Rusty is missing. After hearing that the heroic steambot had been spotted entering the mine at El Machino, Dorothy McCrank abandons the now prospering Tumbleton and sets out to search for him. With constant earthquakes worrying the townsfolk and bots that enter the mine disappearing without a trace, there is enough mystery lingering in the sandy air to push Dorothy to investigate. And so, pickaxe in hand, your adventure in SteamWorld Dig 2 begins.
Introduced to the world as SteamWorld Quest when developer Image & Form Games chose to throw us off the scent, that red herring has resulted in a sequel that is in keeping with the adventurous spirit that SteamWorld Dig achieved – delivering a journey with unbridled ambition.
This platformer mining adventure will once again see you burrow beneath the surface in your quest to see what is causing the relentless tremors, and, ultimately, what has happened to Rusty.
Dorothy doesn’t travel alone in that quest, soon freeing a Vectron sprite that The Cult of the Destroyer had placed in a totem to worship. Letting loose pulses to zap them into the afterlife, the blue being reminds Dorothy of the nasty fenlights that her father told stories about and so she decides to call him Fen, for short.
Early on in your adventure with this unlikely companion, Fen repeatedly encourages your early demise – whether that be luring you to cliff edges to check out the view or pushing you to explore the mine without the light of a lamp. But, over time, you will come to enjoy the luminous blue sprite’s dry humour and quick wit.
Fen’s help is invaluable, mainly in that he scans the surrounding area to provide you with a map. And, accompanying that, the developer has chosen to let the player decide whether they would like to play with guidance or not – blue arrows and crosshairs forever pointing you in the right direction, or choosing to have no such markers at all.
Whichever you prefer, your initial progress will still be slow. With your pickaxe, backpack, and lamp at their basic tier, digging out tunnels will take time, Trashium will soon fill your pockets, and it won’t be long before the light from your lamp dims. Return to the surface and you can trade whatever ore and gems that you have collected with Barnacle Jones for some moolah, to then chat to Turtle Bucket about spending it to upgrade your tools. These increase your digging efficiency, add extra slots to your backpack to let you carry more ore and gems, or reduce the rate at which your lamp consumes fuel.
Digging with enthusiasm, accumulating moolah, and spending it to upgrade Dorothy’s tools is the ever-swirling cycle that has been carried over to SteamWorld Dig 2, that not only soon proves to be addictive but sees the repeated short runs become a perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch when playing on the move (or at home).
Defeating monsters that lie below the surface will reward the player with experience that, once Dorothy hits a new level, will lend them an incremental sell bonus to boost what they earn when trading their gathered ore with Barnacle Jones. That makes taking out the shadowy creatures a more worthwhile task, rather than players simply skirting around them.
With unblocking Transport Tubes opening up quick routes back to the surface, it won’t come as a surprise that there are greater rewards the deeper you dig. As your upgrades become increasingly pricey, the ore and gems that you mine become ever more valuable, too. Throw in the sell bonus, and nothing ever feels too far out of reach.
Hidden treasures, too, can be handed to cartographer Davy Bittenborough, the strange artifacts that you trade rewarding the player with blueprints that are used to unlock Cog Mods. These modifiers can be equipped on Turtle Bucket’s workbench, and are used to enhance your tools with cogs, unsurprisingly. Each requires a different amount and their selection isn’t permanent, with the player freely allowed to extract their cogs to allocate them in another way. Upgrading your tools, as well as the blueprints, will open up new improvements to you.
There’s some experimentation needed here to choose Cog Mods that will match or enhance your play style, but these will largely make Dorothy hardier and more adaptable – as well as increasing the rate of reward. There are those that let you deflect projectiles in mid-air, can reward the player with two resources from a single tile, prevent your light from dropping below 50 percent, or even make Dorothy resistant to acid or lava for a short time.
And then, helping you to overcome obstacles that litter your path, Image & Form Games eventually throw in the Pressure Bomb, Jackhammer, Jet Engine, and Hook Shot – four tools that will see you blast away dirt, pummel rock into submission, soar underground, and pull you across chasms. These can’t be used indefinitely and drain your water reserve, but allow the developer the chance for reinvention – placing caves that push the player’s skill in putting them to use, and boss encounters that will let you use them to keep out of harm’s way while taking down your attacker.
At this point, it’s worth taking a step back to marvel at just how well SteamWorld Dig 2 harmoniously pieces together the mechanics that underpin it. I’ve spoken about the addictive gameplay loop, tiered upgrades, and Cog Mods, but everything, coupled with a constant sense of discovery, results in an experience that really is remarkable.
Importantly, it’s a world that players will want to explore. That’s thanks to the impeccable art style that improves on the already tremendous work seen in SteamWorld Heist, and the personality-packed steambots that help breathe life into it all. Crank up Hotline Miami composer El Huervo’s soundtrack, and everything comes together to amount to something special.
And, after the credits roll once you reach the cataclysmic conclusion to SteamWorld Dig 2 it is worth taking a moment to look back at the map. Where SteamWorld Dig had really only let the player dig downwards, the network of makeshift tunnels that you carve out in the sequel are a reflection of the personal journey that you have taken. And that freedom, above all else, can be seen as the game’s greatest success.