certain how different the sequel is to the original. However I will not deny I will seek out the original after this. As Steamworld Dig 2 is a pretty charming little game, nicely polished with some annoying mechanics.
Dorothy arrives back at the hub town from the original game, looking for her friend Rusty (protagonist from the first game) who has disappeared. Once there, she discovers that the land has been rocked (lol) by a series of earthquakes. Which could be linked to Rusty’s recent disappearance. Steamworld Dig 2 is a quite a short game (about seven to eight hours). But it takes advantage of this with swift pacing in regards to its story. There is always some sort of new revelation to be had, some new secret or interaction to experience. As a result ,the game remains compelling and engaging to the player. There were some twists that I didn’t entirely expect which kept me interested.
But I think what helps keep the entire thing afloat is the cast. They are larger than life and delightfully silly, they make the world feel alive. Like the incompetent major who wants to keep the crumbling mines for profit, at the expense of the workers (not as absurd as it maybe should be ) or the messenger robot who is half horse and whinnies like one. They are just strange enough to be interesting without becoming annoying; you want to interact with them just to see what happens.
Fen’s a homicidal ghost who giggles with glee whenever the prospect of chaos, mayhem and destruction come up. In fact, the first you meet him, he is in a totem zapping doomsday cultists out of existence. He is a great foil towards the straight faced, determined Dorothy.
The two develop a rather enjoyable chemistry (and later) friendship over the course of the game, the two learning to respect each other in the face of growing adversity. I really loved the character ach Fen goes through, turning from a rather basic evil robot that says inappropriate things in public to a noble soul who does something very important at the story’s climax. Steamworld Dig 2 depicts a wonderful character arch that displays Image & Form Games’s great writing.
Dorothy is a bit of a bland character as a whole; she is headfast and determined to find Rusty but still has a good heart and wants to help out. But please don’t get me wrong, she might technically be bland but she is not boring. She is highly motivated and likeable, she wants to find Rusty and there is nothing that can stop her. She is quick to get angry with Fen when he cheers for mayhem (or his attempts to kill Dorothy).
They start out not caring for one another (one actively trying to kill the other). but by being forced to stick together, the two learn to appreciate another and become friends. Dorothy might be bland but she is never the less interesting and her (more interesting) acquaintances make up for the otherwise milquetoast personality.
The world building
Because I have not played the original Steamworld Dig, I had no idea about the world going in. I thought it was going to be a cute little story about sentient robots.
I didn’t expect for there to be human survivors (living deep with earth) nor did I expect giant pools of radioactive waste, or the piles of discarded junk on the surface. These environmental details (never examined with much depth by Dorothy) add to the sense of history of Steamworld, it is not just a silly game about robots but there is a undercurrent of a nuclear holocaust and a robot uprising(?). It’s not much, but it adds a lovely layer of depth towards the experience.
Steamworld Dig 2 is a metroidvania, so expect a number of well worn genre conventions: platforming, the game loop of exploration, the interconnected map and along with the hub world. That is not to say that Dig 2 doesn’t offer something different from the conventional metroidvania tropes, it most certainly does.
Diggy diggy hole
The main unique selling point in Dig 2 is mining; you essentially have to create your own platforms and way towards the quest marker. There is a quiet catharsis to digging though a huge mound of dirt and stone, knowing you are getting closer to your goal each time.
Navigating your way back and forth from the waypoint in the environment you (literally) carved out is very rewarding as a result. I will not lie and agree that it’s pretty rewarding and enjoyable to experience, as you gain more powers (like the hook shot or the jetpack ) the more each level opens up (in true metroidvania fashion ) allowing for a satisfying feedback loop.
There are a number of secret areas within each level, (mostly consisting of gears currency for augmentations) which further reward exploration, you are encouraged to look at every dirt/stone block and give it a tap.
Just in case there is some secret area waiting to be plundered of its riches. That is not to say how the environment can be manipulated through the presence of rocks, which can either cause some wonderful shortcuts or some unfortunate deaths. The environment acts as both a friend and foe to the player, successfully preventing the digging from becoming mindless.
(Minor spoilers warning)
There is one particular moment in Steamworld Dig 2’s story when Dorothy has to go to a place where the Vectron (bad robots who might have been responsible for the state of the world) reside. Unlike A Hat in Time, a game which tossed in some survival horror out of nowhere, and left without much build-up or release, there is a decent amount of build-up towards travelling to the Vectron. But I didn’t expect such a great example of horror within the platforming.
Here you don’t dig much, you are at the mercy of the scrap and jiggered metal of robot remains, wasted away from years of neglect. The ghosts of robot (souls?) haunt the level, unkillable and able to dish out damage quickly. As a result, not being able to carve your way around the level as well as being unable to rid the threat. It makes the player feel vulnerable. As you go deeper into the level, the less platforming becomes a focus. Towards the end you are just running across a flat plane, all your power stripped away from you. In fact towards the end you have to out run some truly horrifying robots, who shriek and wail like every nightmare siren ever. The Vectron is a great example of horror in an otherwise light-hearted game, perfectly executed and just long enough to not outstay it’s welcome.
The optional caves
Alongside the normal quests and storyline, you can go through a number of optional dungeons, scattered throughout the various levels. These mostly take the form of platfoming challenges (dart traps firing in a rhythm etc). They are pretty fun but very inconsistent in terms of skill level. Either they are either extremely difficult, or extremely easy without any real sense of escalation. In comparison to the story levels (which are easy to moderately challenging without the sudden spike) . I wish that maybe the optional dungeons were a little less jarring in difficulty, maybe with a curve or just have them be consistently more difficult than the normal game. Not knowing precisely what I am going into made the optional dungeons rather off-putting.
That bloody lantern
You carry a limited amount of ore on your little robot person, whenever you are adventuring. While there is nothing wrong with that, ( you have to get your upgrades somehow) the presence of a timer is a bit of an overkill. Even more so in the early game, when you are gathering the ore to pay for your upgrades.
But that pesky little lantern keeps forcing me to the surface simply to refill. There doesn’t seem to be much point to having the lantern exist. Asides from the forcing the player back when they would already be doing that once their bags are full. Granted, once I got the upgrade that prevented the lantern from falling beyond 50% I never worried about it again. But I cannot help but wonder why a timer exists within a game. When all it does is mess with the pacing.
Graphics and art style:
The bright cartoonish art style is utterly timeless; it’s very charming in its execution and is very easy to look at. The colour coding is very effective within distinct bio domes. For example, the mutant underground forest is such a marvellous demonstration of colour coordination. As a result insuring that the player is not overtaken by colours. The coding for enemies is beautifully displayed through the colour purple. They meld together but are not overwhelming.
Steamworld Dig 2 is a rather charming little snack, set back by some rather annoying timers and restrictions. I most certainly had fun with Steamworld Dig 2 and will properly go back to it later. Consider it a good little distraction to tide you over before the big releases.
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