There were two moments within the first ten minutes of SteamWorld Dig 2 that stood out to me. The first was how the game simply lets you play; it doesn’t bog you down in lengthy tutorials and it doesn’t cripple the pacing with an opening cinematic. The next moment was when SteamWorld Dig 2 let me turn off its Metroid Fusion-style waypoints. That’s when I knew that this game was going to be wonderful.
I’ve seen a lot of pieces comparing SteamWorld Dig 2 to “Metroidvania” games in general. To be more specific, SteamWorld Dig 2 is more akin to a game like Metroid Fusion than it is to Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night; however, it isn’t quite as vast as any of those games.
SteamWorld Dig 2 gives you an open world blocked off by Metroid-like gates. These gates are more subtle than the literal doors found in Metroid games — here, they may be blocks of Earth that can’t be broken by your pick ax, or a chasm you can’t get over, or blocks you can break but aren’t able to reach at the moment.
This game handles the exploration of its world unlike any other I’ve played: instead of following corridors that already exist in the world, you’re digging most of those yourself. Oftentimes you’ll find areas that have already been dug around areas of interest like warp points that send you back to the hub area, mini-puzzles, or upgrades.
Most of the digging will be going further and further down from different eastern or western points, and you can’t jump and use your pick ax at the same time, so you’ll have to carefully plan the route you’ll be digging out (luckily, you can perform a series of wall jumps to climb back up holes you’ve dug yourself into). Waypoints can be toggled off and on from the aforementioned hub area. I found the game to be far more enjoyable and a little more challenging by playing with the waypoints turned off.
I loved every single upgrade that SteamWorld Dig 2 gives you. You get the first upgrade very early into the game and the presentation is almost ripped straight out of a Metroid game. The player character, Dot, walks into a huge steam machine that closes in on her — think of the giant capsule that Darth Vader hangs out in in The Empire Strikes Back. Dot is awarded with a new power when the machine opens back up, and this sequence happens for each major upgrade throughout the game. There weren’t any upgrades that I felt were redundant or out of place. Everything you get in SteamWorld Dig 2 is neat and fits right in the game’s world.
The only catch to the upgrades is that there isn’t a whole lot of backtracking in SteamWorld Dig 2. NPCs will give you an idea of where to go next even with waypoints turned off. A general lack of backtracking might be a plus for some, but that’s one of my favorite things about games like Super Metroid or Metroid Prime. I love finding a new upgrade and getting lost for hours trying to find the new area it unlocks. It’s a shame that there isn’t a whole lot of that in SteamWorld Dig 2.
SteamWorld Dig 2 picks up right after the first game. You play as a bot named Dot as she searches for the first game’s protagonist, Rusty, since he’s gone missing. The story really isn’t a major focus of the game, and this one can easily be played as a standalone title. What’s far more important here are the characters and writing — both of which are done fantastically in SteamWorld Dig 2.
Most of the characters you’ll interact with live in the game’s hub world, which is a small town on the surface. Each character up there has a distinct personality characterized by the type of bot they are; the mayor looks wild-eyed and crazy, and the first time you see him he’s ranting about “experts” and their “facts” regarding a recent breakout of earthquakes. Even then, the mayor lets Dot in the mine to find the source of these earthquakes, as Dot believes that they may be connected to Rusty.
You’ll be going back to the hub world pretty often, whether it’s to cash-in treasure you’ve found after a long dig or because you just died. The hub is connected to different areas of the underground world via a series of tubes that have been blocked off; the tubes are unlocked and the warp point is activated when you come up to the tube in the underground and blast away the rubble covering it up.
SteamWorld Dig 2 offers even further upgrades than what’s found in the typical “Metroidvania” game. At the hub, you can trade treasure found underground for gold, and then trade those gold pieces in to make your upgrades even more powerful. A couple hundred gold can make your pick ax more powerful (a must), give you more health, make your rocket launcher stronger, etc. Even more upgrades to your upgrades can be unlocked by infusing them with cogs, which are hidden throughout the underground world. I came across a good number of cogs throughout my playthrough of the game, and I never really felt under powered at any stage.
There are these mini-puzzles scattered throughout the underground world of SteamWorld Dig 2 that remind me a lot of the shrines in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. These mini-puzzles are represented in the world by doors that take you to a separate area, and within this area is a puzzle that forces you to use your upgrades in clever ways. One of the mini-puzzles that stood out to me was called “The Floor Is Lava.” The floor wasn’t actually lava (although it is much later in the game). Instead, the floor was covered with pressure plates that closed off a door ahead of you. To get through the puzzle, I had to use the hookshot to get by without ever touching the ground. The reward at the end of one of these mini-puzzles is usually a cog.
Combat in SteamWorld Dig 2 is always a foot note… Until the very end. There aren’t any true boss battles throughout the entire game until you reach the final boss. It’s a pretty frustrating final boss, too, because the game transitions from exploration and light combat to a frantic bullet-hell dodge-a-thon. It’s weird and a little jarring since this type of gameplay wasn’t found anywhere else in the game. It feels like this boss is only there to pad the game’s run time; even after taking a handful of tries to beat the final boss, I finished the game in just a little over five hours.
There are secrets to collect throughout the world, but I didn’t feel inclined to seek them out after getting a couple of them.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: The reviewer purchased a copy of SteamWorld Dig 2 for this SteamWorld Dig 2 review.