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  1. Shovel Knight's indie game success story continues to roll on as the now easily recognizable shovel-wielding hero expands to other genres. Shovel Knight Dig takes the fundamentals of the action-platformer hero and puts him in a roguelike setting, where every quick playthrough poses different challenges and different opportunities for success. The randomized action here may not be quite the treasure trove that the original game was, though. Dig takes place before the events of the original Shovel Knight, so there are a few familiar faces here alongside several new ones. Drill Knight, along with his band of thieves known as the Hexcavators, have stolen Shovel Knight's treasure bag and are now burrowing deep in the earth to find an even greater treasure below. Shovel Knight naturally sets off in hot pursuit, and that's all you really need to know about the story. It's a decent set-up and not surprisingly there's not much else to the narrative—playthroughs live independently of one another, so there's not an overarching or changing story. There is, however, a hidden "true ending" which is rewarding but also so incredibly complicated and difficult to achieve that only the most dedicated shovelers are likely to see it. The Shovel Knight formula translates pretty well to a roguelike, but not perfectly. Shovel Knight's attacks are still snappy and satisfying, and his recognizable downward stab move naturally fits Dig's vertical oriented game design—you're always moving down here, so keeping your weapon below you makes sense. There's a sort of timer at play here as well since you'll be pursued by a giant drill if you take too long, and adding that sense of urgency poses a fresh and fun challenge. It's also rather satisfying to finally actually dig as a focus of the gameplay in a Shovel Knight game. And yet, it's the roguelike trappings of Dig that seem to fall short. It's so crucial for a roguelike to make every playthrough engaging and varied, and Dig just doesn't quite manage it. Sure the level design and enemy placement is different every time, but Shovel Knight's abilities are a bit too limited to make each run truly feel unique. As you explore you're able to pick up relics (aka subweapons) as well as accessories that grant various bonuses, like reducing spike damage or extending the reach of your shovel attacks. The point of these kinds of random power-ups is to spice up each playthrough, but they're just not unique or exciting enough to do so. It doesn't help that it can be quite time-consuming and costly to unlock new relics and accessories, so your first few hours with the game will be unavoidably repetitive. It perhaps doesn't help that Dig can be pretty punishing. Obviously that's another key aspect of roguelikes—victory should take some effort after all, and you should be perfecting your skills with each new runthrough—but little things are pretty unsatisfying in Dig, like dropping held items (keys, eggs) any time you get hit. The need to not only find a key but hold onto it until you find an opportunity to use it tips into tedious challenge territory. And while it's obviously not a must-have for a roguelike, I would have liked to see more permanent upgrades to aid you or at least contribute to a sense of progress with each failed run. Instead, spending money on the chance of finding a new accessory isn't as engaging. The game does find a sweet spot in terms of playthrough length. It can be disheartening when roguelikes are too long, and failure ends up feeling extremely costly, so thankfully Dig is relatively short, but still long enough to make the journey feel worthwhile. You may even reach the victory screen after only a few hours of attempts, though again that might be an indictment of the game's variety rather than a celebration of its game design. The presentation, at least, is absolutely top-notch. Compared to the original Shovel Knight, Dig boasts a more richly detailed look and it's just lovely from start to finish. The jump from 8-bit to 16-bit works wonderfully, retaining the style that players love while also feeling like a true upgrade. The soundtrack is also, unsurprisingly, excellent thanks to returning composer Jake Kaufman. Its fast-paced energy also naturally fits with the urgent gameplay of Dig as you race to the bottom with a massive drill at your heels. Shovel Knight Dig never quite clicks into that "one more run" appeal of other roguelikes, meaning its staying power is disappointingly brief. Its strengths ultimately lie with the core Shovel Knight gameplay, not the roguelike elements, which means that you may not feel too invested in completing runthrough after runthrough as each attempt feels so similar to the last. Still, it's worth playing Shovel Knight Dig for the shovel-wielding action, it just might not be worth playing over and over like a roguelike should be. Rating: 7 out of 10 Gems
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