Steamworld Dig 2
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