Shovel Knight Dig (Switch, iOS, PC)

Yacht Club Games has really seen success with their indie title Shovel Knight.  The original game seamlessly blended challenging NES style gameplay with one of the best 8-bit soundtracks since Mega Man.  And there have been lots of fun spin-offs, too, like a Smash style fighter and a puzzle game.  And now they’re dabbling into roguelikes with Shovel Knight Dig.  In the game, the evil Drill Knight has stolen Shovel Knight’s loot bag and escaped underground, and now his tunnels are causing earthquakes up above.  So as Shovel Knight, you must dig down to face him!  Shovel Knight Dig blends elements from the original game along with some from classics like Dig Dug and Mr. Driller, and presents them in a randomly generated level format where each run is different every time!  It’s currently available on Switch, iOS, and PC, but reviewed on Switch here.

You’ll start the game at Shovel Knight’s camp, but there’s a big hole in the middle of it.  When you jump down the hole, you’ll start the game from the beginning.  Your goal is to dig down vertically scrolling levels as far as you can.  You can swing your shovel and dig through dirt in any direction except up, and you can also swing at enemies to defeat them.  When you jump, you’ll automatically have your shovel downward so you can hop on things like a pogo stick.  But you’ll also want to hurry because a giant excavator is chasing you from above, and if it hits you it’s a one-hit kill.  When that happens or if you lose all your energy otherwise, the run is over and you’ll start back at camp again.  You won’t keep all your gold you’ve collected, but you can keep some of it as well as any permanent upgrades you’ve bought.  Sometimes you might get a special magic attack you can use with a separate button as well.

During your runs you’ll travel through three of the same type of area and then a boss.  You’ll repeat this four times until you get to the end.  This means the game can be pretty short, but there are TONS of hidden secrets, branching pathways, and even whole levels you may miss on a run.  In each area are three hidden gears to collect.  If you collect all of them, at the end of an area you can put the gears in a drill machine and choose between a power-up or a health refill, so you’ll want to get as many of those gears as possible as well as all the gems you can find.  At the end of three of these areas sits a boss.  Some are new characters like Spore Knight, while others are returning enemies with a new coat of paint for attacks, like Mole Knight in a water level or Tinker Knight in a lava area.

Back at camp, more and more people will gradually appear and let you spend your gems on temporary or permanent upgrades.  Another character will let you skip worlds for a price if you want to just move the story along or not have to repeat earlier worlds.  When Shovel Knight first came out, I thought it would be cool if they made a 16-bit style sequel called Super Shovel Knight, and then a 3D game called Shovel Knight 64.  Well this is probably about as close as we’ll get to the 16-bit game.  I like the retro yet detailed graphics and the music sounds like it’s coming directly from a SEGA Genesis.  The songs aren’t as good as the original game, but they’re still catchy.  Some of the level design ideas are cool, too, like a magic landfill area with warping portal walls and magic dirt that zips you in one direction.

Unfortunately, Shovel Knight Dig has a few problems that kept me from enjoying it more.  I’m not a big fan of randomly generated levels personally.  Especially since they make you repeat areas over and over again, which makes progress feel slow. And aside from a couple of items and pieces of armor, most of the upgrades don’t give you any noticeable perks.  And like the other titles in the series, this game is just too darn hard!  Luckily you can give yourself more energy in the option screen.  But I still don’t think it need to be that hard.  Especially since most enemies move twice as fast as you.  But otherwise, this is still a heck of a fun time while it lasts, as long as you don’t mind randomly generated levels and a high challenge.

Kid Factor:

Shovel Knight Dig is rated E-10 with ESRB descriptors of Fantasy Violence and Mild Blood.  Didn’t really notice any blood, but sometimes the ESRB counts squishy slime guts as such, but it’s all pixelly.  You whack baddies with a shovel and they just disappear or fall off the screen when defeated and that’s about as violent as it gets.  Reading skill is needed for the text, and younger gamers may find it too difficult.  Because of that, I’d say it’s best for older kids only.

Here are some more of my Shovel Knight reviews:

Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (Switch)

Shovel Knight Showdown (Switch)

Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon (PS4)

Shovel Knight Toys in Arby’s Kid’s Meals!

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