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Impressions: Shovel Knight Dig is my new roguelite gaming addiction

Dig deeply enough in <em>Shovel Knight Dig</em>, and you'll find trippy treasure just like this.
Enlarge / Dig deeply enough in Shovel Knight Dig, and you’ll find trippy treasure just like this.

Yacht Club Games

Shovel Knight Dig has been on our radar since its announcement in 2019—back when games could be revealed and immediately demonstrated at physical gaming expos. That many years ago, Dig was one of a few planned series spinoffs, and its demo at that year’s PAX West show floor filled me with dungeon-digging excitement.

This week, the series’ third formal spinoff finally goes on sale on PC, iOS, and Nintendo Switch, and in great news, Dig is easily the best Shovel Knight offshoot yet. What’s more, it stands out compared to other arcadey, action-focused roguelites, and the result feels like a depth-filled mod for the mobile classic Downwell.

A new pit stop on the randomly generated road

Lots of silly chatter surrounds a new massive chasm in this otherwise peaceful village.
Enlarge / Lots of silly chatter surrounds a new massive chasm in this otherwise peaceful village.

Yacht Club Games

Shovel Knight has reasons to dig with his namesake weapon in search of treasure, secrets, and revenge. If you’re interested in this character-filled story, Dig‘s interactions with beautifully drawn and animated animals are as charming as the plot found in the mainline series’ four campaigns. Or you can mash buttons to skip the dialogue and get to the satisfying digging.

Control in this new 2D side-scrolling game resembles the mainline series, as well: Use an action button to swipe your shovel left or right (or downward if you hold down on the D-pad) while your hero lands from jumps and falls with his shovel facing downward, which not only harms vulnerable foes but also makes the Knight bounce upward off most stuff it contacts, except certain ground types. Instead of running left or right to a goal, Shovel Knight now digs downward through randomly generated levels (with a few left and right exceptions, usually found in the game’s wealth of hidden challenges).

Thanks to so many action-driven roguelikes and roguelites from the past 10 years, we’ve been down this randomly generated road before. Yet the development team at Nitrome (Super Leap Day) quickly establishes its savvy on how to pump variety and fun into randomly generated depths. One of its best differentiators is its application of gravity. While the popular game Downwell constantly drops players at high speeds and forces rapid reactions, Dig frequently gives your Knight a chance to land, survey his immediate depths, and notice what his pesky jumping ability will and won’t reach.

Each descent is broken up into smaller stages, and each stage includes a crucial treasure chest at its conclusion. Should you find each stage’s three golden gears, you can unlock this chest’s bonus item, which includes run-saving goodies like additional health and special abilities. (Like in other roguelites, health can be scarce, and too much damage can spoil a run in an instant.) Speedrun past these golden gears, and future, enemy-filled stages become trickier to survive. As you shovel through destructible terrain and drop to lower platforms, each levels’ golden gears, along with other useful pickups, will appear in tricky, hard-to-reach corners. They’ll require that you selectively leave some terrain and enemies unspoiled to nail a high-enough bounce.

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