Since the final 8-bit-style game got here out, Shovel Knight has been branching out extra into different genres as developer and writer Yacht Club charts a course for the place its eponymous nobleman will go subsequent. In December, we obtained the great Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon, which well blended falling block puzzle mechanics with roguelite game design. Now, we’re getting one other roguelite in Shovel Knight Dig, solely this time the gameplay is way more according to the action-platforming of the unique game. As you’d in all probability anticipate of this franchise by now, it’s an absolute blast to play; developer Nitrome (Bomb Chicken) delivers a troublesome, rewarding, and gratifying new expertise that sequence aficionados will wish to dig into instantly.
Shovel Knight Dig takes place someday earlier than the unique Shovel Knight, so Shield Knight hasn’t disappeared but and the Enchantress has but to rise to energy and type the Order of No Quarter. Here, the primary villain is a brand new character named Drill Knight, who has shaped a gaggle of knights referred to as the Hexcavators to assist him in raiding a treasure room buried someplace deep throughout the earth. Their efforts to take action—and the large gap they’ve created—are creating issues for the individuals on the floor, so Shovel Knight and Shield Knight dive in to attempt to unravel what’s occurring.
Obviously, the story isn’t a lot of a spotlight right here, as it is a extremely replayable roguelite platformer before everything. Even so, what’s right here creates a specific amount of intrigue as you may’t assist however surprise what awaits you on the backside of the opening, and sequence followers will recognize the numerous nods to different titles that happen in a while within the Shovel Knight timeline. For instance, it’s cool to see Shovel Knight and Shield Knight’s relationship performed out in additional than the temporary flashbacks we get elsewhere within the sequence, and interacting with earlier incarnations of Mole Knight and Tinker Knight from earlier than their time within the Order of No Quarter supplies some cool insights into the characters. The ‘lore’ isn’t very heavy right here, so franchise first-timers gained’t really feel like they’re lacking out on a lot, however those that have performed earlier releases will recognize seeing how this matches in.
Gameplay might be greatest described as what the unique Shovel Knight game would seem like if it was made with the design philosophy of Downwell. You play because the titular blue knight and begin every run by leaping into the opening, with the purpose merely being to get to the underside as quick as doable whereas amassing as a lot as you may on the way in which down. Each run is split up into biomes composed of three ranges, with a closing fourth stage consisting of a boss combat with that space’s resident knight. Each time you fall in battle, you’re introduced again to the floor and should attempt it over again. You retain a few of your collected gems from every run, however in any other case lose all upgrades and stock gadgets that weren’t already everlasting.
Suffice it to say, the issue is brutal, however not essentially unfair. You don’t actually have that a lot well being to start every run, and although this may later be expanded through outlets and upgrades, therapeutic gadgets are sometimes fairly sparse. Most failures, then, aren’t since you hit a brick wall that you just couldn’t get previous, however reasonably they’re deaths by a thousand cuts as each miscalculated soar and tough enemy encounter provides as much as ultimately take a closing toll. You’d suppose the answer can be to easily take issues gradual and play it protected, however there’s continually an enormous, invincible buzzsaw drill bearing down on you from above. Most of the time, you don’t even comprehend it’s there, however if you happen to’re taking an excessive amount of time playing around and making an attempt to snap up each gem and collectable, it’ll catch as much as you quick and kill you immediately.
Given this, there’s a scrumptious form of stress to each minute of your run. Shovel Knight Dig definitely adheres to the ‘rich-get-richer’ philosophy the place efficient play is rewarded with boons that make the game even simpler, whereas taking part in poorly will make issues even more durable for you the longer you go on. It’s in your greatest pursuits to gather as many gems as doable in your method down, as it will immediately offer you extra capacity to purchase relics, upgrades, and therapeutic gadgets if you happen to occur to come back throughout a store. Yet, if you happen to don’t learn to successfully prioritize which teams of gems to seize and which of them to go on, you’ll discover the noticed ultimately catching you. Finding that risk-reward line is an enormous a part of the enjoyable of Shovel Knight Dig, and also you’ll end up slowly constructing a data base as time goes on and also you learn to greatest deal with the myriad conditions and obstacles which will come up.
Though each stage is randomly generated, we appreciated how the assorted stage gimmicks and enemy sorts right here got here collectively to present a handcrafted really feel to those new biomes. Whether you’re bouncing between mushrooms, dodging between bubbles and swimming fish, or disarming bombs earlier than they go off, there’s rarely a boring second in Dig as you frantically swipe and soar your solution to security. Importantly, moment-to-moment gameplay feels extraordinarily much like the unique Shovel Knight; you might have the very same moveset and even the physics really feel fairly comparable. Given this, it feels such as you’re at all times able to overcoming the boundaries earlier than you, however to not the purpose that any of them are rendered trivial. Even the frequent mook enemies can land a difficult hit on you once in a while, and the injury you’re taking there can imply the distinction between life and demise while you later fall into some spikes.
Along the way in which, you discover methods so as to add to Shovel Knight’s repertoire and that is the place your survival possibilities go up significantly. In treasure chests or at outlets, for instance, you may decide up Relics that offer you entry to new limited-use gadgets to assist even the chances. Whether it’s a type of short-range teleportation, a useful projectile assault, or a method of levitating briefly, every Relic has very clear use instances to assist get you out of a bind.
Additionally, you may decide up upgrades in outlets that offer you both flat bumps to your well being or magic stats, or useful passive talents like a gem magnet or a wider vary to your shovel swing. If you’re diligent about amassing gems alongside the way in which, you may often afford to purchase one or two issues in every store, however you by no means have sufficient to get all the pieces you need.
Additionally, there are three golden gears in each stage, positioned in apparent however barely difficult-to-reach areas. They often require placing your self in additional hazard to select them up, however if you happen to accumulate all of them, you’ll be given a alternative on the finish of a stage between a full well being restore or a random new passive improve. These golden gears make a large distinction in your runs—the advantage of that full well being restore can’t be overstated—however they introduce one other variable to contemplate while you’re within the thick of issues and weighing your choices. We appreciated the gears’ function within the total gameplay loop; they problem you to step outdoors your consolation zone and push your self, however the prices of doing so may be excessive.
Those of you who get pleasure from some meta development in a roguelite might be happy to notice that there are some everlasting upgrades that persist between runs. Leftover gems from a run might be tossed into your financial institution, and this may then be spent on issues like completely different armor units to tweak your playstyle or new sorts of relics that may then seem in subsequent makes an attempt. These upgrades aren’t of the variability that may assure you succeed if you happen to merely keep on the grind lengthy sufficient, however they do provide up useful instruments and buffs that improve your probability of success past the bottom equipment. Perhaps most significantly, it feels just like the financial system right here is well-handled, too; you may’t simply purchase out all the pieces in just a few runs like you might in Pocket Dungeon.
In phrases of presentation, Shovel Knight Dig jumps the franchise from 8-bit to 16-bit and brings with all of it the brand new constancy you’d anticipate. The artwork type feels just like the pure development of what got here earlier than, and seeing beloved characters and enemies rendered in a way more expressive and detailed type is thrilling for Shovel Knight veterans. Environments are every given their very own distinctive shade palettes and have a variety of enjoyable particulars occurring of their backgrounds, whether or not that be slimy insect hives or moist, troupple-adorned ruins.
Meanwhile, the soundtrack blends collectively remixes of traditional tunes and all new music to make for a catchy backdrop to all of the slashing and dashing. Hearing extra difficult and layered music in comparison with the 8-bit chiptunes of the unique video games is fascinating, however none of it feels misplaced or out of step with what’s come earlier than. It does really feel just like the soundtrack is usually rather less memorable right here, although this admittedly may simply be a aspect impact of the extra intense tempo of the gameplay. You don’t have as a lot time to deal with the music while you’re preventing in your life!
If there’s one grievance that now we have about Shovel Knight Dig, it’s that it may well really feel prefer it’s a bit bit too quick, even by roguelite requirements. Our first full clear got here rather less than three hours into our total playthrough and although there are extra issues to unlock and check out for in subsequent runs, we have been nonetheless at over 50% completion for our file at this level. The content material that’s right here is definitely top quality and properly price your time, nevertheless it feels in some ways like that is extra of a aspect dish than a primary entrée. Those of you in search of a Dead Cells or Enter the Gungeon-style expertise that might take dozens of hours to completely conquer might really feel a bit disenchanted.
That stated, there’s additionally fairly a little bit of replayability right here past uncooked unlocks for these of you who’re extra aggressive. Though there isn’t any multiplayer, you may put up scores out of your runs to the worldwide leaderboard to see the way you stack up, and there are additionally day by day and weekly runs supplied to maintain you coming again. You can kind these leaderboards to only present individuals in your mates record, too, permitting you to deal with preserving your competitors extra native if you happen to desire. This leaderboard integration helps to maintain subsequent runs from feeling too grindy by offering a secondary incentive, as there’s at all times somebody on the market a bit higher than you who you may work to overthrow.