Developer: Image & Form
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, 3DS, Wii U PS4 [reviewed], Vita, Xbox One
Genre: side-scrolling, platforming digger
Number of Players: 1
Price: $9 (3DS), $10 (other platforms, with PSN cross-buy)
These days, I typically avoid anything with "dig" in the title because that implies that the game has some sort of crafting component. Show me a guy with an axe and you basically show me the door. I saw SteamWorld Dig on the 3DS eShop and completely ignored it. In the interim, I actually read what the game was about and became pretty interested. When I heard there would be a cross-buy version for the PS4 and Vita, I jumped right on it and got a PS+ discount to boot!
SteamWorld Dig takes place in the post-apocalyptic future where steampunk robots have taken over the earth and live like cowboys for some reason. You play as Rusty (clever), a robot who has inherited a mine from his dead uncle. I'm not sure how robots have uncles, or biologies of any kind, but I just went with it. The game does have a story, with a mystery to uncover, but it's pretty light and the focus is really on the gameplay anyway. So you venture down, cutting your own path with your pickaxe, and… that’s about it. It sounds pretty boring, but I found it to be surprisingly fun. I spent an entire afternoon (about six hours) playing the game from start to finish because it was pretty damn addictive. SteamWorld has what I like to call “Monster Hunter Syndrome”. You go down in the mines and bring back materials you dig up so you can sell them to buy new equipment so you can dig further and get better loot to sell for better equipment so you can keep digging… and so it goes into infinity.
One of the most interesting aspects of SteamWorld is that the mines are randomly generated each new game you start. So, having beaten it, I can go back and have a (relatively) fresh experience, although, obviously, the game’s progression is the same. But in addition to the mines being randomized, all the paths are built by the player. It’s almost entirely chunks of solid earth and rock you have to carve out to dig deeper, so it’s in your best interest to carve yourself a way out. Luckily, Rusty has a wall jump which makes it pretty easy early on to get out of tough spots as long as you have a vertical path to jump out of. As you dig further, you’ll encounter random caves with loot and special numbered ones that give you new abilities. In the general mines, these will either make digging easier (like the drill) or make it easier to maneuver your way out (like the steam jump). Some powerups, like the speed boost, were never used at all except in the rooms where I got another ability. These rooms are randomly placed, but otherwise are the only areas that aren’t generated randomly and require you to use acquired skills to get through.
All of your abilities (drill, jump, super arm punch) use water that can be conveniently absorbed from puddles, Mario Sunshine style. You’ll need to carefully manage this along with your health and oil. Because you’re a robot, naturally you have a furnace in your chest that produces light so you can see where you’re digging. When the light goes out then you can’t tell what types of blocks are around you or if there’s any enemies about to kill you. This runs on a timer that can thankfully be upgraded like everything else by selling the stuff you dig up in the mines. The game progressed at a really nice clip. I’d run out of light, climb back up (or teleport if I bought a quick travel teleporter), sell some stuff, and usually have enough money to buy an upgrade or two before I went back down again.
I was surprised with the variety of locations for a game that takes place in underground mines. The first area is pretty generic mine stuff that reminded me a lot of Spelunky. Well, the whole game did in general, except that it’s not quite a roguelike since it does have a set progression. But anyway, I then found myself facing off against the nuclear remnants of humanity, followed by an underground city of future robots, each with tons of new hazards. The difficulty ramps up quite a bit with every new area. But the game is in perfect synch, because as soon as you encounter something that seems too difficult for you to overcome, the game gives you a new toy. Like dynamite or a fist gun. By the time I got to the final boss (the only one in the game) I had purchased nearly every upgrade. I started out as a frail robot with an old pickaxe who had to whack a piece of dirt six times to break it. But in the end, I became a walking death machine who annihilated earth, stone, people, creatures, and even other robots.
SteamWorld Dig doesn’t break the mold or do much new, but it made me excited about busting open rocks in hopes of finding a $500 emerald that I could use towards buying a platinum pickaxe. And that’s something special.