Shovel Knight Dig Review (PC)

Shovel Knight Dig Review: Dig Deeper To Victory

 

Shovel Knight Dig | Featured

I’m just gonna admit it – I’m a big fan of Yacht Club Games. Not only was the original Shovel Knight easily one of the best games I ever crowdfunded, but the subsequent DLC adventures were all well-produced expansions of the game universe. Admittedly, some of the offshoot titles like Showdown and Pocket Dungeon weren’t my favorite entries, but there hasn’t been a bad game in the bunch. Which brings us to Shovel Knight Dig. Not only a mashup of platforming and rogue-like genres, but a mashup of Yacht Club and Nitrome. There were a lot of reasons this might not have worked. But after spending several hours with the game, I can attest that it’s fantastic. This Shovel Knight Dig review will show you why this might be the best game since the original.

 

Mischief Is Afoot!

 

Shovel Knight Dig | It Begins

The adventure starts when a slumbering Shovel Knight is rudely awoken by Drill Knight. He falls from above, steals your bag of loot, and drills down into the earth. What’s a hero to do other than follow after the scoundrel? At first, the game feels like a chase, but eventually, other nuances are added to complicate things. Without spoilers, I’ll just say that it quickly becomes apparent that something is drawing Shovel Knight deeper and deeper into the earth, and it’s not just his loot. This is something sinister and calculating, and Shovel Knight might regret he ever chased after the errant Drill Knight.

Also, I should confess I’m not entirely sure where on the Shovel Knight timeline the game takes place. At first, I suspected it was after the other games, but then there were peculiar details. Details like Shield Knight being alive and well, and other familiar faces not recognizing Shovel Knight. It’s possible this is a Gaiden adventure where that sort of thing doesn’t matter, but I figured I’d mention it for my fellow fans of the series.

 

Falling Towards Success

 

Shovel Knight Dig | Sleepy Dragon

With that all out of the way, let’s talk about how Shovel Knight Dig actually plays. If you’ve ever played Downwell, this game shares a lot of DNA with that rogue darling. After all, in both, you’re constantly burrowing downwards, finding relics and accessories and fighting powerful bosses. But that’s not to say Dig is a clone, far from it. It’s just clear that Yacht Club and Nitrome found inspiration in another rogue game that is a ton of fun.

Shovel Knight Dig | Smeltworks

If you’ve played a previous Shovel Knight main series title, the physics and controls will instantly feel satisfyingly familiar. It’s easy to dig down and to the side, jump, attack, and fire off magical relics. I’ll note I played using a gamepad, but I’m sure the game could work with keyboard controls as well. I had no issues with how the game plays, but that’s not to say it’s an easy adventure. Truthfully, this is a very challenging game that will rack up a healthy number of defeats before you dig your way to the end.

Shovel Knight Dig | Route Choice

While fans will be familiar with the basic controls, that’s where basic expectations end, and Dig starts to show its rogue side. For one thing, each run will have randomized stages and enemy layouts. There’s a ton of variety, too. One stage called Smeltworks is full of fiery traps and fireball-tossing misfits. But after a couple of hours, I encountered actual lava and skeletal fish to bounce off, which was a huge surprise. Even the starting area, the Mushroom Mines, has tons of variety to throw at you. You’ll find hovering foes that temporarily transform you into a miniature Shovel Knight, massive worms that try and devour you, land mines, and tons more. While the general areas follow some basic rules, you won’t see a lot of repetition in the procedural generation. Which, as a fan of the rogue genre, I was thrilled to see.

Shovel Knight Dig | Danger

Another big change is that some items will trail behind you after you collect them. You’ll find a variety of keys that open locked doors, as well as eggs that will hatch into little familiars that aid you in battle. The complicating factor is that if you get hit, those items will fall to the ground, forcing you to pick them up again. Worse, some items will break when you take damage, such as the eggs or some of the key varieties. Thankfully, items like Relics won’t break, though they do have limited numbers of uses that can be replenished with magic vials.

 

So Much Stuff…

 

Shovel Knight Dig | Chester

On the topic of Relics, there are many returning favorites like the War Horn and Flare Wand, but there are also some quirky new entries. To get them, you’ll have to buy golden keys from a character named Hoofman, and then use them to unlock special doors. Once you do, you’ll have to go through a short challenge area where you learn how to utilize the new Relics. There are a bunch of them, but my favorite is a lance that gets more powerful with each subsequent hit on a foe.

Shovel Knight Dig | Gastronomole

C’est magnifique!

If that wasn’t enough, you will also find Chester in the game. He’ll still be in chests when you encounter him as you play, but he also sets up camp at the HUB campsite. There you can spend precious coins to unlock items that you can then find in subsequent runs. Not enough stuff? Okay, how about this. You’ll eventually rescue a blacksmith, and once you do, he’ll help out by making you new armor for cash. Though I love my Shovel Knight in his trusty blues, I quickly purchased a red outfit that let me hold onto one item when I died, allowing me to keep it for the next time I played. While the downside of this armor was less cash found, I felt this attribute more than made up for it. There are plenty of other suits of armor you can buy too, but first, you’ll have to find the missing blueprints to have the smithy construct them.

 

Grab Those Gears!

 

Shovel Knight Dig | Gold Gear

Each area you burrow through has three distinct sections. You’ll have some choice over features you’ll find in each, indicated by signboards next to their entrance. Basically, you can pick an easier path or a harder one. One path might have angry drill machines charging from the sides of the screen. Another might have tons of that irritating mote enemy that can fly through stage geometry to poke you. There are a lot of different choices. The one constant in each stage is the golden gears. Each section has 3 in plain sight, though reaching them can be a handful. Successfully getting all three lets, you pick from two options at the end of each section – either refill your health fully, or get a new item.

Shovel Knight Dig | Reward

Shovel Knight Dig is very much built around the drive to keep moving. I usually dawdle and take my time in games, but Yacht Club found a way to motivate me – the angry drill machine that chases you if you take too long. If it reaches you, you’re dead meat. I think you can survive one hit from it, but that’s all. So once you start to see debris falling from above you, you need to skedaddle. Normally I would have been bothered by a feature like this, but I feel it was a good way to instruct the player that time is of the essence. That said, there seem to be some safe areas where you can get a breather, usually in secret side rooms you’ll find.

Shovel Knight Dig | Sacrifice

One of the ways Dig most surprised me is how aerial of a game it is. When you’re not digging through solid earth, you’re doing a lot of bouncing over crumbling platforms, or worse, blocks that are hiding spikes underneath them. One aspect of this design is that it’s very easy to miss something as you fall rapidly downwards. This just means you need to use an economy of movement, and constantly be scanning your surroundings. It’s a lot less stressful than it sounds, but again, it’s an example of the challenge level of the game. It’s not at all easy, but I do feel it’s balanced and mostly fair.

 

Sneaky Secrets

 

Shovel Knight Dig | Master Argus

Like any good Shovel Knight game, there are a ton of hidden goodies. The keen eye will detect areas of interest in the form of cracks and other indicators. Striking them with your shovel will reveal hidden paths, usually bursting with gems and other loot. You’ll also find an assortment of characters in some of these rooms. One example is Master Argus, an undead soldier that will teach you new attack techniques; one of my favorites is the Gastronomole, a French chef that cooks delicious food to heal and empower you. There’s a ton more examples, but the takeaway is to always be on the look for hidden secrets. Doing so will not only benefit you, but make it likely you’ll survive just a bit longer.

 

Hexcavators Causing Havoc

 

Shovel Knight Dig | Bosses

While the main foe in the game is Drill Knight, he’s not alone. He’s joined by the Hexcavators. As the name suggests, there are 6 of them total. Some are brand new, like Mushroom Knight, others are returning faces. Regardless, each and every one of them put up a fight, and will make you earn every victory. They also have distinct and fun personalities. Take Mushroom Knight. He and Tinker Knight could be related. They’re both diminutive, obsessive, and focused on scientific study. One of my new favorites is Hive Knight. He and his bug buddy Fleck attack you, using peculiar tennis moves as deadly attacks. You’d think it’s safe to take Fleck out of the picture, but doing so enrages Hive Knight, making him much more dangerous. Those are just a few examples, but every Hexcavator battle is outstanding and worthy of the Shovel Knight pedigree.

 

Pixel Art Perfection

 

Shovel Knight Dig | Grub Pit

The design in Shovel Knight Dig very much lives up to expectations, and probably exceeds them. Each stage is completely different and full of unique foes to avoid or defeat. The Mushroom Mines are gloomy and mysterious, full of giant fungi; then there’s the Secret Fountain, packed with aquatic annoyances and giant sponge slimes; or take the Grub Pit, full of giant insects and living hives to dig through; and there’s Drill Knight’s Castle, very much a nod to Mega Man games with advanced technology and lasers aplenty. Not only are the stages exciting and visually distinct, but the characters are all great and full of personality, from the lowliest NPC to the most important ally. The pixel art is also outstanding, though I’ve come to expect that from Yacht Club Games and Nitrome. As for the musical design, it’s another masterpiece. Each area has its own Jake Kaufman soundtrack, and they’re all winning melodies. Paired with timely audio cues and SFX, and you have a real winner.

 

Small Room For Improvement

 

Shovel Knight Dig | Hoofman

Even though I really enjoyed Dig, I’d be lying if I said it was perfect. It came real close, but a couple of minor things held it back. For one thing, I’ve been talking about the challenge of the game. While that won’t deter longtime gamers, it might alienate newer or less confident ones. I died repeatedly at the first boss before I finally spent the time to fully learn their attack patterns. Even then, each and every boss in the game can wipe the floor with you, assuming some random trap or enemy doesn’t get you first. You can help yourself by buying and equipping different armor, Relics, and items, but death is still inevitable. It’s just a matter of whether you get a good run that can help you reach the end or not. Also, I really dislike those mote enemies. You’ll only find them in the Mushroom Mines, but they were the primary cause of my deaths early in the game. The fact they can hover through the stage geometry and that most traps don’t touch them makes them serious threats to your health.

Also, while the gameplay is well-tuned and the physics are solid, I was a bit overwhelmed by the aerial nature of the game. Momentum is necessary, but it can also lead to you hitting sneakily placed traps or foes. Returning foes like Goldarmor can be a huge problem, since it still takes multiple hits to kill them, but now you’re fighting against the clock as well. Lastly, though I loved all the boss battles, I feel they had a bit too much health. Those issues aside, it’s still a really fun time. Just one that is going to frustrate you occasionally.

 

You’ll Dig This Game

 

Small complaints aside, Shovel Knight Dig is still a fantastic game. It deftly mixes Shovel Knight mechanics with rogue-like elements, to create a game that’s more than the sum of its parts. While the difficulty level can feel a bit overwhelming, and may deter some gamers, this is still an entry any fan of the series will find themselves loving. So what are you waiting for? Get ready to burrow into this exciting new adventure from Yacht Club Games!


Final Verdict: 4.5/5

Available on: PC (reviewed), Apple Arcade, Switch; Publisher: Yacht Club Games; Developer: Nitrome, Yacht Club Games; Players: 1; Released: September 23, 2022; MSRP: $24.99

Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.

Josh Speer
Got my start in the industry at oprainfall, but been a game fanatic since I was young. Indie / niche advocate and fan of classics like Mega Man, Castlevania and Super Metroid. Enjoys many genres, including platformers, turn based / tactical RPGs, rhythm and much more. Champion of PAX West and Knight of E3.

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