Steamworld Dig 2 is a gentle jewel

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I’ve got a hookshot. Have you got a hookshot? I bet you don’t. I bet you’ve just got hands. Borrrring. Despite Steamworld Dig earning John’s admiration (so much so that he also used the comedy word “aplomb” when describing it) I had never played it. But I’m glad to have picked up its sequel, Steamworld Dig 2 [official site], in which a friendly robot called Dorothy goes looking for her uncle Rusty, the hero of the first game, in the deep mines beneath a western-style town. To get ever-deeper she has to dig, fight insects, plant bombs, and most importantly, hookshooooot.

There’s nothing particularly new in how Dot goes about her mining. This is a deep tunnel of earthy platforming supported by metroidvania crossbeams. You chip away at tiles with the pickaxe, some bits of ground taking more hits than others and some being indestructible, while looking for precious gems with which to upgrade your bot-bod. You buy these from the workbench in town. A souped-up pickaxe means tiles crumble faster, for example, while a bigger bag means you can hold more gems.

Dig deep enough and you’ll eventually find the next pneumatic device that grants a new power. You get the most useful abilities in the first few hours. Water-pressure bombs let you damage stone or dirt from afar, hydraulic limbs allow you to sprint, and a drilling arm bores through previously-impassable brick. At one point I went to explore the east of town, above ground level, only to be blown away by fierce, sandy winds. Later, I returned with my blessed hookshot and used it to anchor myself to the rocks and pull against the gales.

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These principles are not in themselves surprising or original. But there’s a gentleness to how it’s all applied. The platforming controls are welcoming and smooth (you can climb any flat wall just by repeatedly jumping up it) and levelling up is a steady, mellow slope, rather than an awful grind. Much of that is simply the game being kid-friendly, but it’s also “fed-up-adult-friendly”. There’s something soothing about devoting twenty minutes of your evening to digging for your next robo-power, or the next milestone in this light-hearted story of greedy robots and idiot, mutant humans.

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I like Spelunky, but I’ve always found it hard to get any prolonged satisfaction from it. It’s difficult, you die quickly, and then everything is different. Although Graham might bury me alive for saying so, it always feels like too much of a throwaway adventure. Steamworld Dig 2 feels like the antidote to that. It doesn’t demand a disproportionate slice of time, but it doesn’t kill you at the drop of a pug either. There’s balance and moderation in these mines – a bit of danger in the burrowing snails and fire-throwing cultists, but safety in a staggered network of fast-travel tubes. If you are crushed by a falling boulder, there’s no game over, just a loss of some gems you would have traded for cash. No worries.

It’s not going to surprise you with revolutionary ideas or mechanics, although it never intends to do so. It’s just an affable, traditional and pleasant videogame. What’s the word I’m looking for? Ah yes. Wholesome. It’s like some hot soup on a cold day. Except you dip your bread with a hookshot, instead of a hand.

You can get Steamworld Dig 2 for PC and Mac on Steam for £14.99/$19.99

11 Comments

  1. Chuckaluphagus says:

    I enjoyed the predecessor (and the tactics offshoot Steamworld: Heist) a great deal, so this was an immediate purchase for me. I’m enjoying it quite a lot – it’s fun, it has an excellent difficulty progression curve so far, and it’s visually lovely. There are all sorts of little touches of polish and refinement that show how much care was put into this game.

    Also, I have the hookshot. Not quite a Worms ninja rope, but very satisfying. I also love that there are little tricks you can play with it: for instance, vs n phygvfg vf nobhg gb uhey n synzvat fcrne (vgf nez vf envfrq gb guebj), lbh pna orna vg jvgu gur ubbxfubg naq vg’yy syvc nebhaq naq uhey va gur bccbfvgr qverpgvba (ROT13 for those who don’t want to have tricks spoiled). The timing can be tricky, but it’s a great detail.

    • hommesansclef says:

      Logged in to reply to Chuckaluphagus: Made me smile to read your comment today. I think all forums on the internets should start using the caesar shift for spoilers. Thanks!

    • Ejia says:

      That sudden shift was slightly concerning. Thankfully it was intentional, and not a sign of being possessed by whatever you’d unearthed in the game.

    • Nixitur says:

      I like that it, once again, has an achievement specifically for sequence breaking. And I actually almost got it by accident because I didn’t know what other upgrades I’d get. There was just one place I couldn’t get past, but am now fairly sure I know how.
      The main trick for sequence breaking you’ll need is that lbh pna syvat lbhefrys ol fubbgvat gur ubbx fubg hcjneqf, eryrnfvat nf yngr nf cbffvoyr naq fjreivat nebhaq rqtrf. Lbh pna trg guebhtu gur Vaare Fnapghz naq gur Grzcyr bs Thvqnapr jvgu whfg gung. (ROT13 once again)
      That is definitely intentional, but you can get through most of the Temple of Guidance without the hook shot entirely which probably isn’t because you can’t finish it.

  2. hommesansclef says:

    I enjoyed Steamworld:Dig #1, but found it ran a touch long given its relatively simple play. SteamWorld:Heist on the other hand is a fantastic and fun 2D tactics game and I immediately started a second campaign after I finished my first. These are really well-made and enjoyable games. Would encourage everyone to give these a go.

    • Nixitur says:

      Well, I can tell you that this game’s play is far less simple. You are very mobile (running and walljumps) from fairly early on and only get more mobile the further you go.

  3. Ghostwise says:

    C’mon mate, “aplomb” is a WAY BETTER word than “wholesome”.

  4. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Very good game, second best metroidvania this year easily. Best mashup of Boulder Dash, Spelunky and Metroid yet.
    Maybe it’s just a little bit too niceguy and unpunishing but we can always go back to Spelunky and Dark Souls.

    • Chuckaluphagus says:

      I’m curious: what’s your favorite Metroidvania of this year?

      • Chaoslord AJ says:

        That would be Hollow Knight then.

        • Chuckaluphagus says:

          I’ve seen it but haven’t yet played it – it’s on the list. Thanks.