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Throwback Thursday: Sink Your Shovel Into SteamWorld Dig

The Claim

SteamWorld Dig is a unique and fun fusion of genres that feels like Super Metroid and Dig Dug had a love child. Its described as an action adventure platformer by some and a Metroidvania game by others but none of these really capture what Steamworld Dig is. With a game that is so hard to quantify its understandable that it may have been overlooked by some.

Developer: Image & Form
Publsisher: Image & Form
Platforms: WiiU, 3DS, Steam (Windows, Linux & Mac) Soon: PS4, Playstation Vita (2014)
Genre: Action Adventure, 2D platformer
Reviewed on: PC

SteamWorld Dig at its core is a game about exploration. You play as Rusty, a steambot in a world of steambots. Who arrives in the dusty town of Tumbleton (Population 3), after receiving the deed to a mine from a long-lost Uncle Joe. Once you get your pickaxe and go through a short tutorial your goal is to dig. As you dig you gather gems and valuable minerals to sell in town. Using the currency earned to buy upgrades to help you dig more efficiently, and delve ever deeper into the mystery of why your uncle left you a mine. 

SteamWorld Dig - Tumbleton

Tumbleton Population 3

As you dig you’ll encounter special mine shafts or tunnels that were left by your mysterious uncle. In each of these shafts you’ll find Megaman style power ups granting you new powers and abilities, ranging from a simple drill to a steam-powered super jump. SteamWorld dig pays homage to many NES, SNES games and yet never feels like it is just stealing whole sale from them. Everything has a robotic, western, steampunk flair that keeps mechanics you’ve seen in other games feeling fresh and interesting. 

reminds me of megaman

Uncle Joe’s strange upgrade tech.

Hidden Gems

SteamWorld Dig gets a lot of things right. The aesthetically cartoonish art style is pleasing to look at and even the smallest details are carefully crafted. Nothing in the entire game feels out-of-place. Which must have been no easy feat because as you delve ever deeper you come across ever more alien environments. Despite some areas feeling alien the aesthetic is never broken and you are never pulled out of your digging immersion. The soundtrack for the game is sublime. The musical score is range of western themed tunes, that never pull you out of the game, and only serve to draw you in deeper.

The level design for SteamWorld dig is fairly simple. Broken up into three major zones that are further divided into sub levels. These sub levels are gated behind acquiring the previous level’s power upgrade. It’s an effective gating tool, and rarely requires the player to back track to gather some power up they missed. Which can be a complaint for metroidvania style games.Dig deeper

It only gets more strange as you dig deeper

The controls for SteamWorld dig are tight and easy to use, even with a keyboard as my only means of input I was never frustrated. At first you may find yourself accidentally digging in the wrong direction or failing to wall jump up a shaft you previously dug. In a few minutes though you’re digging and wall jumping up and down mine shafts like a pro. Movement at first can be tricky, as its very limited when you start the game. So long as you remember it’s easier to dig down rather than up you’ll likely not have many problems. Digging up becomes far less an issue later, and movement becomes even simpler. To counter act this ease in difficulty, SteamWorld Dig introduces new monsters and obstacles to avoid. SteamWorld Dig ups the difficulty gradually, and save for a small slump in the middle I never felt frustrated.

Pitfalls

For all its sublime charm SteamWorld Dig is not a perfect game. SteamWorld Dig’s single boss fight is not very difficult and seems out-of-place in a game that is devoid of any other forced combat scenarios. The story of the game while there and enjoyable feels very thin. What is there is well written but you’re left thirsting for more. We can only hope that the sequels for this game flesh out the world more.

Thirst is another problem with the game. Most your power ups  run off water, which rusty converts to steam. But there is a significant lack of water in the game. Often causing you to backtrack quite a way to retrieve water from a previous area. On top of that, when you die and lose all your water and all but two of your health bars. You respawn in town with an easy method to restore yourself to full HP but no way to refill your water supply without taking a teleporter to another zone and as your water tanks get bigger it will take multiple trips to fill them up. Because of these things you’ll find yourself upgrading your water tanks over most other items. The only saving grace is that the game is essentially devoid of loading screens. Waiting at 10 or 15 second long loading screen three or four times to fill up your water tanks would have been a real deal breaker.

Water management is a big deal

Its dry and dusty even underground, good thing everyone is a robot.

ome of the purchasable upgrades in the game are less useful than others. The prime example being the lantern which allows you see a large radius around you and if the stone contain any gems. As you progress through the game you’ll level it up as finding that sweet sweet ore is more difficult without any light. The only way to refill the lantern is to visit the surface or to get a drop from a slain enemy. So naturally you level it up, only to then find that one of the big free upgrades is an ore sensor which displays valuable nodes on your mini map. This sensor effectively makes the lantern and all its upgrades useless or at the very least less valuable. Its bad design and is very out-of-place in an otherwise mechanically tight game. 

The Mother lode

Over all SteamWorld Dig is a fantastic indie game well worth its price. It has a fantastic sound and art style, tight controls and an intriguing unique setting. Its held back by its few flaws, namely a few questionable upgrades and no way to resupply water in the town. None the less, SteamWorld Dig is a surprising and exceptionally strong title from a game developer that doesn’t even (at the time of writing) have a Wikipedia page. Clocking in at only 4 to 8 hours on a normal play through and with achievements to accommodate the speed runner and completionist it has something for everyone.

I give SteamWorld Dig an excellent 9.0 score.

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About The Author
Jeremy Effinger
Jeremy Effinger
I am 26, a bibliophile, an amateur chef, and a gamer. I've gamed on the NES, SNES, PS1 and PS2 platforms, before switching to PC as my primary gaming platform. These days I tend to fill my gaming time playing Dota 2, and various RPGs of the WRPG or CRPG variety. I also enjoy the occasional shooter, open world game, 4x strategy games, stealth, and turn based games. I'm also an avid table top gamer and have been playing the same campaign weekly for the last four years.