Yacht Club Games has gotten a lot out of mileage out of the simple premise of Shovel Knight. If your weapon of choice is a shovel, you basically have two options: dig or whack people with it. Shovel Knight Dig emphasizes the former, taking the title character's signature garden tool and using it to dig far beneath the surface. The result is a fun, if way-too-brief, adventure that continues to show the far-reaching potential of the Shovel Knight character.
A 'hole' lot of trouble
The story of Shovel Knight Dig is a simple one. This tale is set prior to the events of the original game and sees a troublemaker named Drill Knight swipe Shovel Knight's sack of supplies and take it as far underground as he can go. The idea is for Shovel Knight to take his weapon of choice and use it to give chase, digging through dirt, and taking out any enemies along the way. Shovel Knight's DuckTales-inspired pogo attack, in particular, will get a lot of use in this game and feels satisfying to use.
Shovel Knight Dig is a straightforward, procedurally-generated adventure with a few minor roguelike elements. Players will have to start the adventure over upon dying, but the campaign is so brief that it doesn't feel like that much of a setback. That's also because Dig is a refreshingly simple, but still satisfying, romp through a handful of unique environments. Digging is easy, but the challenge comes in managing the various enemies and obstacles that pop up over the course of each game.
Shovel Knight Dig sessions will always start in Spore Knight's domain, but the layout of every stage will be randomly assembled. The goal remains the same and that's to pick up enough treasure to purchase upgrades, both temporary and permanent, from shopkeepers either stationed in hidden areas or from the ones hanging out prior to the start of each run. Those upgrades can then be used to keep Shovel Knight alive or give him a boost against minor enemies and bosses who are both new and familiar to long-time Shovel Knight players. Some of those familiar faces will include bosses from the series' history and this is where Dig starts to feel more like a core Shovel Knight title. Boss fights feel challenging with unique patterns and twists to memorize and they honestly feel like they're pulled straight from the original Shovel Knight, but in a twist that's unique to Dig, the boss room layouts are also randomly generated.
The formula is easy to grasp: Shovel Knight digs through dirt in a straight line and occasionally does some light platforming. In many ways, it feels like the foundation for what a genuine Shovel Knight sequel could look like. Developer Nitrome makes runs more interesting by offering branching paths, hidden Relics, and secret rooms. While it only took me a few hours to complete the campaign, there is still plenty to do and the procedurally-generated nature of the game does make me want to revisit it.
Where Dig might play a bit dirty is with certain enemy types and specific obstacles that are difficult, if not outright impossible, to avoid. Worse, there's a mechanic where if the player dawdles too long, a giant buzzsaw will bust through and take up half the screen. This is meant to keep the player from idling for too long and that feels fine at the start of the game, but when later sections of the game require going through puzzle sequences, having that killer penalty dangling overhead like the buzzsaw of Damocles starts to feel unfair.
I greatly enjoyed my time with Shovel Knight Dig, mainly because of the inventive central digging mechanic and the implementation of classic series elements. That includes the 16-bit visual style and the toe-tapping soundtrack that feels like it fits in perfectly with the Shovel Knight world. I had such a good time with this adventure that I felt like it ended way too soon. Dig is about the length of many old-school NES/SNES platformers, which means it's possible to complete the story from the beginning in somewhere between 20-30 minutes. Given that one of the upgrades players can work towards is the ability to skip stages, I thought Dig could have easily kept the fun going for a lot longer.
I had hoped that Dig would be an adventure on par with the original Shovel Knight, but instead, it feels like every bit the spin-off and side story that it is. It's certainly not a bad game, but fans for hoping for a more substantial adventure will have to dig a little deeper.
This review is based on a Steam digital code provided by the publisher. Shovel Knight Dig will be available on Friday, September 23 on PC, Nintendo Switch, and Apple Arcade for $24.99 USD. The game is rated E10+.
Shovel Knight Dig
- Fun central premise
- Challenging, well-designed boss battles
- Procedurally-generated stages feel refreshing
- Strong soundtrack
- Short campaign that feels like it could have gone longer
- Giant buzzsaw is a nuisance during puzzle sequences