It's been five years since the gallant Shovel Knight dug into our hearts and raised the bar for retro side scrollers. We've been treated to additional adventures starring Shovel Knight's friends and foes, each of which have their own gameplay twist. The accessory knights and kings have always had one thing in common, though: They accomplish their individual tasks by moving from left to right, plunging onward like the 8- and- 16-bit heroes of old.
In Shovel Knight Dig, which is being produced with Nitrome, Mr. Knight slips the surly bonds of his side scrolling destiny to dig down, down, down through procedurally generated mines and caverns. Enemies rise to grab him from the depths of the mines, while buzzsaws and spike traps torment him from above. It's a dangerous business, and it's a much different experience than traditional Shovel Knight fare.
"The one thing I'm worried about is that people aren't going to understand exactly what this is. It's not Shovel Knight 2 and it's not a lame side thing," Yacht Club Games designer Alec Faulkner tells me. "It's Shovel Knight Dig: the next cool Shovel Knight game to be excited about."
And there is quite a bit to get excited about if you—like Faulkner—are a massive fan of the vertically-scrolling (sinking, rather) roguelike action game Downwell. "We kind of said that from the very beginning," Faulkner says. "'We're going to make Shovel Knight Downwell.'"
Whereas the protagonist of Downwell is armed with gun-boots that fire downward, Shovel Knight is armed with his trusty shovel, which he now automatically holds downwards when he descends from a jump. (Unlike in the traditional Shovel Knight games where you need to press down to brandish his shovel.) The downward stab is ideal for skewering the enemies that creep up from above, including giant dirt-eating worms, vengeful fungi, and the series' iconic propeller-equipped rats, whose erratic movements are as frustrating as ever. When Shovel Knight isn't using his spade to bash baddies, he can use it to dig through the mountains of dirt that impede his progress.
What's waiting for Shovel Knight at the bottom of this immeasurable shaft? Faulker admits the team isn't sure yet; the story for Shovel Knight Dig is still being sussed out. He asked for a suggestion, and I said Shovel Knight is digging for Plague Knight's love and approval. I hope it comes true.
Never fear. The Shovel Knight series has built up surprisingly rich lore and character development since Shovel Knight's debut. I don't doubt Shovel Knight Dig will give us an emotional reason to keep on digging. (It's for Plague Knight's love.)
Even if we don't get a reason, Shovel Knight Dig's roguelike elements will offer the kind of teeth-setting challenge that wounds roguelike action fans and inspires them to try again and again from the very top of the shaft after suffering yet another death at the whiskers of a propeller mouse. You lose all your power-ups and gems when you die, but in a nod to traditional Shovel Knight adventures, you might find some of your lost cash in flying bags when you try another descent.
There are secrets galore to dig up (hey!) too. If Shovel Knight touches one of the floating "Fuzzy" enemies, he turns small. He can't do as much damage when he's wee, but he might be able to slip into passages that are otherwise off-limits to bulkier beings.
It'll be interesting to see how Shovel Knight fans react to Shovel Knight Dig. Shovel Knight's procedurally generated quest to dig a hole to Hell or wherever is extremely different from his past adventures, not to mention the other Knight adventures. If you can open your mind and accept Shovel Knight Dig as "the next cool Shovel Knight game to get excited about," you might discover a great adventure seething just under your feet.
Shovel Knight Dig's release date is yet to be announced, and the only confirmed platform so far is the Nintendo Switch.