Rusty, where art thou?
Poor Dorothy. After the destruction of Vectron, Rusty has gone missing. Not a bot to stand around doing nothing, she is on the hunt to find out the fate of her friend. The quest leads her to the town of El Machino, a rundown mining town with a slightly murky past and a Mayor more interested in maintaining the status quo than reopening the mines. But with a little help from the locals, Dorothy finds a way into the mines and her adventure begins.
There are a few things that stood out when I fired up SWD2, with the most noticeable being how the game manages to look both familiar and brand new, all at the same time. The 2D action is the same, but all of the art and character models have been given a massive overhaul since the first game, leaving it feeling brand new and with a brighter color palette, while at the same time still giving off the dusty and dirty feel of this oil-filled Wild West environment. It is a real achievement and testament to the quality that Image & Form bring to the series.
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Switch (Reviewed)
Price I’d pay: $19.99
But that isn’t where the quality stops. SWD2 feels like a sequel in the truest sense of the word. Anyone who has played the original game will feel straight at home with how the game works. The core mechanics are the same, and if feels the same to play. But at the same time, as I played the game more and explored the depths of El Machino, it became clear that the developers had added a huge amount of smart features and design choices to enhance the experience. First off is one of the upgrades that you get early on, a Pressure Bomb, which uses water to fire off a sticky bomb that destroys blocks. This adds an extra layer of thought to the game, and allows for some clever puzzle solving. One of the other major additions to SWD2 is the hook shot, which is a lot of fun to use. This is obtained a few hours into the game and is simply fantastic. Not only does it allow Dorothy to zip around more quickly, but allows her to reach areas that would normally be out of bounds.
Once again, this new gadget also allows for some great puzzle set pieces as well, with the game making players use all of the tricks in their tool bag to navigate the harder to reach areas. Along with these new additions, the game also adds some things that make this installment more pleasant to play. The teleports from the first game are gone and replaced with travel tubes, which are plentiful and allow for quick travel throughout the map. These can only be used if players have found them and mined the rocks blocking their entrance, but they prove incredibly handy if players run out of lamp fuel or need to quickly get back to the surface to sell their wares.
Upgrades have also been given a refresh. There are the usual upgrades for the gadgets, such as pickaxe, pouch, water tank and lamp. But along with these, the game introduces mods. These add modifiers to equipment that can do things like boost XP or increase the chances of getting loot from enemies. There are also mods that will increase the game’s difficulty. It all adds an extra layer of gameplay that can be tailored to all types of player. Mods can only be unlocked via special cogs that can be found littered around the world, with many being tucked away in hidden areas. It certainly encourages exploration, and made me want to check every nook and cranny I could find. And of course, going back and exploring earlier areas and caves after unlocking better items is definitely of benefit, as this game has a real Metroidvania vibe to it.
Luckily, the map shows if a cave has been fully gleamed of the goodies inside, so that players can tell if they need to go back to one or not. There were a few challenges I faced during my playthrough that felt out of place with the abilities I had unlocked, but with perseverance and the fact that the game autosaves on a regular basis, these challenges were eventually overcome.
It’s important to point out that even with all of the additions Image & Form have included, the core gameplay still feels as solid as it did first time round. Mining is satisfying, and the controls are fluid and intuitive and I encountered zero bugs in my playtime with the game. El Machino and the surrounding areas also seem fuller of life, and each area of the world felt different from the one before. SWD2 also has a varied roster of supporting characters, each with their own personality and back story, which is amazing, seeing as they all talk in beeps and boops and all the dialogue is text based. One of the standout new characters is FEN, a remnant from the Vectron, who has been labeled an outcast. At the start of the game, he is very much a jerk, favoring destruction and chaos. But as the game moves forward so does his attitude, and it is nice to see his character develop.
Once again Image & Form continue to pour heart, soul and quality into their games. Steamworld Dig 2 is another near perfect entry in the Steamworld universe, and the enhanced art design makes me wish that they go back to both the original Dig and Heist and update them and release them on the Switch. I would be the first in line to buy them again.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.