Shovel Knight Dig has been on our radar since its announcement in 2019 – when games could be unveiled and immediately demonstrated at physical game exhibits. That many years ago, To dig was one of the few planned spin-offs to the series, and the demo on that year’s PAX West show floor filled me with dungeon-digging excitement.
This week, the series’ third formal spin-off finally goes on sale on PC, iOS, and Nintendo Switch, and good news, To dig is easily the best Kick Knight offshoot yet. Plus, it stands out compared to other arcade-style, action-oriented roguelites, and the result feels like a depth-filled mod for the mobile classic Downwell.
A new pit stop on the randomly generated road
Shovel Knight has reasons to dig with his eponymous weapon in search of treasure, secrets and revenge. If you are interested in this characterful story, To digInteractions with beautifully drawn and animated animals are just as charming as the plot in the main series’ four campaigns. Or you can pulverize buttons to skip the dialogue and go to the satisfying digging.
The controls in this new 2D side-scrolling game are also similar to the main series: use an action button to swipe your kick left or right (or down if you hold the D-pad) as your hero lands with jumps and traps with his shovel pointed downward, which not only harms vulnerable enemies, but also bounces the knight up from most things he comes into contact with, except certain soil types. Instead of running left or right at a target, Shovel Knight now digs down through randomly generated levels (with a few left and right exceptions, usually found in the game’s wealth of hidden challenges).
Thanks to so many action-driven roguelikes and roguelites over the past 10 years, we’ve walked this randomly generated path before. But the Nitrome development team (super leap day) quickly learns how to pump variety and fun into randomly generated depths. One of the best differentiators is the application of gravity. While the popular game Downwell constantly drops players at high speeds and forces quick reactions, To dig often gives your knight a chance to land, survey his immediate depths, and notice what his pesky jumping ability will and won’t accomplish.
Each descent is broken down into smaller phases, and each phase contains a crucial treasure chest at the end. If you find the three golden gears of each stage, you can unlock this chest’s bonus item, including run-saving goodies such as extra health and special abilities. (As with other roguelites, health can be scarce, and too much damage can ruin a run in the blink of an eye.) Speedrun past these golden gears, and future enemy-filled stages become trickier to survive. As you shovel through destructible terrain and descend to lower platforms, each level’s golden gears, along with other useful pickups, appear in tricky, hard-to-reach corners. They require you to selectively leave some terrain and enemies unspoiled to find a high enough bounce.