Shovel Knight Dig is a roguelite platformer from Yacht Club Games and Nitrome. But rather than running from left to right, you’re making your way down a treacherous hole made by Drill Knight who’s stolen your bag of loot and enlisted a host of other baddies to guard the path to the bottom, where a mysterious treasure supposedly awaits.
The cavern created by Drill Knight’s drilling has destabilized the area, causing earthquakes and putting those who had come in search of treasure at risk. So, it’s up to you to save them in addition to your stolen stuff. The game is light on story but full of personality. The colorful collection of NPCs at the camp area compel you to stop and learn their deal. Although they often don’t offer more than some lighthearted dialog or tips, many of them will randomly appear down below with helpful items for you.
Your trek down the hole is full of enemies and ingenious randomized platforming challenges that often split your goals between finding the safest path or collecting the most gems. You can run, jump, and swing your shovel either as an attack or to clear dirt to make a path for yourself. Jumping onto enemies or some hazards will bounce you back up again and is a crucial skill for some of the later tricky sections. Relics or secondary abilities can be found and vary in their usefulness. I opted to take anything that raised my max health or magic over abilities that slightly increase your attack range or speed. Carefully eliminating threats or scouring each screen for every pickup is discouraged as taking too long to progress will spawn a menacing drill from above that can kill in one hit. The gameplay can be downright stressful when a series of hazards line up that quickly end an otherwise good run, especially when they don’t always feel like your fault. Though there are a number of handy mechanics that alleviate the frustration.
Death will send you back to the top of the hole, but you can keep a portion of the money you’ve collected prior, which will let you unlock relics to be found on a run, buy upgrades to your armor, or, most importantly, unlock shortcuts to areas after you reach them for the first time. After the initial buy-in, you can pay a reduced fee to return as many times as you need. I found this absolutely essential to keeping my sanity as each stage can sometimes feel unforgiving, but at the same time they have some of my favorite platforming sequences I’ve played through in a while.
The imaginative Magic Landfill, with its portal sections, or The Grub Pit that houses dirt that will attack you once disturbed are just a few highlights of the six distinct biomes you’ll travel through. Each stage also features a pool of well-themed enemies whose abilities you’ll need to adapt to, like fire slimes that can ignite an entire patch of flint rock, or spore enemies that can shrink you and may actually aid in finding certain secret rooms. Hidden paths are everywhere, waiting to reward your curiosity with upgrades or much needed healing to get you ready to take on each stage boss.
Like the NPCs you chat with, the boss enemies are distinctly designed and quirky characters that immediately leave an impression during the short back and forth you get when you meet them. The encounters are fun and moderately challenging, which I think is a fair trade-off for the hell you’ll sometimes endure to reach them but aside from being fantastic set pieces aren’t especially noteworthy.
Shovel Knight Dig’s more detailed pixel designs offer even more of the expressive animation we expect from Yacht Club. The sound design is also top-notch; not only is the music wonderfully catchy, but the exaggerated arcade sound effects play in your head long after a session, beckoning you to return for more runs. Depending on your skill level, expect to roll credits in 8-to-10 hours, though daily and weekly leaderboards can keep you coming back long after.
Shovel Knight Dig is an excellent platformer that balances the challenge of its gameplay with a forgiving roguelite loop. If you’re a platforming fan and don’t mind a challenge, scoop this up. The game is out now for $24.99 on Nintendo Switch, PC, and Apple Arcade.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Shovel Knight Dig.