You know what Shovel Knight needs? More digging. At least that’s what developers Yacht Club Games and Nitrome (developer of Bomb Chicken) seem to have on their minds with their recent announcement of Shovel Knight Dig, a Shovel Knight spin-off game for the Nintendo Switch, promised to fans early next year.
Unlike the spry jumping of the retro-fied Shovel Knight series, Shovel Knight Dig is only concerned with getting the player as far down as they can get, provided they navigate a litany of gross, underground baddies and survive winding paths. Oh yeah, and there’s a massive, grinding buzzsaw coming from the top of the screen trying to kill you at all times, we forgot to mention that.
In this age of insta-comparisons, Shovel Knight Dig has a pretty direct one. It’s like a cross between Mr Driller and the arcade rogue-like Downwell, but with Shovel Knight characters. If you’ve already played Downwell a lot, or even if you haven’t, it might sound a little deflating if Yacht Club had left the concept at that and called it a day. But play the game for even a few minutes and it’s obvious this title is so much more. It looks grander, it plays bigger, and it’s as hard to put down as it is to get down. We only played it for a little bit, but it’s maybe as addicting as Shovel Knight, proper.
What’s there to say about the story? You are Shovel Knight and you go down into a hole after Drill Knight steals your stuff. Ah, but go one screen to the right before you take the plunge, and there is an added dimension of a shop where you can barter your hard-earned jewels to get power-ups for your upcoming dig (provided you’ve had at least one single play-through to accumulate wealth first). This is the very first clue that “Dig” has a bit of ambition underneath the light expectations of being a spin-off.
The game is a procedurally generated rogue-like, meaning the game randomly generates new screens every time you play it. While “procedurally generated rogue-like” might be the most overused combination of words this decade, it definitely works here. The core mechanics are such that if you get hit six times in a vanilla playthrough, you’re toast, and you lose most of your stuff before you have to start from the top of the hole again. Crucially, the game injects just the right amount of fun into every run.
Can you just button-mash the dig button to the bottom? Of course not. Enemies of all kinds give Shovel Knight problems, including ones he bounces off of, not to mention the dreaded one-hit-death spikes. And arriving at the bottom isn’t a cakewalk, either, given that while the screens are procedurally generated, Shovel Knight will still need to square off against his patented (or in homage?) boss fights.
Of course, the players themselves will often be their biggest source of annihilation; dotted pathways of gems leading to heightened danger are everywhere, as well as three golden spikes per level that, when collected, give you the option of a unique power-up you can hold until you die, or a replenishing to full health (your choice). It’s just that … they’re always in the most dangerous spots. Uh oh.
This element of juicy temptation pairs excellently with the nervous pace of the game. It all stems from that cursed death machine looming overhead. Should you try and dig over to that sparkly crack in the wall, or heed the warning of the shaking screen that’s indicating death’s imminent arrival? It’s up to you.
If you’re a fan of the series, you probably won’t help but notice that the game looks a touch glossier than you’re probably used to. Shovel Knight and all his surroundings are just a smidge rounder, with added pixels that make the Shovel Knight universe look shinier than ever before. It looks exactly how you’d expect the developers of Bomb Chicken to render Shovel Knight, which is to say it’s bouncy, colourful, but still very much carrying two-dimensional sensibilities (we also asked Yacht Club if Bomb Chicken himself was hidden away somewhere in Shovel Knight Dig, but our question was met with silence).
Don’t let the fact that this strange collaboration even exists alter your expectations of Shovel Knight Dig. Yacht Club was proud to tell us that it was, in fact, the one who approached Nitrome to create Shovel Knight Dig, seeing the project as a collaboration that just made sense to them. And after getting our hands on it, we think you’ll dig it, too. Or, sorry – it’s a blast. Dang it. Just trust us, keep Shovel Knight Dig on your radar. It rocks. (Sorry.)