Steam­world Dig 2

EDGE - - GAMES - Rjann Sig­urgeirs­son

Switch

Bhas learned his les­son. The Im­age & Form CEO, slightly bleary-eyed upon his re­turn from GDC, is play­ing his cards close to his chest af­ter giv­ing away a lit­tle too much a lit­tle too soon for his stu­dio’s pre­vi­ous re­lease, Steam­world Heist. Though the fin­ished game – a re­fined, in­ven­tive side-scrolling strat­egy ti­tle with re­al­time aim­ing – was re­ally rather good, Sig­urgeirs­son had dis­cussed con­cepts dur­ing its early devel­op­ment that hadn’t come to fruition. One critic was moved to chas­tise the de­vel­oper at the be­gin­ning of his (oth­er­wise pos­i­tive) re­view, Sig­urgeirs­son re­calls. “But he was right: it is a prob­lem when de­vel­op­ers talk too much about their games,” he tells us. “You mar­ket it so hard that there’s noth­ing ex­cit­ing at the end. It’s like watch­ing close-up porn – there’s noth­ing more to re­veal. You should al­ways leave some­thing to the imag­i­na­tion.”

With a prime slot open­ing Nin­tendo’s most re­cent in­die-fo­cused Di­rect, it’s clear Steam­World Dig 2 isn’t just a big deal for Im­age & Form; it mat­ters to the plat­form holder, too. Like Dig and Heist, it’s a timed ex­clu­sive, land­ing on Switch this sum­mer, but al­most cer­tainly head­ing to other for­mats after­wards. Hav­ing been bit­ten be­fore by set­ting con­crete re­lease dates that slipped, Sig­urgeirs­son won’t com­mit any fur­ther than that. “We’re just go­ing to shut up un­til we know for sure when it’s com­ing out. I’m not go­ing to make any­one happy by over­promis­ing and un­der-de­liv­er­ing.”

That seems un­likely in this case: this is a tan­gi­bly pret­tier, more am­bi­tious game than its ro­bust, but com­pact, pre­de­ces­sor. “You’ll no­tice that Im­age & Form has pro­gressed a lit­tle bit in the last few years,” Sig­urgeirs­son says of Dig 2’ s crisp, de­tailed art. In the first

game, progress was mostly ver­ti­cal; here, you’ll spend at least as much time ex­plor­ing hor­i­zon­tally. “How does that ex­pres­sion go?” he asks, sud­denly. “‘Big­ger, bet­ter, faster, stronger?’ It’s a big­ger game in all di­rec­tions. When we made Steam­World Dig, the main gripe that ev­ery­one had was that the game was too short. We don’t want to be in that po­si­tion again. You’re re­ally go­ing to get your fill this time.”

With orig­i­nal pro­tag­o­nist

Rusty miss­ing, pre­sumed dead or de­com­mis­sioned (for rea­sons that will be ob­vi­ous to those who fin­ished the first game), Dig’s store owner Dorothy McCrank takes over the lead role. The story re­sumes not as she be­gins her search for Rusty, but once she’s all but given up hope of ever find­ing him. A demo of the early stages of her jour­ney car­ries echoes of Spelunky, with its tem­ple back­ground and ar­row traps; you’ll still be chip­ping through blocks to carve your way down, but then you’ll hit a long, flat floor and find your­self in what may be the clos­est thing we see to a Metroid game on Switch for a lit­tle while. This, we’re as­sured, is just a tiny part of the whole: more lev­els will be shown off at a later time. But as ap­pe­tis­ers go, it does the job, leav­ing us greedy for more.

So what more can he tell us? Dorothy’s abil­i­ties, be­yond the quickly un­locked sprint hy­draulics that let her race through a stone door be­fore it slams down, are off the table. “Suf­fice to say she’s able to do stuff that [Rusty] wasn’t,” Sig­urgeirs­son tells us. De­spite a keen­ness to give her more dis­tinct ca­pa­bil­i­ties, ini­tially there were con­cerns that the de­sign­ers would strug­gle to find new skills for her to mas­ter. Now there are too many ideas. “We’re not slash­ing stuff,” he says, care­fully. “How­ever, we are se­lect­ing from a va­ri­ety of good ideas, if I can put it that way. In­clud­ing ev­ery­thing would be like try­ing to make a cake us­ing all the tasty things you can come up with, like ham­burg­ers and caramels and so on.” Any po­ten­tial new in­gre­di­ents have to com­ple­ment the rest of the recipe to stay in.

A longer devel­op­ment pe­riod has af­forded the de­sign team the room to craft Dig 2’ s en­vi­ron­ments by hand. Where the orig­i­nal fea­tured pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated el­e­ments to save time, the stu­dio has spent “thou­sands of hours” build­ing the se­quel’s lev­els from scratch. “Every area that you en­ter in this game just feels ex­quis­ite,” Sig­urgeirs­son says. “At Im­age & Form we’re good at mak­ing games,” he adds, a grin spread­ing across his face as he de­liv­ers the self-dep­re­cat­ing fol­low-up. “We’re ter­ri­ble at sell­ing games.” We’ll know by the end of sum­mer whether or not the lat­ter is true, but on this ev­i­dence Im­age & Form is a de­vel­oper that has its pri­or­i­ties well in or­der.

“We don’t want to be in that po­si­tion again. You’re re­ally go­ing to get your fill this time”

The en­vi­ron­ments are still fairly brown, but the set­ting is no­tice­ably brighter than the orig­i­nal. Dorothy is vi­brantly coloured, which helps her stand out, but there’s also greater vis­ual va­ri­ety in the level fur­ni­ture

ABOVE Im­age & Form is keen for Dig 2’ s con­trols to be flex­i­ble. “They need to be very good since there are so many plat­form­ing el­e­ments,” Sig­urgeirs­son ex­plains. “So ob­vi­ously we’re go­ing to spend quite some time to make sure that it feels right for every pos­si­ble setup”

TOP LEFT Be­yond the ob­vi­ous threat of fall­ing blocks, there are plenty of haz­ards to keep Dorothy on her steel toes. Tiny pres­sure plates can trig­ger traps, while some blocks van­ish un­der­foot, reap­pear­ing only once you’ve passed over them.

ABOVE Find­ing an up­grade pod prompts a beau­ti­fully an­i­mated se­quence, as the metal­lic shell closes around Dorothy as if swal­low­ing her whole, clank­ing and hiss­ing vi­o­lently. Af­ter a few sec­onds, she’ll emerge tri­umphantly, ev­i­dently keen to demon­strate what her new mod­i­fi­ca­tions can do

LEFT Al­lud­ing to Dig’s fi­nal face-off, Sig­urgeirs­son sug­gests there will be more than one boss fight in the se­quel: “There’s a much wider va­ri­ety of bad guys and bat­tles,” he says

Sig­urgeirs­son is glad his game doesn’t have to com­pete for at­ten­tion with

Breath Of The Wild, which is dom­i­nat­ing the gam­ing time of the ma­jor­ity of Switch own­ers. “I also want more peo­ple to get their hands on a Switch unit,” he adds

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