When it comes to Image & Form, the company’s name seems rather appropriate for what SteamWorld Dig 2 accomplishes. Take a small indie developer who publishes their own works, built an image for themselves and continue to form better & better games. When it comes to sequels, higher quality usually comes with the territory and the terrain of SteamWorld Dig 2 is leagues ahead of what has came before. They’ve taken the fine blueprint of their first Dig adventure, refined every department and have done so passionately because it shows. SteamWorld Dig 2 doesn’t just look and play better in every way, but it proves that Image & Form truly has talent to surpass even their own game design.
While kinds of dirt have different hardness, what’s not hard is being able to miss when you begin is the beautiful and smooth HD visuals. If you’re coming from the original SteamWorld Dig, it will be apparent how crisp the artwork is in comparison. I&F really upped the ante with Dig 2, especially when it comes to gameplay which there’s more to be said on that later, but definitely with its visual design as well. There’s plenty of more detail found with each individual piece of art and they all fit into the world seamlessly that at first I instinctively questioned that separate set pieces might stand out or look out of place, but they never do. The art here is high quality. Working with that, there’s even more happening with the numbered of background layers which pan at different speeds providing a sense of depth that is more noticeable than before. The colors really pop and everything is crisp. The quality you find in the beginning part of the game remains strong until the very end and the different locations themed much differently from each other show that off even further. Whether it’s gazing at the beautiful sky as the backdrop to fancying the glows of a luminescent underground jungle, or just taking in the new particle effects and lighting, there’s plenty to admire.
Players new to the series can join in with SteamWorld Dig 2 and feel at ease with the story. There is enough context given to know all that you need to. Our protagonist in SWD2 is Dororthy (or Dot for short) and she is in search for her friend Rusty, who was the protagonist last seen in SteamWorld Dig. Dorothy has given up exchanging coin for ore as she once did in SteamWorld Dig’s town of Tumbleton, to do it vice-versa as she goes on this quest of her own. It’s a very cute follow-up from the first game where she grew fond of Rusty; someone she wasn’t sure who had what it takes to mine. She couldn’t let the idea of not going after Rusty after everything he had done for her little ol’ town. Soon into the game players will meet with a hovering glowing entity who is cute, if not a smart ass, who is given the name “Fen” by Dorothy. Dot and Fen remain together for essentially the entire game as they both can get some use out of each other. In fact, as with the first game, unique characters with their own personalities are even greater here. It’s charming to see metallic mustaches flap as dialog is taking place and character designs match their robotic grunts perfectly. For no actual voice over for words, it’s very cute and works well.
The same crazy addicting gameplay loop managed to become even more satisfying. The team at Image & Form must have said “Let’s take what worked before and make it better. Every little thing”. Pacing is one thing that SteamWorld Dig is known for and this time around the pipes have been cleaned allowing even a better flow with much less breaks. Players are now able to earn experience points by defeating enemies and clearing objectives. The world itself above ground has more verticality and both it and underground are expanded horizontally creating at least double the world space found in the first game. This in turn works well with leveling as you’ll sometimes be tempted to venture off the directed path and encounter enemies or find hidden caves. These optional caves are even more varied in puzzles than before. If you’re familiar with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild‘s shrines, these are bitesize dungeons sometimes requiring finesse or crankin’ the ol’ brain’s cogs. Speakin’ of which, two additions which reward the player for exploring are cogs and artifacts. Both can be found in every known portion of the game.
Player freedom is more present. Gone are miscellaneous items you can stock up on. Instead, cogs behave like perk points. Almost every piece of equipment can be tailored to your play style. New Cog Mods unlock per new leveled version of that particular item and new blueprints can be unlocked when finding exact quantities of rare artifacts you exchange them for. These artifacts can be silly caricatures and pop culture references found within the game which can be accessed with detailed description in the pause menu. Some mods require a single cog while another will require 6. Fortunately for you, these can be slotted in and out at your leisure so long that you are at the workbench in the game’s central town El Machino. Sometimes you want that faster digging power or you may use those cogs for another mod which could heal your hearts when you’re in water. Keeping the flow without interruptions, pools of water will never decrease in size allowing you to use as much as you need to unlike the first game. Since the miscellaneous items are gone, so are portals you can place on the map. These are practically rendered useless anyway with how better the level design is in SteamWorld Dig 2. At respectable locations, there’s a pipe leading to town (or anywhere else) just when you need it. There’s even a special mod which allows you to travel back into town at any time as long as you’re not near an enemy, falling or in optional caves. When using the pipe system, there’s a very convenient feature on the map where a press of a button allows you to select the last location you’ve been to. If El Machino is the last location, you can seamlessly travel from your destined goal and back to town again without manually going through the individual checkpoints on the map if you don’t want to. Sell your gems, return quickly to your last dig site. It’s a brilliant little touch like that which shows Image & Form really likes to pay attention to the details. SteamWorld Dig 2 also respects difficulty. With certain mods, you can allow certain elements to be more difficult while reaping more rewards. The options here are customizable enough and never tamper with the main game’s amazing loop.
Furthermore, every item is now mapped to their own button so there’s no more need of swapping out your pickaxe for something else. All equipment work when you need them to without any delay. There’s a lot to dig up in SteamWorld Dig 2 and the developers made sure that players should always be having fun where there could be none. Players will be always wanting to purchase and upgrade the equipment they feel should have at that moment before returning to the digging scene. Should players die, they will resurrect in town with only a fraction of the ores found, unlike the first game where players can retrieve all of their findings back at the scene of death. Seems like a reason enough choice for some punishment this time around. Players still get to keep their coin, however, and it’s also earned in other ways if you really need it. A mod will allow you to earn coin when defeating enemies with the pickaxe and even certainly enemies drop crystallized blood which you can sell so players shouldn’t fret the loss of their shiny goods to the full extent.
The story beats roll themselves out slowly. Talking to a number of the bots in town after eventful points in the game will have something to say. You know what you’re after and who you’re looking for, but a number of obstacles in the world will get in your way. The variety and certain elements are introduced at the time right to keep things fresh. Just when you think you’re close to the end game, SWD2 sends you off a few directions to which you can decide how to tackle them. Everything you have worked up for to this moment has been worth your effort and the game makes sure to constantly reward you as you are going through these sections. You may feel totally awesome here if you haven’t already. All of this is even better when the mechanics themselves feel good as they do. The physics and momentum feel better than they have before. Wall jumping feels more precise and the abilities overall keep the game fast and rewarding, which ties into the convenience set in place. All of the mechanics in SteamWorld Dig 2 play off each other in smart ways and it feels super polished.
There are tons of secrets to find. There’s usually more than 1 offering to find in any given optional cave. Hidden in every part of SWD2 are routes and paths which are unseen unless discovered by a digging the correct tile block or by other means. A certain stone may blend in and play tricks on your eyes. The sound of a cog nearby or seeing an artifact behind a wall will tempt you to nab it. A cave icon on the map that has yet to receive a checkmark means that there’s still more secrets to find, so you’ll always know which area to explore. A percentage meter of total secrets found will also be exclusive to each location. A lot can be said about how engaging SteamWorld Dig 2 is. It’s Metroidvania genre with a Citrine twist and absolutely nothing Trashium about it. The pun is probably worth about $1, but that’s not the point. SteamWorld feels like it reduces the feeling of isolation in the genre that it’s in and adds a breath of fresh air; well, since you’ll also be coming up to see the sun a lot. The last line is definitely not worth $1.
The sound in the game is yet again satisfying. The sound of the different types of materials, be it dirt, stone, or metal… The pickaxe or jackhammer pounding away… The sound of picking up shiny gems is as satisfying as hearing the acoustic of ice cubes clink inside a hollow & empty drinking glass. The bill of sale, too. Enhancing all of this is the soundtrack to your adventure. It’s certainly atmospheric and never outplayed. All of the tracks are the right kind of moody. The game is stunning when playing in portable mode and the Switch’s speakers do the game justice. HD rumble is particularly done well here, too. Your first splash into water will convince you of it. Although, I would’ve particularly enjoyed having more rumble such as when Dorothy jumps/wall jumps. If you wanna go for everything, the game can take you about 12-15 hours to 100%.
These don’t detract from the game for not being in, but they’re something I would like to see in SteamWorld Dig 3. An icy themed area (think about how cool it would be to use steam to shrink ice tiles or even use melted ice to produce water). I’d also like to see a day/night cycle for the above world, if that’s still a thing. Seeing the Moon glowing in the official art looks gorgeous and would think that would just add a little bit more (assuming we’re not digging on the Moon!).