First direct sequel in the SteamWorld franchise was born from democracy
Image and Form had been teasing a new SteamWorld game for months before finally announcing SteamWorld Dig 2. All that teasing turned out to be a bait and switch. SteamWorld Quest, the game they had soft announced, was a red herring. The next chapter in the series was actually SteamWorld Dig 2, the sequel to their surprise hit from 2013.
So was SteamWorld Quest ever a real game? They won't tell, but Image and Form's Marco Podda did let me know that when their studio had the choice to work on one of two prospective projects, "This was the game [Dig 2] that everyone wanted to work on. The original means so much to us, and there is so much we still wanted to do with it that we didn't have the chance to before."
The SteamWorld Dig 2 demo was painfully short, but it only took a few minutes to see how far the series had come since 2013. Dorothy, the shop keeper from the original game, is now the lead. She plays much like her predecessor, but with more fluid animations and detailed artwork. She also marks a return to the "big head, little body" look, a departure from the more elongated proportions of the characters seen in the SteamWorld Heist, the most recent game in the franchise.
Marco told me that "the big head, little body proportions are important for Dig 2, as they allow the character to be the exact same size as the blocks of dirt and rock you dig through. The more adult looking characters in Heist were fitting for that game, as they made headshots tougher, and were generally more fitting for a game where gunplay is the main mechanic. But don't think that because the robots are cuter in Dig 2 that the game is any less serious, or that the artwork was any less labored over, than what you saw in Heist."
This handcrafted approach and attention to detail carry over to the game's level design as well. Where much of Dig's level design was procedurally generated, "None of the levels in Dig 2 rely on procedural generation, though there may be some other elements of the game that do..."
That makes for a game that, at least in this demo, feels a lot more like a traditional action platformer. The demo involves exploring a small area, learning how to jump, climb, and dig past various obstacles, while hitting a few roadblocks along the way. Eventually you'll reach a boss and an ability upgrade that allows you to sprint. This sprinting ability is necessary to get to an area that was previously inaccessible. This Metroid-style progression will be a big part of Dig 2's overall structure, though Marco has assured me that there will be a "traditional shop to spend all your gold as well, so players will have plenty of motivation to mine for maximum monies."
Marco also promised that Dig 2 will have "higher highs, lower lows, periods of intensity, calm, action, exploration, and basically everything you got in the first game, except with the volume turned way up." The game is set to launch on the Switch this summer, so it won't be long until we find out for ourselves just how deep this dig goes.