Price: included with Apple Arcade
Size: 268 MB
Platform: iPhone & iPad
If the limits of your gaming knowledge extend to the edges of the App Store and no further, then you won’t have encountered the original Shovel Knight. Rather annoyingly, Yacht Club Games’ 2014 platformer has appeared on pretty much every platform around except for mobile.
That doesn’t matter one jot, because for our money, Shovel Knight Dig is better – or at least, better suited to mobile play. Made by the mobile gaming geniuses at Nitrome (Gunbrick, Bomb Chicken, Rust Bucket), it takes the form of a finely honed yet immensely challenging and deceptively deep “roguelite” platformer.
Very much in the mode of Downwell, the idea is to dig down ever deeper into randomly arranged but thematically consistent levels, pausing from time to time to upgrade your arsenal at well-positioned shopkeepers and other bonus rooms.
There’s a much more considered, exploratory pace to Shovel Knight, however, and much more depth and variety to boot. There are secret rooms and diversions aplenty, not to mention bosses to vanquish and stacks of unlockables to access once your run ends and you return to the surface.
The core action is incredibly satisfying, with your titular knight using their giant shovel to dig down into the soft earth below, to bounce on the heads of enemies like a pogo stick, or to thwack anything that gets in your way with a lateral swipe.
There’s also space for a bonus tool, which you can pick up from within the game’s cavernous levels, which might grant you the power of flight, to name one example. Other pickups will bolster your existing abilities, such as enabling you to smash blocks above you, Mario-style, or increasing your shovel’s knock-back effect.
Yacht Club Game’s fantasy world, which is so evocative of classic 8-bit platformers of old, has been faithfully reproduced, albeit with a level of detail, color, and fluidity that speaks as much to Nitrome’s recent history.
We should note that a controller is nigh-on essential if you want to experience Shovel Knight Dig at its best. There are serviceable virtual controls in place, but the platforming action simply demands too much precision and swift reaction times to be left to such a woolly system.
This, and the related fact that this is most definitely a console game rather than a mobile game, and thus not the kind of game you can whip out for a few idle moments on the bus, is just about the only criticism we have of Shovel Knight Dig. It’s an impeccable roguelite stuffed full of tight arcade action, tantalizing secrets, and challenging action-platformer gameplay.
If you’re an Apple Arcade subscriber and you fancy a challenge, it really is a no-brainer.