I’m knee deep in power moons. I’m destroying zombies by the truckloads. I’m hunting goblins with a bow and arrow across giant vistas. My days are sucked away in massive worlds and incredible adventures, for hours and hours at a time, weeks on end.
But through all that, through all the AAA bravado of gaming’s magnificent orchestra, I keep coming back to a little robot and a pile of dirt. And I love it.
SteamWorld Dig 2 released nearly two months ago, and even after I tore through it in a flash of light I find myself jumping in every now and again, much like I did with the first in the series, to explore and salvage areas I might have missed. I’ve found almost everything, been almost everywhere, but to the testament of Image & Form, the team of developers behind the game, it feels bigger than it actually is, and pulls me back in.
It’s not complex. In fact, apart from a boss battle here and there it’s actually incredibly easy. But difficulty and challenge aren’t the fundamentals at the game’s core, exploration is. SteamWorld Dig 2 is best explained by drawing a parallel to early Zelda games, where trial and error and expedition are key and survival is a by-product. I don’t know where I’m going, but that’s okay, because I’m going.
Exploration, here, is mindless. It’s muscle memory. It’s satisfying. The reward is that there’s another rock in front of me to break, and to enjoy breaking it. I just want to dig, to chip away at structures in front of me. Breaking rocks, digging dirt, feels gooooood, especially more so on Nintendo’s Switch, where the portability manages to enhance the experience. On the big screen I hunted and advanced, enjoying the great steampunk visuals and art direction, music and sound effects, but now that the game is “over” and the plot is complete, handheld mode is perfect for digging while binging on Stranger Things.
And while the game isn’t a giant shift from its predecessor, its refinement makes it ever more enjoyable. It’s like taking an already beautiful gem, sanding out the rough edges, buffing it up to a shine and setting it into a nice piece of jewelry. That’s craftsmanship. That’s process and diligence. That’s a little dirt under the nails to finish up that last 10%.
That’s SteamWorld Dig 2, a game based on a steam engine that’s developed by a well-oiled design engine.
This Hot Take is based on an eShop copy of the game sent to SideQuesting by the publisher.