Developer: Image & Form International AB
Publisher: Image & Form International AB
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PS Vita
Release Date: September 21, 2017 (Switch),
September 22 (PC), September 26 (PS4, PS Vita)
ESRB: E for Everyone
Note: This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game
Four years ago, SteamWorld Dig propelled Swedish studio Image & Form to indie game developer stardom. Given its breakout success, it only makes sense that they'd return to it at some point. In many ways, however, making a direct sequel was just about as risky as it was for them to pivot to a completely different genre with their last game, SteamWorld Heist. Why? Offhand, it's difficult to imagine where they could go further with the Dig formula, and a sequel could easily have been too much of the same with not enough new content added to justify it, and thus seem unnecessary in the end.
The good news? This isn't at all the case with SteamWorld Dig 2, and -- against all odds -- Image & Form have created a fantastic sequel that improves on its predecessor in just about every way, delivering something truly memorable as a result.
This time around, you play as Dorothy (aka 'Dot') -- the young, female steambot who was an NPC merchant in town in the original title -- who is on a journey to find Rusty, the original protagonist, whom has vanished following the events at the end of the first game.
Dot's travels take her to a mining town called El Machino, where rumors report that a steambot wearing a red scarf has descended into the mines there. Also along for the ride this time around is new supporting character "Fen" -- a digital sprite with snarky, condescending humor who serves as a sort of guide for Dot.
At the start, SteamWorld Dig 2 does feel an awful lot like the first game, especially for the first third or so. The main gameplay cycle -- digging down into the mine, recovering ore, selling it in town, and upgrading your character -- remains intact here and forms the core of the design. However, the game manages to retread similar ground while greatly improving the formula and overall experience at the same time. For example, whereas Dig 1 is entirely a vertical descent, Dig 2 features a certain amount of horizontal exploration as well. As a result, the in-game world is considerably larger and more fleshed out than the one found in the first game. Dig 2 also features a slew of nifty new enhancements Dot will acquire (ala Metroid) as she progresses that help expand her means of exploration. Some enhancements may be familiar, but others are actually different altogether from what Rusty received in the last game, which is something I appreciated.
In addition to upgrades you can buy for the different items and modifications you acquire throughout the game, SteamWorld Dig 2 introduces 'Cog Mods,' in which you use various cogs you acquire to unlock new augmentations and skills that make things more efficient for Dot. For example, one mod causes enemies to be pushed back on impact when using the pickaxe to attack them while another might reduce any fall damage you receive. It's a neat way of letting players further customize their own game experience.
Also making a return from the first game are individual caverns that you'll come across; each of which have a certain theme to them, where they either reward you by completing a challenging platforming exercise, or puzzles that must be solved using platforming elements. And coming off of the last game, Image & Form have really upped their game design skills with these, as they offer some of the most challenging yet rewarding gameplay in the game. Many of the caverns' designs toward the end are absolutely brilliant.
Not to be outdone, it must be said that the story in SteamWorld Dig 2 is leaps and bounds above the original's.
While the overall narrative of Dot searching for Rusty stays intact, there are a number of twists and turns that fans of the first game will especially appreciate. There were moments I certainly didn't see coming, and a number that really stand out due to how off the beaten path the story goes at certain points. Even the relationship between Dot and Fen evolves over the course of the game and becomes one of its best highlights toward the end. Without spoiling anything, the story is utterly fantastic and plays nearly as big a reason as the gameplay as to why I'm so ecstatic about the game.
Finally, both the visuals and soundtrack are outstanding. Image & Form solidified the colorful, cartoonish look they were going for with their last game, SteamWorld Heist, and it carries over nicely into Dig 2. The graphics look especially vibrant on the Switch's handheld screen; if you own one, that's the way to play it. El Huervo of Hotline Miami 2 fame was tapped for the music this time around, and -- no hyperbole -- this is absolutely one of my favorite soundtracks of the year. Part of what makes it succeed is a lesser reliance on the typical "Steampunk/Western-sounding themes" and more of a focus on electronic and general video gamey-sounding beats. It's extremely catchy stuff, and while there a few different musical styles represented, they all work well together.
There's so much more I want to say about the game yet can't because of spoilers, but suffice it to say that SteamWorld Dig 2 blew my expectations out of the water with this sequel.
Dot's quest to discover what happened to Rusty leads to some fascinating and unexpected moments throughout the game, and you can really feel that the larger SteamWorld lore is being added to in significant ways with this title. Tie that all up with some of the most compelling Metroidvania gameplay, great puzzles, colorful visuals, and a serious contender for soundtrack of the year, and you've got yourself one amazing game. Go play SteamWorld Dig 2. You won't regret it.
+ Fantastic story that will keep you guessing
+ Large game world to explore with plenty of secrets
+ Level design is greatly improved and offers a good amount of challenge
+ Visuals are attractive and vibrant; production value is through the roof
+ One of the best soundtracks of the year
- No placeable items (such as ladders and torches) such as the first game had. This is not
a big deal in any way, but I did enjoy that option.
Overall Score: 9.5 (out of 10)
Once again, Image & Form has created something so incredibly polished and special that you could make the argument it's their best game to date. They've upped the ante in almost every way with SteamWorld Dig 2, from expanding the game world, adding great new features, and tying it all up with an excellent story.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a downloadable code provided by the publisher
Edited by Jason Clement