SteamWorld Dig 2 – The Switch Island Review
As hard as game developers try, there has never been, nor will there ever be, a perfect game. It’s just not possible. Player’s tastes in games are so subjective, and even the best game in the world that appeals to the most people will not without its flaws. That being said, it is possible for a game to be a perfect sequel. Calling a game a perfect sequel is not a subjective matter, it can be directly compared against existing material, and so a bar can easily be set for game devs to aim for. And this is precisely what Swedish developers ‘Image & Form’ did with their 2017 sequel ‘SteamWorld Dig 2’.
A follow up to their 2013 game of the same name (minus the 2, duh), ‘SteamWorld Dig 2’ is an endlessly charming metroidvania platformer in which you play as Dot – a steam powered robot – as she searches for her missing friend Rusty, the protagonist from the first game. As she reaches the town of El Machina, Dot learns that Rusty has gone down into the mines below town, and that since his appearance strange tremors and earthquakes have been a regular occurrence. It quickly becomes apparent that there’s more going on here than meets the eye.
When I was first recommended the game by a friend, he told me not to bother with the first game as the sequel is better in every way, and though I understand why this would be a popular sentiment, the story here is somewhat of a continuation from the first game, and while playing the original is by no means necessary to understanding what’s going on, the narrative does reference the events of the previous game quite heavily. Furthermore, the goal of this game is to find and rescue Rusty, the protagonist of the first game, meaning any experience playing as Rusty will only add to the emotional investment in trying to rescue him. So personally I would recommend playing both games in order if you have the chance.
The overall narrative however is fairly simple. It doesn’t do much to change conventional story tropes, and isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. I was also left quite disappointed with the ending; not that it wasn’t good, just that it felt slightly underwhelming after the game’s pacing lost steam about two thirds of the way through. The game’s two boss fights also felt a bit underwhelming, and though what was there was good, they both felt underdeveloped and I was left wishing that more had been include. In the end they both seemed soft of pointless and out of place, however both were an improvement of the previous game which only had one boss fight right at the very end. Thankfully the story is not key to the enjoyment of SteamWorld Dig 2, with the main attraction – the real hook – being the incredibly satisfying gameplay.
The core gameplay loop here is simple; dig a way down into the mines, fend off various enemy creatures, and mine enough gems and ores to sell back at the trading post in town. Then use your hard earned cash to buy upgrades for your gear, allowing you to travel further and further into the mines. It’s this kind of simple yet addicting loop that will have you hooked for hours, and keep you saying “just one more go”. The challenge here comes from maintaining your three resources as you venture downwards; water, light, and health. Water is used to power your more advanced mining tools, light allows your lantern to illuminate the inside of the earth around you, and your health is… well its just that. All three of these will be depleted in various ways, and can be replenished by returning to the surface, doing so however requires you to visit one of the pneumatic tubes scattered around the map, and trying to make it back to one of these alive can provide some of the most nail biting moment-to-moment gameplay the game has to offer.
Exploring the mines is also far more enjoyable than before. Whereas the first game had elements of procedural generation, SteamWorld Dig 2 is a completely hand crafted experience and the quality of the map layout really shows because of it. Theres also more horizontal traversal as opposed to the original’s mostly vertical paths, which allows for more challenging platforming sections. On top of that there are even more caves to explore with puzzles that range from leisurely to fiendishly difficult, compare this to the first game where the cave systems were ok but where only a handful had memorable puzzles or layouts.
Last but not least, a very welcome improvement is the extra care the devs put into all the collectables and upgrades. Very early on in the game you’ll receive the same core mining tools used in the first game, with some being changed aesthetically but keeping the same function, however its later in the game that you’ll be given new tools such as the grappling hook and jet pack that make exploration and traversal so much more fun than ever before, with each piece of gear also being able to be modified with special perks that can make the game harder or easierr, as well as netting the player are rewards when mining. Also, as mentioned, the game has a huge set of collectibles, just enough to make me want to find them all, but not so many that doing so becomes a chore. Collecting them all also unlocks the end game content which I won’t go into now, but trust me, it’s worth it.
Overall the game has been improved upon by the devs in almost every single way. What worked before has been sufficiently fleshed out, and what didn’t has been dropped. The gameplay loop of exploration, mining, and upgrading your gear remains as addicting as ever. And although the story leaves something to be desired, it’s so much better than the first game it’s almost not even worth mentioning. This game really is a perfect sequel.