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Shovel Knight Dig - Review

One video game franchise I wish I had more opportunities to talk to you all about would be the Shovel Knight series, because honestly, it’s one of my favorite franchises in all of gaming and helped form my love for gaming. It helped expose me to the indie scene, try more challenging games, and witness the passion the developers had in creating a tightly designed product with a small budget and restrictions. What started as a joke on a party yacht became a concept for a resurrection of classic games. The ones that helped resurrect the gaming industry and pace the way for what was the future. Shovel Knight is just this joyous love letter to video games and all you can really do is smile as these characters and their quirky traits carry you from beginning to end. Shovel Knight may not appeal to everyone, but it appeals to me and that’s why it remains to be one of my favorite games of all time alongside others like Bloodborne.

That and Yacht Club Games set the gold standard of what crowdfunded indie projects should be. They set so many goals up when it came to the Kickstarter campaign, and it seemed impossible that they would reach a majority of them. A majority of the time, Kickstarter projects either get left in the dirt or don’t live up to what was promised. You may get a gem like Hollow Knight, or a massive disappointment like Yooka-Laylee. Luckily Shovel Knight delivered what it promised at launch, but there was still all that other promised content. Stuff like ports to modern consoles, a battle mode, multiplayer, and expansions where you get to play as other characters. Clearly this was a setup and Yacht Club would make a run for it with the money. No, screw that! “We are going to deliver the best expanded content the video game industry has to offer, and we are going to do this for the next five years!” One year later they came with Plague of Shadows, two years later they released Specter of Torment, another two years later they unleashed King of Cards and the foretold battle mode. Each character brought new rules and mechanics to the table, and what was surprising is that each expansion felt like new games. Levels were more experimental than ever, the universe was expanded, and what was a goofy tale about a knight with a shovel brought morals and lessons. Themes such as hope, love, sacrifice, and the consequences of greed.

While each game may have their flaws, Shovel Knight is my definition of the perfect video game franchise as each game aims to do nothing but offer sheer fun and joy. After spending five years delivering the expansions they promised in their original Kickstarter, Yacht Club games went on to work on new titles. They helped with the publishing of Cyber Shadow and are currently working on a classic Zelda styled adventure game titled Mina The Hollower. However, they didn’t want to leave their acclaimed IP behind and decided to release some spinoffs. One of them was a puzzler which came out late last year, Pocket Dungeon, and the other was a roguelike which just came out recently. A partnership between them and another independent studio called Nitrome, who made Bomb Chicken. The new spinoff was Shovel Knight Dig, which carried the platforming gameplay Shovel Knight was known for and transitioned it to a roguelike formula where all you had to do was dig down. When Shovel Knight Dig was revealed three years ago, I was really excited. To me it looked like a bite sized Shovel Knight adventure, but what I wasn’t suspecting was a highly addicting roguelike that would exceed the basic expectations I had. I haven’t played that many new releases this year, but Shovel Knight Dig is one of my top five games of 2021 and probably my favorite indie of the year. There’s so much this game does right with its simplistic gameplay loop. Today we’ll talk about why I love Shovel Knight Dig and why it deserves your attention. Live by the code of shovelry, and steel they shovel and fight!


A long time ago two skilled knights wandered the land, Shovel Knight and Shield Knight. They worked together to thwart big baddies, plunge unexplored tombs, and come back with a load of treasure and goodies. They collected all sorts of rewards, but what they appreciated most wasn’t what they earned but rather the experience of their adventures. Forming memories and just being a supportive duo. Always out there when one is in massive trouble. A tragedy would one day hit them, but that’s not the story we’re here to tell today. Instead, we’ll be witnessing one of their past adventures. Lesser known, but one of the grander small adventures they had. It all began on a peaceful night. Shovel Knight was resting around a campfire next to a sack of loot he was going to bring home. Unfortunately, a massive drill falls from the sky and attacks the middle of the camp. Shovel Knight is lodged in the ground and from the drill comes a massive warrior, Drill Knight. He steals the sack of loot Shovel Knight had with him and drills below to a cavern lying beneath the earth. What lies down there is a series of zones full of monsters, traps, never before seen artifacts, and the lair of the devious Drill Knight and his crew of underlings.

Drill Knight had formed a team of knights to stop anyone from digging down to his chambers and support his effort to find the secrets below. This team includes the cheery Spore Knight who is busy plucking mushrooms in the Mushroom Mines. Mole Knight who adapted a cool aquatic toolset to unravel the Secret Fountain. Tinker Knight who is busy constructing new inventions and machinery in the Steelworks. Hive Knight is cultivating a wide selection of bugs down in the Grub Pit, Scrap Knight is digging for junk in the Magic Landfill, and of course there is the leader Drill Knight. These six knights are known as the Hexcavators, and Shovel Knight will have to face off against them to retrieve his stolen sack. Luckily he isn’t alone on his journey to reach the bottom of the cavern. Shield Knight is there to offer support, comfort, and protect Shovel Knight as he digs to the bottom. It’s a race against the clock to find buried treasures. Something isn’t right though? Each of the six Hexavators hold a gem with dark powers, and it seems like they are connected to a tower possessing similar qualities. Sorry, secret ending, no spoiler beyond that.


If I had to explain the gameplay as simply as possible and within a single sentence, I would say this, "It's a combination between Shovel Knight, Downwell, and Steamworld Dig.” The basic rules of Shovel Knight are still there, but rather than traverse each level from left to right and vice versa you instead mainly dig down. Your main goal is to reach the end of the cavern, and there are multiple zones to come across, each of them having three short stages and a boss room. Along the way you’ll pick up treasure, items, and upgrades to help you face the stronger foes that lie deeper in the cavern. Remember that Shovel Knight Dig is a roguelike, so if you die then you have to start back from the top of the cavern. You lose everything you picked up along your descent, and the only thing you get to keep is a fraction of the gems you haven’t spent. The roguelike aspects may be demotivating, but it’s all about learning from each failed attempt. Knowing what killed you and how to prevent it from happening next time.

Shovel Knight has a nice selection of moves to maneuver through the cavern. He can swiftly strike enemies with his Shovel Blade and use his signature Shovel Drop to bounce on top of them. It works sort of like the pogo ability from Ducktales. You can even use the Shovel Pogo on certain hazards, to traverse across gaps, chain hits on enemies without having to risk standing in front of them, or reach areas out of your grasp. One new ability is digging through the pathways of dirt that block your way. You can dig horizontally and down, and you can do so really quickly. You can dig streaks of dirt to get across pits. Make sure to grab gems along the way and occasionally strike spots leading to secrets. You always want to keep an eye out for secrets or pathways leading to optional side areas. They may contain caches of gems, treasure chests which give you more gems, or a shop. The shops range from the Mole’s food stand to purchase healing items or health upgrades, Chester’s chest to purchase sidearms and trinkets, or this sleeping skeleton warrior who can give three upgrades that improves Shovel Knight’s power and gift him new blade skills to use.

What’s new this time around are items. They can come in a variety of ways and with different properties. Keys can be used to open up doors that lead to either treasure, health upgrades, or magic upgrades. If you take damage you may drop the key, and certain types of keys like the wooden key and crystal key can be destroyed. Keys can also open up different routes to take during your descent. Eggs can be taken to hide to nest to hatch and spawn a temporary ally. These allies may either help you fight, restore your health, or offer protection. They will die after being hit enough times, but the real challenge is locating a nest and getting an egg there safely.

In each of the three levels you traverse across in each zone they contain three golden cogs. Collect all three cogs before reaching the end of the level and you can choose between one of two rewards. Either refill your entire health bar, or gain one of numerous relics. These relics can be either charms that offer special perks or the sidearms. Charms may be rings that offer certain elemental resistances, a speed boost, or a feather that resurrects Shovel Knight once during a run if he takes a fatal blow. Sidearms on the other hand rely on magic, and magic can be refilled by picking up magic refill bottles. These sidearms include the War Horn to deal heavy damage to anything surrounding you, the Flare Wand to unleash a burning bouncy projectile for a short period of time, a propeller spike to fly upward, and many more.

If you die you are offered the choice to attempt another run or go back to the surface. Sometimes you want to go back up, because the gems you banked from each run can be spent on upgrades. New relics to pick up during runs, being able to carry more items on you at once, different types of armor that offer special properties, or tickets to skip down to areas you have cleared before. That’s right! Shovel Knight Dig allows you to cut down the duration of runs and having to redo areas you’ve been to dozens of times before in exchange for a bit of money and potentially facing a difficult area underprepared. It’s a risk you have to consider whether to take or not.

At the end of each zone there is a boss themed after it, and they’ll test your skills and reflexes. On new runs the structure and hazards in the arena will change, but what it comes down to is understanding their attack patterns and hitting them enough times. That’s all I really have to say. There are a couple other minor systems like being offered a minigame to grab a sack, and every time you get close it propels you but unleashes gems and enemies that drop gems allowing you to gain more money before entering the next zone. Before you move forward you are offered pathways containing different hazards, and you get to choose what is harder or easier for you. For zones two and three you are offered branching paths, so it’s another choice of what seems easier or harder to you. Yeah, that’s about it really. Shovel Knight Dig is a simple platformer roguelike, but underneath is a truly compelling gameplay loop. Hopefully you can reach the bottom of the cavern, defeat Drill Knight, and save the day once more! Huzzah!


Shovel Knight Dig is exactly what I wanted it to be and maybe a little bit more. It’s easy to pick up, but hard to master. Even after your first successful run and rolling credits you’ll jump back in for more, because there’s a lot of content on offer and each run will play out differently. There’s even a secret ending which requires you to follow certain steps and if you screw up one of the steps then it’s all over. I haven’t attempted this yet because it also requires you to do all of the six zones, but I’m encouraged because this game is just so fun to play over and over again.

Let’s get what this game does right out of the way first. The controls are tight and just like before Shovel Knight moves every so brilliantly. Digging through the dirt is done so efficiently, and I like how his swing and speed of the Shovel Blade has been improved. In the original game it was short ranged and finicky, but here they sped it up to match the faster pacing of the game. One nitpick is that the Shovel Drop is activated automatically rather than choosing whether to or land on the ground normally. This means when you drop downward you purposefully bounce on any destructible blocks or enemies in your way, but I do understand this design choice as you are always moving down. Relics have been mapped to their own button rather than hitting attack button and holding up, and overall, the feel of Shovel Knight has been improved. It wasn’t bad before, but man playing as Shovel Knight is more responsive than ever.

The graphics and pixel art have also seen a massive upgrade as well. I mean it is coming from another studio with more pixel art talent, but dude the colors and details on display. How bouncy and swift the character animations are, and the amount of activities happening on screen and the game managing to run it all smoothly. I was playing the Nintendo Switch version and this thing ran perfectly. The soundtrack is still really good and has the energetic flow Shovel Knight is known for. A lot of people are probably going to say it’s like transitioning from NES to SNES, but for me it feels more like going from the SNES to the Gameboy Advance. The story and writing aren’t much compared to other indie games, but it’s good and I always love how easy it is to understand the story in these games. The quirky and goofiness of the characters and world is still there, and I like how they explored what certain characters were doing before the events of the first game. How Mole Knight was basically a fish or Tinker Knight’s early stage of investing things before he made that massive tank. Shield Knight is really good as well. I like how supportive she is of Shovel Knight or how you can reunite her with an owl companion of hers.

Enough rambling about the side traits. How is the core game design itself? Well, if you haven’t been paying attention it’s good. Fantastic actually! Shovel Knight Dig has quickly become one of the best roguelikes I’ve played alongside Hades and Prey: Mooncrash, and managed to fix some of the problems I have with a majority of roguelikes. I’m fine with runs going on for thirty to forty plus minutes, but sometimes it can lead to future runs and attempts being equally as long or lagging on longer than they should. What I love about Shovel Knight Dig is that each segment to a zone shouldn’t take more than three minutes to get through. The game wants you to keep moving and to help keep this flow they have a massive one hit kill drill appear if you stay in a level too long. Some pathways you take may increase the speed in which the drone appears, and this gets you to move and react faster. To think wisely even during stressful moments.

I like how the game gives you the ability to choose what hazards you face. It’s a pick your own poison or create your own difficulty in a sort of way. However, I never really cared what type of hazards I faced because what it really comes down to is your platforming and navigation skills. I have multiple failed attempts with this game, but unlike a lot of roguelikes I’d never say I got frustrated with them. Shovel Knight Dig is extremely fair and never relies heavily on RNG or picking an overpowered combination of power ups. I mean you can, but what it comes down to is skill. Your ability to understand the mechanics, level gimmicks, and persevere. I also love how they offer you the ability to purchase tickets and skip to later zones. Cut the BS backtracking or going through older areas again to gain the powerups needed to be stronger for later bosses. Some people may hate this, but this is a good addition to have.

This game also has some really good accessibility options. Normally I don’t care about it, but the game has options that don’t completely remove the challenge of the game. Stuff like choosing exactly how many points of health you have, the chance food will appear, whether you want an attack boost or not, or reduce the speed of the game so you may be able to react faster. There isn’t a way to skip through levels and the only method is to pay in-game gems. Its accessibility done right. If you want the game to be harder, then I suggest picking up health perks that do things like “avoid fatal blows but your maximum health decreases” or “your health is majorly increased but it can’t be refilled.” Unique stuff like that. I don’t really have any complaints about this game besides a couple nitpicks like Shovel Dropping being automatic or the secret ending just requiring really precise steps. It’s a smooth experience on the whole and I’m fine if they don’t add extra content or updates. The game is complete as it is, and I’ll continue returning for future runs even after writing this review. I still love the original game more of course, but this is a masterpiece in roguelike design and fun. In the end I am going to give Shovel Knight Dig a 9.5/10 for excellence at best.

9.5/10, Excellence

This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!

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