SteamWorld Dig 2 takes place in a world where robots have taken over the world and the last remnants of humanity are relegated to live below the surface in dark caverns. No, this isn’t some Terminator rip-off, instead you actually play one of these robots and the left over humans, or Shiners as they’re called, are actually one of the threats to civilization. As the game’s name implies, the robots are actually powered by steam. Your character’s name is Dorothy (Dot for short) and she’s on a quest to find Rusty, the protagonist from the first game who has disappeared into the depths of the earth. She will have to use her trusty pickaxe to dig passageways and uncover the secrets that lie beneath.
At its heart, SteamWorld Dig 2 is an adventure game with progression similar to games in the Metroid universe. You start off as a low level bot with very basic functionality. You can jump, hit enemies with your pickaxe, dig through dirt, and climb vertical passages by wall jumping. Your base of operations at the beginning of the game is the mining town of El Machino. The robot inhabitants are concerned with the recent increase in the number of earthquakes and want you to investigate what’s going on below the surface. This is a win-win proposition since Rusty was last seen entering the very same cave system.
As you explore the tunnels you’ll be digging your own paths and mining special jewels and gold to exchange up in the town for money, which can then be spent on upgrading your bot’s functionality. Of course you can increase your defense as well as attack power by upgrading the body chassis or the axe. Quality of life enhancements are worth spending money on upgrades as well, like your lantern so you can stay down underground for longer periods of time or your backpack, which allow you to carry more loot like ores and gems. These are important purchases to make so you don’t have to return to town quite as often, which to be honest can be a little annoying in the beginning hours.
As you level up your gear, you’ll unlock perks that can be activated by placing Cog Mods. These are found scattered about in secret hiding places, so you’ll want to search every nook and cranny for them. Placing the cogs on the gear will unlock special features. For example, you could enhance your armor with Karma Plates so that it deals damage to anyone that injures you by touch. You can actively move your cogs around at a workbench in town so you’re never locked into one perk over another, which is fantastic because it allows for experimentation without any long-term consequences.
As you dig down into the underworld, you’ll discover enemies and treasures scattered about. Eventually you’ll come across small challenge rooms that will often give you a nice reward when solved. Of course you will gain new upgrades and abilities along the way, which in turn can unlock new areas of the map. Relics are hidden underground as well. If you find enough of them they can be traded in town for blueprints, which will unlock new upgrades.
New weapons and techniques are doled out at a really great pace, keeping the game fresh at all times. It also rewards players for exploration with secrets seemingly strewn about all over the place, one of my absolute favorite aspects in a video game. This was somewhat lacking in the original game because of its procedurally generated levels. This time around the developers created each area with care and it really shows. Progression through the game is more natural and rewarding as a result.
The story throughout your adventure is always entertaining and engaging. The various robots always have something clever to say and the game does a fantastic job of pointing you in the general direction of where you should go next, without commanding you to do it. In other words, although I was always cognizant of where the game wanted me to go next to progress the story, I often went in different directions to fully explore the areas and find loot and other secret locations. The game accommodates those who want to go off the beaten path as well as those who just want to go from point A to point B.
The world of SteamWorld Dig 2 is beautiful to look at. You’d think that digging around in dark caves would be boring from a visual standpoint, but the development team really did a fantastic job creating strikingly varied environments. The game features the same colorful and detailed graphics of its predecessors, but with better lighting and even more detail in the animation. From the desert overworld to the bioluminescent glowing mushroom caves, the game looks beautiful on the TV as well as on the go in portable mode. Tons of parallax scrolling and little details like dirt blowing in the wind really help make the game standout from other indie titles.
The soundtrack also delivers a great experience. It combines a sort of western saloon-style composition when exploring above ground. Underground the music is more mysterious and even relaxing in some areas. There isn’t any voice acting present, but the various characters have a sort of grumble and grind to them that match the text appearing on the screen. I’m not sure any of the tracks in the game contain melodies that will become stuck in my head, but they set the mood nicely.
What all of these things add up to is a spectacularly fun experience. There are some annoyances in the beginning hour or so of the game, notably having to return to the surface over and over again to deposit treasure or to relight your lantern. As such, I heartily suggest spending the money to upgrade your backpack and lantern as soon as possible so you can stay adventuring for longer stints at a time. Luckily the game does have warp points that you can unlock (pneumatic tubes for you travel through) that will allow you to return to town in an instant – so explore everywhere to find these!
SteamWorld Dig 2 features a vast world to explore with plenty of collectibles to find, memorable characters, and exciting gameplay mechanics. Image & Form has taken everything great from the first game and somehow made it even better for the sequel. This is yet another amazing game for the Switch in a year of amazing games! Don’t pass it up.