Welcome back to the land where the shovel is mightier than the sword, and shovelry is synonymous with filling your pockets with large amounts of treasure. Shovel Knight Dig is a prequel to the original Shovel Knight: The Shovel of Hope, but loses none of its character, charm, and even improves on its art style while remaining simple enough to be regarded as ‘another Shovel Knight game.’ I dig this new entry.
Shovel puns aside, this title sees our blue-cladded hero at odds with the nefarious Drill Knight—as is the norm with adversaries in this universe, they’re all knights—when they rob a pile of treasure and instantly burrow underground with it. Of course, showing no regard for his own safety, Shovel Knight follows with reckless abandon, chasing Drill Knight in pursuit of his riches.
Although the story is incredibly simple here, newcomers to the series can enjoy this title without having played the other two, but returning shovel blade enthusiasts will find a heartwarming familiarity with returning characters and continuity of the series mainstays.
Like with every other Shovel Knight adventure, Jake Kaufman’s absolute dynamite original soundtracks grace the background with this title as well. New remixes, and even newer compositions fill out the title well. Re-introducing the entry sound effect when defeating a stage is also a welcome choice, as that noise has become a staple in Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon, as well as the original entry. All in all superb musical work, as one can expect from Yacht Club Games.
The gameplay mechanics in Shovel Knight Dig are rogue-lite, with the player losing all advancement in the stages with each death and being forced to start at the newly introduced Spore Knight stage, which really reminds me of Split Mushroom from Megaman X4. I was able to accrue upgrades that make each jump down the hole that Drill Knight ran off into with our riches slightly easier.
Chester—the staple Shovel Knight vendor who springs out of chests—is of course present here as the relic handler extraordinaire, that can help the blue knight advance in the stages. This small hub world is designed quite well, with a shady character who will blast—basically fast travel—you to the different stages at the cost of treasure, and a smith that helps upgrade your equipment (if you find him first).
After my first run through the hole in the ground, one thing is apparently clear: This title has a difficulty that isn’t afraid to bite. The first Mushroom Lair levels are easy enough, but once Spore Knight falls in battle, Shovel Knight Dig SPIKES in difficulty. If a player wields their shovel well, upgrades can be retrieved or purchased as you travel.
Items that can increase max health, make a Master Sword like blade beam, and even returning Shovel Knight Dig relics like the War Horn can be used to make life easier. Gameplay is simple and reaction based, as the player is forced to go as fast as possible downward to retrieve your precious treasure. A gameplay style that is easy to pick up, but very hard to master.
The gameplay feels rewarding when adversity is overcome, but there’s a small mechanical flaw that should be allowed to be toggled. It can really hurt the player when jumping on enemies due to Shovel Knight always automatically stabbing his blade downwards when he jumps. This can force the player to jump into hazards that sometimes feel unavoidable due to the bounce air he gets after landing on an enemy or breakable brick. In Shovel of Hope, the player was able to manually use this input, and it being forced on the player feels like a small oversight.
“Shovel Knight Dig takes Spelunky 2 gameplay and kicks the action up three notches to fit the Shovel Knight mould.”
A mixture of basic attacks, magic spells, relic usage, and general excellently designed platforming to procedurally generated stages is an absolute no-brainer for the Shovel Knight brand of games. All of these basic game mechanics come together to let this title shine brighter than even the late-stage gold armour that makes a return from the previous two entries.
Cameos from beloved characters like Shield Knight, and seeing the Mole and Tinker Knight adversaries before they became part of the Order of No Quarter is a cool concept for returning players. Adopting a simplified version of next stage selection, like Hades’ doorway select, lets the player have some degree of direction. This does a decent enough job with the inclusion of key items to make other paths open, to keep things moving in a fresher direction.
Shovel Knight Dig takes Spelunky 2 gameplay and kicks the action up three notches to fit the Shovel Knight mould. Procedurally generated stages make this title’s replay value stand strong, while also softening the ‘this game feels short’ blow.
Masterclass platforming that Yacht Club Games is known for is present here, always keeping the player on their toes while fighting off other staple enemies from the Shovel Knight brand. With the compositions of Jake Kaufman, typical Yacht Club Games style comedy, and just really solid gameplay, Shovel Knight Dig succeeds while remaining a fresh entry to a tried and true formula.