Shovel Knight Dig review: retro meets modern on this clever roguelike

Shovel Knight Dig

MSRP $24.99

“Shovel Knight Dig punches above its spin-off weight class, even when its roguelike elements are a bit of modest.”


  • Smart remix of the IP
  • Fun vertical platforming
  • Digging is a delight
  • Ranked modes are a plus


  • Inconsequential narrative
  • Short on depth
  • Lacking experimentation potential

Last December, Yacht Club Games snuck certainly one of my titles games of 2021 in slightly below the wire: Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon. The indie was a left-field surprise, ingeniously adapting key elements of retro platformer Shovel Knight right into a fast-paced puzzle/roguelike hybrid. I left that have with a newfound appreciation for Yacht Club, respecting its ability to dissect its beloved IP and reassemble it into something recent relatively than spitting out an expected sequel. Its latest release, Shovel Knight Dig, only reinforces those feelings.

Launching on iOS via Apple Arcade, Nintendo Switch, and PC, Shovel Knight Dig is each very different from and really just like Pocket Dungeon. It’s a more traditional roguelike that borrows ideas from Downwell and Spelunky, relatively than an identical puzzle game with an motion twist. The ethos of the 2 projects, nevertheless, is consistent: They’re each titles that connect the past to the current.

Shovel Knight Dig is probably too modest to be the following great roguelike, however it’s one other fascinating piece of the franchise’s ongoing conversation with video game history. It further twists Shovel Knight’s retro framework right into a pretzel, suggesting that the gap between “classic” and “modern” is way smaller than we would realize.

Buried treasure

Shovel Knight Dig once more chronicles the adventures of the series’ titular hero as he digs through dirt and rival knights alike. At this point, each Shovel Knight spin-off seems like an episode of a Saturday morning cartoon. The heroes, bad guys, signature aesthetics, and excellent music all carry over but they’re reshuffled into one other low-stakes bottle episode. The loose narrative justification here is as irrelevant because it is superfluous. There’s a pit that Shovel Knight must resolve. That’s all you might want to know.

… a clever game that speaks the language of contemporary roguelikes and arcade classics in the identical breath.

What’s fun about Shovel Knight as a complete is the way in which it chases history. The primary game was an homage to NES platformers, as if someone had dug up a long-forgotten mascot from the era. Fully committing to the pastiche, Yacht Club is now bringing us a kind of alternate universe where Shovel Knight replaces something like Mario. The more it capitalizes on the IP with spin-offs like this, the more it feels the part. If Pocket Dungeon was the series’ Dr. Mario, Dig is probably its Wario Land.

The remix this time around is that Shovel Knight makes his way down a series of vertically constructed levels (they aren’t fully procedural, but they shuffle different platforming sequences together), using his trust shovel to dig through dirt blocks, collect gems, and pogo off of enemies. There are temporary relics and power-ups to realize on each run, providing the normal roguelike hook of lucking into a terrific construct. It’s very just like Downwell, one other mobile roguelike that inverts expectations by having players platform while falling. The concept is a natural fit for Shovel Knight — in reality, that game’s movement techniques make much more sense on this context. In fact, he’d use his shovel to dig downwards relatively than move side to side!

Shovel Knight digs down into the dirt in Shovel Knight Dig.

Naturally, your brain might return to even older reference points whenever you see it. It seems like a contemporary cousin of Dig Dug and Mr. Driller, taking the satisfying tunneling hook from those classics and stitching it right into a fast-paced motion game. It’s an ideal fit, creating some puzzle-like sequences where players have to snake through dirt quickly — but fastidiously in the event that they want to achieve useful gems or each level’s collectible cogs.

I really like that I can see the influence of each a 2015 and 1982 video game in here, but I’m especially impressed that those pieces fit together this well. That’s something that was fundamental to the unique Shovel Knight’s success, as Yacht Club created a game that felt each preserved in amber and completely recent. That’s once more been completed here with a clever game that speaks the language of contemporary roguelikes and arcade classics in the identical breath.

Missing links

Downwell isn’t the one modern game that springs to mind once I’m playing. Dig shares some DNA with Spelunky as well, specifically in its approach to secrets. Items like keys will trail behind the blue hero, but might be dropped if he’s hit. There’s a slight metagame on top of the regular levels where players have to piece together what each item does after which safely attempt to escort it right down to its proper place. Getting an egg to a nest, as an example, gives players a bird companion that may attack enemies. Those micro-discoveries layer some added intrigue into each run and present more high-level play when attempting to juggle multiple items without delay (something I’m sure will come into play in its ranked modes, like every day runs).

I can’t help but feel like Dig is holding back at times, scaling back to fulfill its spin-off positioning.

It stops wanting digging as deep as a genre staple like Spelunky, though. While my first two hours were difficult and pushed me to watch and learn my surroundings, all the things got much easier once I unlocked an alternate armor set that reduced the quantity of harm I took. I breezed through levels at that time, almost entirely ignoring the myriad of relics and perks meant to make each run feel distinct as I melted down familiar bosses without much worry.

I actually don’t mind the concept of a breezy roguelike that could be cleared after 4 or five hours (Lord knows the genre could use more games like this). Pocket Dungeon successfully took the identical approach, choosing more immediate closure over a protracted, slow climb. Though I can’t help but feel like Dig is holding back at times, scaling back to fulfill its spin-off positioning. I’d have loved to see a more confident roguelike that allowed for more construct experimentation — not because that’s what I need from the genre and more so because the appropriate pieces are there.

Shovel Knight bounces on a dirt ball in Shovel Knight Dig.

Nonetheless, that limitation is a component of the charm. If I’m really buying into the alternate timeline where Shovel Knight is NES franchise royalty, Dig really does feel like certainly one of those lovable B-games where you may see the developers having a blast as they remold the franchise like Playdough. The modest scale of titles like that is a component of the appeal, turning them into surprising underdogs that punch above their weight class.

I assume we’ll get a full-scale Shovel Knight 2 sooner or later, but I find myself more enthusiastic about these era-fusing side releases for now. Like Pocket Dungeon, Shovel Knight Dig is one other little gem in Yacht Club’s growing treasure trove of a franchise.

Shovel Knight Dig was reviewed on Steam Deck via a PC construct of the sport.

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