Shovel Knight has starred in old-school platformers, puzzlers, and made guest appearances in plenty of others including multiple platform fighters. No genre is too far or foreign for Shovel Knight, that much is certain. This time around, the spade-wielding hero's taking on the roguelite genre, and he does so in spectacular fashion. It's no surprise that Shovel Knight Dig turns out to be another worthwhile adventure to embark on.
In Shovel Knight Dig, your lovely nap is once again stirred by a nefarious villain -- this time by a group called the Hexcavators. Headed by Drill Knight, he and the rest of the gang stole Shovel Knight's bag of treasures and are out for even greater spoils. Much loot is ahead as you dive into a deep well that turns out to be a large dungeon full of monsters, hazards, and most importantly, lots of loot.
Down a Well of Fun in Shovel Knight Dig
Like the fantastic Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon -- which was released late last year -- this isn't a Treasure Trove spin-off, but its own standalone game. Shovel Knight Dig trades the horizontal gameplay of the original NES-style platformer for the verticality of games like Downwell. The change in perspective seems like a perfect fit for our hero and his penchant for digging, and the result is a blast to play.
You'll take on progressively more difficult dungeons as you avoid hazards such as spikes, drills, and projectiles and take on various enemies recognizable to Shovel Knight fans. Blorbs, birders, beetos, blitzsteeds, and more stand in your way with recognizable attack patterns from their previous series appearances. The transition in perspective doesn't necessarily mean enemies behave differently, meaning veterans of the Shovel Knight series will feel right at home.
Dozens of pre-made rooms are pieced together in a random order to create the unpredictable dungeons in Shovel Knight Dig. There's a decent variety in environments as you progress further down, and each area behaves differently. While you'll always have piles of dirt to rapidly dig through, some levels like the Secret Fountain utilize water to alter your movement; conversely, the Magic Landfill has these magical portals to boggle your mind and add a bit more challenge and peril to the platforming. Each level has its own crop of foes to deal with, so with all this variation, there's never a dull moment while exploring.
Other than a random generation, there are plenty of mechanics for roguelite junkies out there. Upgrades abound as you collect relics, accessories, and even pets that follow you around and aid you in your adventure. Shovel Knight Dig has a nice mix of powerful consumable items found in your travels to upgraded abilities purchased from a vendor. You're spoiled for choice, with some upgrades giving you a boost in jump height for the duration of your run or another that magnetically attracts gems from a distance. Consumable magical items like the fire wand shoot projectiles that can give you an edge in battle. My personal favorite is a warhorn that has an extremely powerful AOE effect and deals tons of damage to boot.
Shovel Knight Dig often gives players tough choices to make, and this manifests through golden gears. Golden gears are found in areas of the dungeon and may be more difficult to obtain. Some will require you to bounce on an enemy to reach or avoid hazards, while others necessitate you hit a loose screw jutting out of the wall to reveal a secret path. Whatever the case may be, I always prioritized finding these gears -- the rewards are just too good to pass up. If you find all three and reach the end of one section, you'll have a choice between restoring your health in full or gaining an upgrade that stays during the remainder of your run.
I love how Shovel Knight Dig gives players a choice for going out of their way and being a bit more reckless, rewarding those who are brave rather than overly careful. The full health restoration also eases the difficulty a bit, since Shovel Knight Dig can be an unforgiving game at times (as is the case with most roguelites). There are also two choices forward after completing a section of the dungeon. Based on the path you choose, you'll come across different hazards or benefits. Signs denote what you might expect to find on the path you choose, although I found these to be a bit unclear at times since there's no dialogue to explain their purpose.
Treasure is littered all over this dungeon. You'll use some to purchase these upgrades from in-dungeon adventures and retain others when you die. The overworld is where you can spend the currency on new relics, armor, or shortcuts to other areas of the dungeon. This metaprogression in Shovel Knight Dig is definitely helpful and can make your runs a bit easier, but it's not all that different from what Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon offers. I realize not everyone will have played both games, but at times, Shovel Knight Dig felt a little too familiar to its puzzly predecessor. Nonetheless, based on everything here, Shovel Knight Dig is a competently made, fair roguelite with all the elements I love to see in the genre.
Nitrome's Masterful Touch on Shovel Knight Dig
On a very personal note, Shovel Knight Dig is one of the most exciting recent collaborations in the industry. Nitrome and Yacht Club Games worked together on this project. Nitrome may or may not ring any bells to you, but my ears certainly perk up when I see this team involved on any project. They're known for their exceedingly high-quality flash games back in the heyday, and work on some tight mobile games -- as well as a few indies like Bomb Chicken. Their most significant trait is how they handle pixel art.
Nitrome's an amazing fit for Shovel Knight and their pixel art in this game shows. As I understand it, Nitrome is the lead on this project, and it definitely shows. The pixel art is charming and colorful, bringing Shovel Knight's characters to life with excellent animations. The stages are filled to the brim with detail. The hive area might just be the most stunning, with nasty green goop and organic material lining the walls.
No Shovel Knight game is complete without Jake Kaufman's melodious touch, so it's a pleasure to see him return once more.
The art direction in Shovel Knight games never disappoints, but this is by far my favorite of the bunch. I have some nostalgia not just for Nitrome, but for the 16-bit style more so than I do the NES-like visuals of the first game. Like the visuals, music is a consistent hit with Shovel Knight games. One of the best composers on the market is Jake Kaufman, who displays his mastery over retro game music. No Shovel Knight game is complete without Jake Kaufman's melodious touch, so it's a pleasure to see him return once more.
Shovel Knight Dig Review | Final Thoughts
Although the story has never been the main draw of Shovel Knight, I always appreciated the witty and colorful dialogue -- it's that Yacht Club Games charm. You'll see some of that here, but Shovel Knight Dig is a little light on story elements. It doesn't add a great deal to the Shovel Knight canon, with the exception of introducing a few new characters with minimal lines of dialogue. Encounters with bosses like Mole Knight (in a new aquatic form!) and the new Drill Knight start and end with the same lines repeated almost every run, which feels like a missed opportunity. I wish there were more things bosses could say across encounters. It feels strange to hear the same thing every time after a run, like it was my first time encountering these bosses.
It's hard to beat the original Shovel Knight, but in terms of sheer fun factor, I think Dig takes the cake. The roguelite elements add just the right amount of variation and challenge; meanwhile, Shovel Knight's never looked or sounded better than in Dig. While I hope Yacht Club Games returns to its roots and creates a sequel to the original Shovel Knight, I'd gladly take more collabs between them and Nitrome. Clearly, it's a duo that complements each other very well, indeed.
TechRaptor reviewed Shovel Knight Dig on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on September 23 for Apple Arcade, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation and Xbox platforms at a later date.
- Fantastic Artistic Direction and Soundtrack
- Recognizable Shovel Knight Elements Make a Return
- Different Environments Add to the Unpredictability and Mayhem
- Light on New Shovel Knight Lore
- Some Readability Issues With In-Game Signs