I went into Steamworld Dig 2 almost completely blind. I’d heard it being discussed and that people were enjoying it, but frankly, I dismissed it. Then I saw a video showing off a few minutes of the game and describing it. With my limited knowledge, I was already hooked, and after playing a lot of Splatoon 2 and Zelda, I was hurting for a simpler 2D Switch game. I made an impulse buy, and it payed off - big time.
Tutorial & Gameplay
While its genre is rather ambiguous (Image and Form refers to it as “a platform mining adventure forged in Metroidvania flames”), at its core, Steamworld Dig 2 is a game about mining. You mine for ores. You sell the ores to get money, which you use to upgrade your tools and abilities. You use these improved tools to progress further. This creates a satisfying and addictive feedback loop that kept me going and made it tough for me to put the game down. I don’t think I played any other game until I completed it.
The game gets into the action quickly. There’s a little bit of backstory to the game, but none of it is necessary to enjoy it - just about everything I know, I’ve learned from playing the game. You play as a robot named Dorothy, searching for your friend, Rusty, the protagonist of the previous game. He appears to have been spotted in the nearby town of El Machino, a rustic mining town.
The tutorial introduces you to the basics of movement and mining on your way to El Machino. Before you can arrive, an earthquake occurs, plunging you into the ruins of a forgotten temple. In here, you get your first ability, the run ability! In true metroidvania fashion, it allows you to go back and pass through rooms you were previously unable to. It took me an embarrassingly long time to get used to this ability, but upon re-playing the beginning for this review, I felt like a ninja. Though this beginning section was a challenge initially, the more you play, the more the controls just click.
This tutorial ultimately culminates in a boss fight, after which you are introduced to a small sprite named Fen who will guide you (and make comments about explosives) throughout your adventure. This introduces the map and minimap, which come with a large, blue arrow that will point to your next destination. I found it to be annoying, so I turned it off as soon as I got into the town mine. I only used it (unnecessarily in retrospect) once or twice afterwards when I felt lost and didn't have the patience to figure out where exactly I was supposed to be going. It can be turned on and off in town at any time.
As you dig through the town’s central mine, you’ll discover smaller areas, simply called caves. These feel almost like shrines in Breath of the Wild (which, by the way, is another fantastic game you should play). They’re self-contained challenges with a central theme. Within, there’s usually a simple challenge to complete, for which you will receive a cog, as well as a harder or hidden challenge that unlocks a second cog or a collectible item.
Those cogs are used in town to add special abilities to your tools from blueprints. You receive blueprints in two ways. The first is simply to upgrade your items with the money you earn from ores you collect. Each time you upgrade something, it unlocks a blueprint for that item. The second way is by finding collectibles, or artifacts. There’s a guy in town who will give you different blueprints as your collection of artifacts increases - and there are a lot of them - 42, in fact. Each one contains a clever reference or joke that always made me smile.
The way that Steamworld Dig 2 handles its blueprint skill tree system is rather interesting. Rather than locking you to specific abilities, the game allows you to unassign and redistribute your cogs as you see fit.
As you progress through the game, you will discover new abilities in caves, which will allow you to progress further into the mine, while also opening up possibilities for secrets and ore in places where they may have previously been inaccessible. I didn't find this to be tiresome, for the most part, because the game does a good job of helping you know where to go next. It was less obvious when I was hunting for the rest of the secrets, but it is intended to be difficult.
Ultimately, my greatest gripe with the game is that I wish there was more of it. While the game has multiple challenging sequences, only two of them are technically “bosses” - the tutorial boss and the final boss.
I also felt that the story was lacking somewhat. I'm not aware of the lore in the other games, but I felt as if the story came to a rather abrupt end which left me a little unsatisfied. I hesitate to say too much for fear of crossing into spoiler territory, but I felt like I was supposed to have greater attachment for a character at the end. I was sad about the circumstances that had befallen this character, but I don't think I had known them enough for it to really hit home.
Despite my wishes that they could have added more to the game, a main playthrough takes about 7-9 hours and there’s still plenty of things to do to 100% the game afterwards. If you 100% the game, there is additional content as well, which I will not spoil (because I haven't finished it either) but it's very challenging.
- Incredibly fun gameplay
- Intuitive controls
- Relatively short
- Quick ending