[Nintendad Selects] SteamWorld Dig 2 – Nintendo Switch

Written by Abram Buehner

Welcome to a new feature here at the site, Nintendad Selects! In these articles, we’ll be highlighting games from the Nintendo Switch’s past. We’ll offer an examination as to why these games are so strong, and why they still deserve your attention today. Without further ado, please enjoy the first installment of Nintendad Selects.

Digging Up a 2017 Gem

SteamWorld Dig 2 is a title I had entirely overlooked for many years. Launching all the way back in September of 2017, I was far too busy with the likes of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, and my continued quest through Hyrule in Breath of the Wild to notice this gem from Image and Form. Fast-forward three years, and the landscape is far different. Not only has the Switch’s library grown exponentially since 2017, but the world has been put on pause. While I was starting my senior year of high school back when SteamWorld Dig 2 first released, now, I’m completing my freshman year of college in the (dis)comfort of quarantine.

Hats – or more aptly, all things considered, masks – off to Image and Form, though, who hosted a generous giveaway to alleviate the doldrums of self-isolation. The studio gave away two thousand codes for their games to give folks a respite from the tedium, and I was lucky enough to win a SteamWorld Dig 2 code myself! Eagerly, I jumped in. I’m certainly glad I did.

The question, of course, is why this game is still so notable in 2020. With scores of new games releasing on the Switch all the time, going back to an older title can be quite the proposition, especially when it’s hard enough to keep up with everything new week to week. Considering that SteamWorld Dig 2 is a Metroidvania, its turf is even more contested, as this genre is overcrowded on the system. However, SteamWorld Dig 2 is such a triumph that it deserves to be paid attention to, even in the current, hectic marketplace.

The Wild, Cyberpunk West

You take control of Dorothy, a robotic miner on a quest to find the protagonist of the original SteamWorld Dig, Rusty. With the help of a similarly designed (but far less annoying) Navi-like sidekick named Fen, the two stumble upon a doomsday plan and a nefarious villain who needs to be stopped. The storyline isn’t anything to write home about, but it provides a competent narrative thrust that carries Dorothy and Fen through a landscape dotted with life and texture.

I fell in love with the rusted-out cyberpunk aesthetic of SteamWorld Dig 2. Image and Form subverts the typical expectations of the cyberpunk world, infusing a western flair and frontier twang. It’s a fascinating harmony of diametrically opposed visual motifs. From its eclectic robot NPCs to its visually diverse locales, SteamWorld Dig 2 exudes a confident, original style that I couldn’t get enough of. The game executes its presentation brilliantly too, as its fluid, hand-drawn animation, saturated color palette, and ear-catching soundtrack leave no room for complaint.

Empowering Exploration

While the ethos of SteamWorld Dig 2 captivated me, the gameplay experience is what truly cemented this as a top-tier Nintendo Switch title. Dorothy’s quest to locate Rusty takes her spelunking into the planet’s mine and cave systems and forging ever deeper becomes the central charge of the game. Exploration, while straightforward, is satisfying on the same level as Breath of the Wild. This is largely due to the constant feeling of hard-earned progression, a byproduct of the deeply rewarding traversal systems.

With rare exception, the underground of SteamWorld Dig 2 is clogged with dirt and debris that has to be excavated by the player. Equipped with a pickaxe and a constantly expanding suite of tools, the way forward becomes whatever you decide it should be. As the path is carved out by removing dirt one tile at a time, the routes deeper into the mine becomes a player-forged creation. Cutting my own channels into the planet resulted in me becoming deeply invested in Dorothy’s quest, and made the exploration far more organic than if I was simply walking through pre-built corridors.

Modern Metroidvania

As such, SteamWorld Dig 2 is a fundamentally more resonant Metroidvania than many of its contemporaries. Instead of traversing labyrinthine areas in a scripted manner, SteamWorld Dig 2 allows the player to fashion their own route through the twisting caverns. Likewise, this level of player direction makes the discovery of secret areas even more rewarding. With each swing of the pickaxe and every new tile I explored, I became more and more attached to Dorothy’s quest.

As I alluded to previously, I was often reminded of my adventures across Hyrule as I worked through SteamWorld Dig 2. This is not only because of the game’s heavy focus on player agency and player-driven exploration, but because of its Shrine-like puzzle mines. These are scattered across the world and each tests the player in a different way. These are all tightly-designed rooms that stretch the game’s mechanics in fun, new directions. They’re not only fun to complete, but they reward the player with upgrade cogs, which are one facet of SteamWorld Dig 2’s robust, yet elegantly simple, upgrade system. Powering up Dorothy with better gear in turn directly empowers the player and makes traversing the world even more satisfying.

Final Thoughts

SteamWorld Dig 2 is a bite-sized blend of influences and styles that coalesce in one of the most sublime experiences on Nintendo Switch. Its unique aesthetic and deeply rewarding exploration stand head and shoulders above its contemporaries on the platform. Clocking in at just over five hours for a playthrough, SteamWorld Dig 2 is a relatively low time commitment with an incredibly high payoff. Regardless of how cumbersome your backlog may be, absolutely make space for SteamWorld Dig 2.

Why Does SteamWorld Dig 2 Succeed in 2020?

  • It has a unique aesthetic
  • It features empowering exploration
  • It is short and sweet, so it won’t clog up the backlog

The Nintendo Switch library in 2020 is crowded with Metroidvanias, but SteamWorld Dig 2’s unique aesthetic and empowering exploration make it just as essential now as it was in 2017.

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