Hot off the heels of last year’s Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon, developer Yacht Club is back again to collaborate with another dev for another rogue-lite release. Shovel Knight Dig doesn’t have the amount of run variation that the previous puzzler had, but there are a ton of level chunks, considering the length of the game. If you just want to see the ending, the developers made it surprisingly easy to blow through the game, even without utilizing the included accessibility features. Unlike the previous title, this does play more like classic Shovel Knight. It might not last you all that long, but there’s a high-quality title here all the same.
Shovel Knight Dig kicks off with Drill Knight using his titular tool (a drill. By titular I mean his name, not the name of the game. I didn’t put enough effort into that bit of alliteration. Apologies.). In the process, he steals Shovel Knight’s bag of goodies, so our armored blue bestie jumps into the hole to get his crap back. A run is comprised of four separate areas (the first and fourth of which are always the same) that ends with a boss fight against the dastardly, digging deviant. Okay. No more alliteration, I promise. Probably.
If you’re expecting the Shovel Knight equivalent of Dead Cells, be aware that this is a much briefer experience. I defeated Drill Knight in under four hours of playtime, although that was with using armor that reduces damage, a warp to the last level, and the health bumps that come with said warp. If you want to do things with less favorable armor and no warping, it’ll likely take more practice than that. But Shovel Knight Dig isn’t that difficult of an experience, which is surprising considering how challenging the original game was and how agonizingly difficult a lot of rogue-lites can be.
White knuckles grip, pushing through for the gold
Since you’re not playing a unique puzzle game, the action in Shovel Knight Dig is considerably more familiar. This is a 2D game where you’re generally moving downward through the levels. By default, Shovel Knight can jump, swing his shovel, and he automatically utilizes a downward stab upon falling, making things feel a bit more like a classic platformer in some respects. Naturally, he also uses his shovel to dig into various types of dirt. You can even chain together digs while jumping, which is handy. A specific NPC, once found, allows you to buy a few additional moves, such as one that lets you charge up a more powerful hit. You lose all of these if you die, though.
Shovel Knight starts each run with just four health blips. Many attacks and traps only do half a health blip of damage, but others remove a whole one. There are a few ways to get your health up, however. Gastronomole’s shop can be found randomly, which allows you to purchase foods that will refill a certain amount of health or add an extra health blip. You’ll also find a character who runs a lottery that can reward you with an extra blip, among other things. You’ll also find little bags on the occasion that either contain a relic or health or magic upgrades.
It’s called “magic,” but most of the sub-items that Shovel Knight finds during his travels are more like sub-weapons in classic Castlevania games. There’s a small shovel he can throw, a horn that damages enemies in its vicinity, a device that allows him to get an extra jump, among others. These are quite powerful, and can make short work of many of Shovel Knight Dig‘s bosses, so they’re well worth having on hand. That being said, Shovel Knight’s default skillset is honestly more than enough to deal with anything that comes his way.
Grind my gears
You always start the game off in the first section. Each of the four sections has four levels within, comprised of three regular levels and a boss battle. All of the sections offer different enemies, tilesets, and hazards. In the three non-boss levels, you’ll find three golden gears sprinkled throughout. Find all three and you can use them to open Drill Knight’s drill at the end of the level. This drill always contains your choice of full healing or a relic. Relics grant Shovel Knight perks that, yes, you lose upon death. The only thing you don’t usually lose after dying is most of the currency you find.
The perks are mostly useful and run the gamut from one that lowers prices at shops, to letting Shovel Knight jump higher, or even a feather that resurrects him with full health upon death. Most levels end with a fork that lets you pick from one of two entrances to the next level. A signpost will clue you into what awaits you in each, but they won’t make much sense to you early on without actually going in there and seeing what the difference is. By the time you figure that out, you may have already had your fill of the game.
There are six different sections in total, each with its own different boss. The bosses are honestly fairly easy, including the final boss, who I beat on my first try despite only having four health blips. You can shop and talk to folks above ground before jumping into the hole. Early on, you’ll unlock an NPC that lets you immediately travel to a specific section, given that you have the money to unlock the ability to travel to each, as well as pay the ticket price. None of this is honestly all that expensive. It wasn’t long before I just unlocked Drill Knight’s lair.
Better red than dead
You’ll also find an NPC that makes you more armor. The blue armor is obviously your default, but the red armor is also immediately available for unlocking. This reduces the amount of damage you take as well as allows you to keep one of the relics from your last run. The only caveat is that fewer gems spawn for you to grab. You’ll unlock more armor by following clues to find blueprints in the levels. You can also spend money to pay for new relics to unlock for finding. Finally, an NPC sells keys to unlock routes to relics and expands your capacity to have more items follow you, such as keys and eggs. You use the keys to unlock chests or doors, but you can lose them when you get hit.
I had a good time with Shovel Knight Dig. I would have preferred a “use currency to slowly improve your character in order to survive” approach, but everything works well enough as is. Especially the returning emphasis on collecting valuables, which tickles the pleasure centers as much as always. The game is certainly lighter on content than I was expecting and I don’t think most will put all that much time into it, but it’s nice to have Shovel Knight dig into his roots again.