Shovel Knight Dig is the product of a very special combination of developers. On one end is Yacht Club Games, responsible for creating the IP that is Shovel Knight, a bona fide indie hero. On the other is Nitrome, a highly experienced, if lesser known studio with nearly two decades of experience crafting some of the finest flash games ever made. Nitrome's put out other addicting games on both console and mobile, but there's no doubt, Shovel Knight Dig is their biggest project yet. I had thoughts going into my PAX West demo for Shovel Knight Dig that it'd be a quality, fun game. After my demo, I'm glad to be right.
This title stars the eponymous Shovel Knight, and after a new villain meddles with the armor-clad hero, he sets out to defeat bad guys and set things right. Rather than being an NES-style platformer, Shovel Knight Dig takes hand-crafted rooms and throws them in a random order, allowing for every run to feel fresh. That said, the random nature of Shovel Knight Dig feels extremely deliberate, with hazards and enemies flowing together in a challenging and fair way. True to the brand, there's plenty of secrets that, with a hit of a shovel will reveal precious loot or side paths to the merchant Chester.
While the genre may be different from the original Shovel Knight, fans of the IP should feel familiar with the mechanics right away. Shovel Knight's abilities translate over to the roguelite format naturally. His signature shovel attacks downward and bounces on enemies and objects and impacts dirt and enemies in a familiar fashion. There is a lot more dirt this time around -- this is Shovel Knight Dig, after all -- so you can quickly descend through ground in mere seconds, all the while avoiding drills, spikes and enemies along the way.
Visually, this is one spectacular game. It's not a stretch to say Nitrome's mastered pixel art. This time around, Shovel Knight Dig takes a more 16-bit style than its predecessor, but feels no less familiar. I'm especially excited to see how characters such as Mole Knight (who I am told will make an appearance) make the transition to the new style.
It should be noted Shovel Knight Dig isn't new to the convention scene. The build we got to look at was the final product, so I have a solid indicator that this will be a very enjoyable game. Some content we hadn't seen during previous hands-on sessions include more exploration of the overworld, as well as pets. The overworld is a hub, so the characters you meet along the way will gather here and can be interacted with. A merchant allows you to spend hard-earned cash on permanent upgrades to aid you during spelunking. One NPC in this area allowed players to access leaderboards. Obviously, there aren't any records at the moment, but speedrunners will be delighted to know this addition.
Then there's pets I mentioned. It's one feature I am especially excited about. I found eggs during my adventures below. Bringing an egg to a nest will hatch a pet that aids you in battle, acting as a support or extra hand in combat. There's over a dozen total and you can use multiple at once, so it seems like a fun and exciting mechanic that adds a bit more flavor to the combat.
In general, Shovel Knight Dig is harder than the previous demo. Spikes and hazards were definitely out to get Shovel Knight, but after a few runs I think most players will find it to be just the right amount of difficulty. There's also more objectives that add a bit more content and variance to each run, like finding keys that unlock chests. Puff-like enemies float around the gameplay area on occasion, and upon being hit by these, you grow small. This allows you to make your way through small spaces, but I also believe it makes you more vulnerable. There's a general feel of risk versus reward in Shovel Knight Dig, so more bold players will reap fruits of their labor.
The good news is, Shovel Knight Dig releases later this month on September 23. I knew my time with this demo would be short, but knowing that the full release will be in my hands in a few short weeks makes the wait well worth it.
TechRaptor's Shovel Knight Dig preview was conducted on PC via a demo at Pax West 2022.