If you’ve never heard about the games made by Image & Form before, it is important to know that SteamWorld Dig 2 isn’t only the sequel to the first game in the SteamWorld Dig series, but it also takes place in the well-crafted and ever-expanding SteamWorld universe. These games are all set in an alternative reality in which steam-driven robots are the inhabitants of a Wild West-like world – as well as the space world of the turn-based strategy counterpart that is SteamWorld Heist. Now, SteamWorld Dig 2 returns to the moment that succeeds the events of the first Dig game in order to answer any open questions and fill some gaps on the chronology. SteamWorld Dig 2 is the latest from Image & Form, the Swedish masterminds behind previous SteamWorld titles including Dig, Heist, and the underappreciated SteamWorld Tower Defense, a Nintendo DSiWare title and the series' first entry. It takes place sometime after the end of SteamWorld Dig, as Tumbleton resident - and new protagonist - Dorothy leaves the deserted town to search for Rusty, who has gone missing following the events of the first game. Things are never quite as simple as they seem, though, and the search for Rusty throws up plenty of questions before it eventually answers them - it makes for an engrossing story that never lets up.
Armed with a handy pickaxe, a backpack and a lantern to light the way, Dorothy starts digging downward in search of clues. However, you don't want to just start digging willy-nilly. You should choose each strike of your pickaxe carefully since resources like gems and ore are embedded in the soil and once you've dug down, you can't really dig up and out due to Dorothy's set of moves. As you travel deeper and deeper, riches won't be the only thing to look out for. Enemies pose an immediate threat, and you can either risk taking them on for rewards or avoid them to preserve your health. Large rocks will fall on you if you're not careful, potentially crushing resources, but they can also clear chunks of earth below them. There are also many different types of rock to dig through. Some will give way immediately, while others will take multiple hits to destroy. Other stone will only budge once you've upgraded your abilities.
Most of the mines and caves you explore in SteamWorld Dig 2 are formed entirely of blocks. They vary in composition, so some may take more hits to be broken, some may ask for a specific approach or tool, and others are completely indestructible. Consequently, the game has quite the unique mindset for exploring. While it has a more vertical approach for platforming – because you’re constantly getting deeper into the bottom of the mines –, it also demands the player to think about the best way to shape the terrain. As strange as it may sound, for the most part of SteamWorld Dig games, the player has power over the creation of the level design itself.
Don’t leave the room yet if you’re not fond of the openness of creation-based games; SteamWorld Dig 2 is not one of those. Even though you can shape your surroundings, many different things will tailor your path. The many hazards you’ll encounter are just some examples. From acid and lava-filled pools to aggressive fauna and flora, Dorothy must choose the best route to have the upper-hand over the enemies and challenges. Each enemy has its own distinct behavior too, and must be dealt with caution. To make things more complicated, some of them also have power over the environment and can do things such as opening huge pits to make the player susceptible to fall damage.
The game's mining mechanic is fun in itself, but what makes the loot system extra satisfying is how it pays off. By returning to the main hub town of El Machino, you can sell your goods to Barnacle Jones for cold hard cash. In turn, you use this money to buy upgrades at Turtle Bucket's workbench. These upgrades are essential, but it's up to the player to decide which ones to go for first. A tougher pickaxe means you can dig more efficiently, saving time and quickly getting you out of jams when the going gets tough. A bigger backpack means fewer trips to the surface to trade your spoils, plus the chance for bigger payouts. Of course, you'll also want to improve your lamp to extend your visibility during trips, and your body armor so you can take more damage. This last bit is crucial, because when Dorothy runs out of health, she's scrapped, and must lose a portion of what she's dug up to go adventuring again.
This system puts players in a cycle of exploring, selling, upgrading and returning to explore again with enhanced abilities that make the exploration ever better. Because tubes are so frequent, it's possible to return to the surface every few minutes with a huge haul. This system feels extremely rewarding, as soon your enhanced gear makes you feel more powerful and better-equipped to take on anything. It also makes hours of gameplay feel like they flew by in just minutes. The workbench also allows you to utilize cogs. They're rare items that are carefully hidden throughout the world in tough-to-reach spots or locations that require quick thinking and puzzle-solving skills to locate. Even so, they're totally worth finding since they enable special upgrades, from enhancing the slots in your backpack with more space to improving the strength of your pressure bombs to giving you extra cash when you defeat enemies.
SteamWorld Dig 2 takes everything that made its predecessor so loved, gives us even more of it, puts it hand in hand with plenty of new stuff, and fine-tunes the entire experience in such a way that it just feels as though it was meant to be. It doesn't stray too far from the formula, but does what it does best, and does it with such sheer perfection that it's hard to see how it can be topped. I expect that the team at Image & Form are working on SteamWorld Dig 3, but until that day arrives, we can all enjoy their latest masterpiece - an easy contender for Nintendo eShop's game of the year, and a vital part of any Nintendo Switch library.