Because the final 8-bit-style sport got here out, Shovel Knight has been branching out extra into different genres as developer and writer Yacht Membership charts a course for the place its eponymous nobleman will go subsequent. In December, we bought the fantastic Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon, which neatly blended falling block puzzle mechanics with roguelite sport design. Now, we’re getting one other roguelite in Shovel Knight Dig, solely this time the gameplay is way more in step with the action-platforming of the unique sport. As you’d most likely count on of this franchise by now, it’s an absolute blast to play; developer Nitrome (Bomb Hen) delivers a tricky, rewarding, and satisfying new expertise that sequence aficionados will wish to dig into instantly.
Shovel Knight Dig takes place someday earlier than the unique Shovel Knight, so Defend Knight hasn’t disappeared but and the Enchantress has but to rise to energy and type the Order of No Quarter. Right here, the primary villain is a brand new character named Drill Knight, who has fashioned a bunch of knights known as the Hexcavators to assist him in raiding a treasure room buried someplace deep throughout the earth. Their efforts to take action—and the large gap they’ve created—are creating issues for the folks on the floor, so Shovel Knight and Defend Knight dive in to attempt to resolve what’s happening.
Clearly, the story isn’t a lot of a spotlight right here, as this can be a extremely replayable roguelite platformer at the start. Even so, what’s right here creates a specific amount of intrigue as you possibly can’t assist however surprise what awaits you on the backside of the opening, and sequence followers will respect the various nods to different titles that happen in a while within the Shovel Knight timeline. For instance, it’s cool to see Shovel Knight and Defend Knight’s relationship performed out in additional than the transient flashbacks we get elsewhere within the sequence, and interacting with earlier incarnations of Mole Knight and Tinker Knight from earlier than their time within the Order of No Quarter offers some cool insights into the characters. The ‘lore’ isn’t very heavy right here, so franchise first-timers received’t really feel like they’re lacking out on a lot, however those that have performed earlier releases will respect seeing how this suits in.
Gameplay may very well be finest described as what the unique Shovel Knight sport would appear like if it was made with the design philosophy of Downwell. You play because the titular blue knight and begin every run by leaping into the opening, with the purpose merely being to get to the underside as quick as doable whereas amassing as a lot as you possibly can on the best way down. Every run is split up into biomes composed of three ranges, with a ultimate fourth stage consisting of a boss combat with that space’s resident knight. Every time you fall in battle, you’re introduced again to the floor and should attempt it yet again. You keep a few of your collected gems from every run, however in any other case lose all upgrades and stock objects that weren’t already everlasting.
Suffice it to say, the problem is brutal, however not essentially unfair. You don’t actually have that a lot well being to start every run, and although this will later be expanded through retailers and upgrades, therapeutic objects are sometimes fairly sparse. Most failures, then, aren’t since you hit a brick wall that you just couldn’t get previous, however fairly they’re deaths by a thousand cuts as each miscalculated bounce and tough enemy encounter provides as much as ultimately take a ultimate toll. You’d suppose the answer could be to easily take issues gradual and play it protected, however there may be always an enormous, invincible buzzsaw drill bearing down on you from above. More often than not, you don’t even comprehend it’s there, however if you happen to’re taking an excessive amount of time playing around and making an attempt to snap up each gem and collectable, it’ll catch as much as you quick and kill you immediately.
Given this, there’s a scrumptious type of rigidity to each minute of your run. Shovel Knight Dig actually adheres to the ‘rich-get-richer’ philosophy the place efficient play is rewarded with boons that make the sport even simpler, whereas enjoying poorly will make issues even tougher for you the longer you go on. It’s in your finest pursuits to gather as many gems as doable in your means down, as it will immediately provide you with extra potential to purchase relics, upgrades, and therapeutic objects if you happen to occur to return throughout a store. But, if you happen to don’t discover ways to successfully prioritize which teams of gems to seize and which of them to move on, you’ll discover the noticed ultimately catching you. Discovering that risk-reward line is a giant a part of the enjoyable of Shovel Knight Dig, and also you’ll end up slowly constructing a information base as time goes on and also you discover ways to finest deal with the myriad conditions and obstacles which will come up.
Although each stage is randomly generated, we appreciated how the varied stage gimmicks and enemy sorts right here got here collectively to provide a handcrafted really feel to those new biomes. Whether or not you’re bouncing between mushrooms, dodging between bubbles and swimming fish, or disarming bombs earlier than they go off, there’s infrequently a uninteresting second in Dig as you frantically swipe and bounce your approach to security. Importantly, moment-to-moment gameplay feels extraordinarily just like the unique Shovel Knight; you’ve gotten the very same moveset and even the physics really feel fairly related. Given this, it feels such as you’re all the time able to overcoming the limitations earlier than you, however to not the purpose that any of them are rendered trivial. Even the frequent mook enemies can land a difficult hit on you every so often, and the injury you’re taking there can imply the distinction between life and demise whenever you later fall into some spikes.
Alongside the best way, you discover methods so as to add to Shovel Knight’s repertoire and that is the place your survival probabilities go up significantly. In treasure chests or at retailers, for instance, you possibly can decide up Relics that provide you with entry to new limited-use objects to assist even the percentages. Whether or not it’s a type of short-range teleportation, a useful projectile assault, or a method of levitating briefly, every Relic has very clear use circumstances to assist get you out of a bind.
Moreover, you possibly can decide up upgrades in retailers that provide you with both flat bumps to your well being or magic stats, or useful passive skills like a gem magnet or a wider vary to your shovel swing. In case you’re diligent about amassing gems alongside the best way, you possibly can normally afford to purchase one or two issues in every store, however you by no means have sufficient to get the whole lot you need.
Moreover, there are three golden gears in each stage, positioned in apparent however barely difficult-to-reach areas. They normally require placing your self in additional hazard to choose them up, however if you happen to gather all of them, you’ll be given a selection on the finish of a stage between a full well being restore or a random new passive improve. These golden gears make a enormous distinction in your runs—the good thing about that full well being restore can’t be overstated—however they introduce one other variable to contemplate whenever you’re within the thick of issues and weighing your choices. We appreciated the gears’ function within the general gameplay loop; they problem you to step outdoors your consolation zone and push your self, however the prices of doing so will be excessive.
These of you who get pleasure from some meta development in a roguelite might be happy to notice that there are some everlasting upgrades that persist between runs. Leftover gems from a run might be tossed into your financial institution, and this will then be spent on issues like totally different armor units to tweak your playstyle or new sorts of relics that may then seem in subsequent makes an attempt. These upgrades aren’t of the range that can assure you succeed if you happen to merely keep on the grind lengthy sufficient, however they do supply up useful instruments and buffs that improve your probability of success past the bottom equipment. Maybe most significantly, it feels just like the financial system right here is well-handled, too; you possibly can’t simply purchase out the whole lot in a number of runs like you could possibly in Pocket Dungeon.
By way of presentation, Shovel Knight Dig jumps the franchise from 8-bit to 16-bit and brings with all of it the brand new constancy you’ll count on. The artwork model feels just like the pure development of what got here earlier than, and seeing beloved characters and enemies rendered in a way more expressive and detailed model is thrilling for Shovel Knight veterans. Environments are every given their very own distinctive coloration palettes and have quite a lot of enjoyable particulars happening of their backgrounds, whether or not that be slimy insect hives or moist, troupple-adorned ruins.
In the meantime, the soundtrack blends collectively remixes of basic tunes and all new music to make for a catchy backdrop to all of the slashing and dashing. Listening to extra difficult and layered music in comparison with the 8-bit chiptunes of the unique video games is fascinating, however none of it feels misplaced or out of step with what’s come earlier than. It does really feel just like the soundtrack is usually rather less memorable right here, although this admittedly might simply be a aspect impact of the extra intense tempo of the gameplay. You don’t have as a lot time to give attention to the music whenever you’re combating to your life!
If there’s one criticism that we now have about Shovel Knight Dig, it’s that it might really feel prefer it’s somewhat bit too quick, even by roguelite requirements. Our first full clear got here rather less than three hours into our general playthrough and although there are extra issues to unlock and check out for in subsequent runs, we have been nonetheless at over 50% completion for our file at this level. The content material that’s right here is actually top quality and nicely price your time, nevertheless it feels in some ways like that is extra of a aspect dish than a essential entrée. These of you in search of a Useless Cells or Enter the Gungeon-style expertise that would take dozens of hours to totally conquer could really feel somewhat disenchanted.
That stated, there’s additionally fairly a little bit of replayability right here past uncooked unlocks for these of you who’re extra aggressive. Although there isn’t any multiplayer, you possibly can submit scores out of your runs to the worldwide leaderboard to see the way you stack up, and there are additionally each day and weekly runs supplied to maintain you coming again. You possibly can kind these leaderboards to only present folks in your pals listing, too, permitting you to give attention to conserving your competitors extra native if you happen to desire. This leaderboard integration helps to maintain subsequent runs from feeling too grindy by offering a secondary incentive, as there’s all the time somebody on the market somewhat higher than you who you possibly can work to overthrow.