Since indie developer and 8 aficionado Sean Velasco and his Yacht Club Games crowdfunded their vision for an NES-inspired, metasoaked, retro-mystery platforming adventure, Nine years have passed, and the adventure stars a knight whose only weapon is a shovel. It’s been eight years since the Shovel Knight was first released, and it’s actually been eight years since I drove the bright blue, pint-sized little Shovel Knight. But yes, it’s that time again. Shovel Knight Dig has been released on every platform worth mentioning recently, and I’ve been alternating between playing Apple’s arcade version on the 2021 iPad Pro and Xbox Series X.
Shovel Knight Dig is not a classic platformer like the first game in the series, but a so called “Roguelike” that works the same way as Slay the Spire, Spelunky or why not Hades, I’d say this increasingly popular subgenre Not something I’m obsessed with, at least not immediately. I like to progress more than I like to hone, train, and improve myself within specific frames and sections, these types of games tend to be a little too monotonous for me. That said, I loved the Shovel Knight series and jumped into the Yacht Club sequel hoping to be converted. Now maybe that’s not quite happening, but Shovel Knight Digging is a high quality game that does most of the things just right, and in a short amount of time even managed to make me appreciate the wear and tear of Perma Death, only to be forced to start over. That’s thanks in large part to the super-fascinating design style, super-smooth music, and all the upgrades I could buy on the surface before throwing my light blue knight into the underworld to try again.
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Shovel Knight Digging begins with a small cutscene where Shovel Knight sleeps by a campfire in the woods, is awakened by an aggressive Golden Knight, stole all his gear in some kind of giant spaceship, and burrows into the ground. It’s about jumping into the same hole, getting your shovel ready, and chasing this evil villain, with four different mines to shovel through, each with three levels. Emeralds and diamonds are everywhere, they can be turned into items you can buy after you die, lose everything but these gems, and be thrown back to the campfire. The levels vary slightly between attempts, but they’re obviously not randomly generated, but involve many variations on each mine that you learn to recognize after many tries.
It’s very much about digging in this game, which fits perfectly with the character and his abilities. In order to move forward you have to go down to the bottom of the mine, whichever way you go, you often end up in pixel chaos when enemies suddenly appear, chased by deadly spiky wheels and terrifying giant worms that The fangs of the wheels are bigger than the Shovel Rider itself, and everything runs on time because if you stand still in one place for too long, you get caught. There are three golden gears on each track, if you want to buy the coveted red knight armor, you have to collect the golden gears, which requires some skill. The pace is fast and the difficulty has increased, and for me, who doesn’t play a lot of Roguelikes, the learning threshold is higher and more difficult than I initially thought when I installed the game.
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After all, the first Yacht Club game (released in 2014, as I said) was a very deliberate attempt to mimic an NES game, and Shovel Knight Dig looks more like a classic Mega Drive adventure starring Mickey Mouse The Illusion Castle or Quack Shot starring Donald Duck is comparable. The environments are nuanced and colorful, with lots of animated elements and gorgeous sprites wandering around like there’s no tomorrow. Everything from the menu graphics to the info signs, enemies, traps, and the Shovel Knight himself have been carefully crafted, and overall, this is a nicely packaged product.
Of course, if you liked the 2014 original, or maybe a true rogue addict, there’s nothing to wait here. Shovel Knight Dig is a super charming pixel adventure full of challenges, and although it’s a bit too fast and a bit drab at times, I’d have no problem giving it a “great” rating here.