I first picked up SteamWorld Dig about a year ago as a fun way to kill time while doing laundry and taking breaks at work. Now that it’s available via Humble Bundle, I thought I’d revisit this little gem.
That, and with a not-sequel (but still in the same universe) game being released later this year (hopefully), this is worth sharing!
You are a robot, living in a robot-run world. You inherit a mine, you dig, you sell material, the town gets expanded, you can buy and find upgrades, and repeat the process until you reach the end of the game.
There are elements of Metroidvania going on, but it’s a bit more linear (as you need certain upgrades to reach certain areas) and much more forgiving.
Your uncle, a miner in the middle of nowhere, passed on and left you the mine. As you dig, you learn that your uncle was doing a lot of experiments with old technology that confused and scared the locals, and each upgrade you acquire brings you just a bit further away from the other robots.
As you dig deeper, you find that humans went underground after numerous wars, and their ancestors live underground as vile troglodytes (i.e. drunken idiot hillbillies) that get in your way and try to kill you. They also tend to get themselves killed just as often as they try to kill you, as they tend to have a love of explosives.
When you finally reach deep enough, you realize what your uncle was working with and what he was preparing you to do. The real question is: are you prepared?
If you’re ever played a game like Motherload, Miner Dig Deep, or their ilk, you are right at home. Otherwise, read on.
In this game, the first goal is to make money. You wander around underground armed with your pick ax and gather what materials you can. You sell them in town for money, which can be used for upgrades, and there are eventual unlocks from gathering money that will give you even better upgrades.
While you are underground, you are on a time limit. Not only do you have a health gauge, but you have a water gauge (which powers your abilities) and your light source. Light is important, not only is it your lifeline (literally; you are burning fuel to function and provide light), but the benefit it grants by showing you what you are digging into: is it an explosive, will a giant block crush you, or is it a precious diamond?
You use whatever tools you have on hand, whether it’s a drill, pickax, dynamite, or even a super, steam-powered punch, to gather the materials, defeat the monsters, and explore further into the unknown.
It’s really simple and pretty self-explanatory, but not too simple; each upgrade gives you a new or faster way of doing things, each new level you reach (and can return to and from town via pneumatic tubes) increases the threats you face, and the final boss can be a challenge if you are unprepared. There are also a number of puzzles which can keep you guessing sometimes, or a challenge you will just have to return to when you have the necessary upgrades.
The controls are also pretty self-explanatory: one button jumps, one button activates your primary item while another activates your secondary item. Not rocket science!
Like most other mining-based games, the “Just one more run” can be addicting. I remember sitting up until the odd hours of a summer night, gripped by the idea that I’d just reach a bit further down to unlock the next level, and instead went exploring to make sure I got all of the available money and orbs (another upgrade resource) on that level.
The simply controls make it easy to get into, while the puzzles, traps, and monsters add a degree of challenge that will keep you on your toes, especially in later levels (trust me on that).
The game is also randomly generated each time you start up a new file. If you felt as though the game was too easy the first time, try it again; the maps will be different, the upgrades will be in new areas, and the monsters will be scattered about in new locations.
For a game that is a of a sandbox, it does have a rather linear approach, as you really will need set upgrades in order to get to the location you want to reach. This is a good thing for some, as it promotes backtracking, adds more time to the game, and gives a reason for every upgrade beyond a one-time use.
Graphically, the game is nice. Not blistering 60+fps nice, but a nicely done, mostly cel-shaded work of art. There’s a lot of attention to detail, here, and the characters don’t fall flat (artistically or personality-wise). I’m alright with this. There are also a number of hidden gems hidden on the various maps if you have a keen eye, which adds to the appeal.
Personally, I feel the game is WAY too short. I had maybe four or five hours of gameplay in this before I reached the end, and that was after I explored EVERYTHING and acquired every object of value (but still didn’t have all of the upgrades due to some deaths). I didn’t do much with the second playthrough, mostly due to being distracted by something else that I was playing at the time.
The story is also a bit lacking. While I don’t expect an amazing story from a game in which you spend your time mining, when a story is offered, I want DETAILS. Knowing that there was the society of humans, a war long passed, this power of “electricity” you run into underground (as well as the odd machines your uncle was tampering with), and more that was alluded to yet never expanded on causes me to itch for more.
The end boss was a bit anticlimactic for me (then again, I tend to do that), and the ending itself left a bit to be desired. It did leave things open for a direct sequel, but that’s another game to buy instead of expanding this one directly.
If you like mining games, Westerns, and quirky platformers, this is worth picking up, especially if you look at the awesome deal you’d be getting by purchasing it via Humble Bundle (as long as you have a 3DS or Wii U). As a 3DS game, it’s fun to play and kill time with if you like digging games, but you can burn it down during a long trip. If you want something longer, give this a pass or pick it up on a good sale, as you will probably not get your money’s worth.