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Does Shovel Knight Dig stand on its own in the franchise?

Or is this game down in the dirt?

Shovel Knight Dig retrieving gem
(Image: © iMore)

Our Verdict

Shovel Knight Dig may be a short romp, but for what it lacks in length, it definitely makes up for in replayability. This challenging rouguelite is sure to keep players going again and again, for "just one more run".

For

  • + Diverse biomes with branching paths
  • + Accessibility Options
  • + Difficult, yet fair gameplay

Against

  • Time limit on stages

Shovel Knight is one of the cornerstones of a time period where modern games modeled after retro titles were becoming cool again. The developer, Yacht Club Games, wanted the game to invoke the same feeling people had while playing games on the Nintendo Entertainment System, without the color and graphics limitations. 

Where Shovel Knight drew inspiration from Super Mario Bros., the spinoff title Shovel Knight Dig takes a page out of Rogue's book, offering randomized level layouts and permadeath to those looking for an extra challenge. After having his precious bag of loot stolen by Drill Knight and the Hexcavators, Shovel Knight must work his way down perilous underground paths to get his possessions back. One mistake too many, however, and it's back to the surface for you!

Shovel Knight Dig
DeveloperNitrome/Yacht Club Games
PublisherYacht Club Games
GenreAction, Adventure, Platformer
Players1
Playtime4 hours
Release dateSeptember 23, 2022
Retail price$25 (free on Apple Arcade)
PlatformNintendo Switch, Apple Arcade, Steam

Shovel Knight Dig transition screen

(Image credit: iMore)

Shovel Knight must traverse several biomes, each with its own enemies, hazards, and bosses before he can get to Drill Knight and retrieve his precious bag. On the pause screen, you can see how many biomes you've got left before the boss, giving you a sense of how far you've come. Each biome has features attributed to your classic action platformers, such as volcanic levels and water levels; as well as some more unusual biomes, like one packed to the teeth with bugs. 

You can get an idea of what comes next in the transition screens at the end of a stage, with little signs indicating whether you'll find food, gems, or particular enemy types when you take one of two paths. Some paths are locked, requiring keys that can be dropped if you take a hit, so exploration is key. Choosing your path gives players a sense of autonomy, and has been a staple of the franchise since the beginning.

Shovel Knight Griffin Altar

(Image credit: iMore)

This game, just like every game in the Shovel Knight series is challenging, being easy to learn and downright difficult to master. There are no food or health breaks in-between stages if you don't collect enough treasure, which was quite different from my experience in the original Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove collection on Nintendo Switch

When I dug around the menu, I was pleasantly surprised to see accessibility options. These allow players to adjust things to make their runs easier if they so desire. Screen shake can be disabled, players can start off with more health, and it's also possible to make food or gem drops appear more often. 

While optional, it made my experience less frustrating, as I was more interested in the story than I was in proving that I could complete the game on the hardest difficulty. It's something I wished I had during my Treasure Trove run, which took me several months to complete and was peppered with moments of rage-quitting.

Shovel Knight Dig Hive Knight fight

(Image credit: iMore)

What I love about the titles that Yacht Club Games puts out is that they don't conflate challenging gameplay with unfair gameplay. Though I died (a lot) and often gnashed my teeth at the thought of restarting a run, all my deaths were a result of my missteps, cockiness, or desperation. 

Playing this game tested my patience, had me calculating risk and reward, and boy, did the rewards feel good when it finally came time to reap them! It really brought me back to how I felt during long nights playing through each game in the Treasure Trove collection, getting bosses down to a sliver of health, and overestimating my abilities, sending me back to the beginning. For this reason alone, I'd say this adorable rougelite stands toe-to-toe with the likes of Shovel of Hope and Specter of Torment.

Shovel Knight Dig failure

(Image credit: iMore)

One thing makes Shovel Knight Dig stand apart from the rest of the franchise, however, and that's the feeling of being rushed. Taking your time to explore stages is near impossible because of an ominous giant chainsaw that stalks you if you linger for too long.

I know I'd have enjoyed these stages more and practiced using relics more often if I was given time, but during some runs I felt so rushed that I was desperately slashing through enemies and dirt without even taking in the scenery. It's something I hope to see added to the accessibility menu, to take the pressure off of people who need a bit more time to take in the sights.

Not to mention the game's short length, which could have been extended if I didn't feel rushed through the stages. A game's length is not by any means indicative of its quality, but in the same way that some games feel artificially lengthened by padding, Shovel Knight Dig felt artificially shortened with the chainsaw.

How does Shovel Knight Dig hold up?

Shovel Knight Dig campfire with Shield Knight

(Image credit: iMore)

Rushed feelings notwithstanding, I'd say that this entry in the Shovel Knight universe is a near-perfect translation of Treasure Trove's original vision to the roguelite genre, and a brilliant addition to the many great indie games on the Switch. The procedural generation of stages is sublime, never resulting in my getting stuck, and with accessibility options under my belt, I was able to play on my level while still keeping things challenging. The blue knight was almost made for roguelites, and I can't wait to see what other genres Yacht Club Games decides to explore.

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Shovel Knight Dig

Shovel Knight's iconic platforming style finally meets the challenging roguelite genre. Dig your way through perilous stages, slash your way through a myriad of enemies, and most importantly, get your bag back!

Buy from: Nintendo (opens in new tab)

Nadine Dornieden
Contributor

Nadine is a freelance writer for iMore with a specialty in all things Nintendo, often working on news, guides, reviews, and editorials. She's been a huge Nintendo fan ever since she got to pet her very own Nintendog, and enjoys looking at Nintendo's place in the video game industry. Writing is her passion, but she mostly does it so that she can pay off her ever-growing debt to Tom Nook. Her favorite genres are simulation games, rhythm games, visual novels, and platformers. You can find her at @stopthenadness on Twitter, where she'll more than likely be reposting cute Animal Crossing content.