Image & Form’s SteamWorld franchise has become somewhat of a household name among the Nintendo eShops as of late, with games spread across Switch, 3DS, and Wii U gathering almost nothing but praise from players and critics alike. SteamWorld Dig 2, which is perhaps unsurprisingly the sequel to the rather wonderful SteamWorld Dig, has now found its way to the 3DS after an initial launch on Switch last September. Of course, the only question that remains is whether or not this new port is worth your time and money.
Before we get stuck into any comparisons between this version and the one on Switch, though, let’s take a look at the actual game itself. Picking right up where SteamWorld Dig left off, you’ll be taking control of Dorothy (the shop-owner from the first game) as she sets off on an exploration to find her good pal, Rusty. Right from the off, this sequel makes you feel warm and welcome in the familiar glow of the franchise’s world, yet everything appears to be on a much bigger scale; even from its earliest moments, SWD2 hints at a larger world full of more characters to greet you and more ways to level up your very own heroine.
Rather than simply saying that the game feels ‘bigger’, though, we’d actually describe it as being refined. Just like the first game, you’ll be digging your way through deep mines to reach specific plot points, with the same gameplay loop of ‘explore, collect minerals, and then return to the surface to cash in and upgrade’ still perfectly intact. This could easily have become an all-too-familiar and lazy sequel, but that couldn’t be further from the truth; while most aspects of the game draw upon its predecessor, almost every single area that could have been improved has been.
Let’s take the customisation possibilities as an example; the game’s difficulty remains on the slightly-too-easy side of things for the most part, but you can alter your experience according to how you’d like to play. In-game options allow you to display plot-point markers on your map to direct you if you’d like the assistance, but you can just as easily turn these off and be greeted with a sturdier challenge that will present you with a much heavier focus on solo exploration.
It is perhaps the gameplay and level design itself where things have been most significantly revamped, however. Rooms are scattered around the mines containing puzzles that will reward you a prize upon completion and, while this idea was present in the first game, they’ve been taken to a whole other level here. Many puzzles - as enjoyable as they are - are simple enough to blast through in one or two tries, but more than a handful had us grinning at the suddenly cheeky design, forcing us to utilise all of our available skills and equipment in grand swoops of platforming excellence like an overly excitable version of Batman.
The goodies you receive from these puzzles, which are usually small cogs, can be traded in for upgrades in what is essentially a skill tree. The minerals you collect will enable you to level up the equipment you’ve unlocked up to that point, with the cogs then being able to add extra qualities to your gear on top. The best part about this is that you can remove cogs that are being spent on one ability, and then place them on another whenever you like. This means that if you’re heading to a place filled with lava but don’t have a lava-resistance skill enabled, you can take a trip back to the workshop and shift your abilities around to suit your needs.
The plot and story elements also seem to be a little tighter this time around, with numerous nods to the first instalment and a generally ominous overtone present throughout. This is added to by a wonderful main musical theme that gave us dark and groovy ‘80s synth vibes à la Stranger Things – Netflix’s 2016 sci-fi hit. Some sections within the game’s world feel entirely different, too, including a jungle and a fittingly creepy sci-fi type environment. These areas are a complete breath of fresh air as they introduce new types of scenery and enemies, forcing you to change up the play-style you’ve become accustomed to from other locations. We’d have loved to have seen these areas be explored even further.
In fact, just like the first game, our only real complaint here is that everything is over all too quickly. It has to be said that the length of this game will vary massively between players, and the extent to which you choose to explore will have a large impact on your overall playtime, though. For the sake of clarity, our playthrough took just under six hours, in which time we managed to defeat the final boss and reach the credits, but had only unlocked around 20-25% of the optional collectibles.
Jumping back into hoover these up will add a few hours on, of course – and we’re eager to do just that as the exploration is incredibly fun – but we’d still love a little more story content to flesh out the world further. When our only real complaint is that we want more it’s clear that we’re on to a real winner, and in all honestly it’s hard to find any other areas that we’d change given the chance.
Finally, to provide that comparison between the 3DS version and the Switch release, we have to admit that we are really impressed. While this version could never compete with the Switch from a graphical perspective, the game’s beautifully designed world still shines brightly on 3DS. Menus and maps have been jiggled around nicely to suit the 3DS’ setup, and a solid 60fps performance when playing both in 2D and 3D makes this an excellent port of the game from a technical point of view.
If you have the option to choose between the two versions, we’d have to side with Switch thanks to the stunning graphics and the available option to swap between handheld and TV modes. That said, the 3DS version should not be taken lightly and stands up in its own right as a fantastic piece of software.
SteamWorld Dig 2 is a wonderful sequel to the already impressive SteamWorld Dig, and this 3DS port of last year’s Switch release does not disappoint. Taking everything that was great from the original, and improving it even further, SWD2 can stand proudly near the top of the list of ‘must play’ titles on the Nintendo eShop. The Switch version of the game might just win the battle over its smaller cousin thanks to its graphical power and TV functionality, but we guarantee you will love every moment of this title no matter which platform you have at your disposal.