When I first dove into SteamWorld Dig: A Fistfull of Dirt, I was expecting to play another Minecraft or Spelunker clone. And, although the comparison is easy to make, I’m pleased to report that SteamWorld Dig differentiates itself in the way that I hoped it would.
Developed by indie Studio Image & Form, SteamWorld Dig follows the tale of Rusty, a steambot miner who receives a deed to an entire mine from his long-deceased uncle. The mine itself is located in the small town of Tumbleton, a population of three residents. The world itself is set in a western steampunk environment with some brilliantly-designed characters, each with unique personalities. In fact, I became so attached to the characters that I wish the developers would have given them voice overs, as it got kind of annoying hearing the same robotic sounds as each dialog bubble appeared.
Still, it isn’t for the story or the characters that I truly enjoyed SteamWorld Dig — it was the addictive mining and upgrading system. Rusty starts the game with a pickaxe, which he uses to dig into the mine that he now owns. As players dig through the world they create their own path however they wish. If players choose to dig straight down, they can; or if they wish to dig left to right, it can lead to a lot of hidden rewards for your troubles. One of the most interesting aspects of the digging is that none of the blocks that the players dig through ever return to the world, so when digging your path it is wise not to dig large wide open areas as it will make it hard to return back to the surface.
The game doesn’t leave players stuck or unable to return to town. If you do happen to run into a brick wall, the game lets you simply self destruct and return to town. Players can also use the resources and ore they find to sell for money and use the money to buy ladders and teleporters that they can place anywhere in the environment to return home. Selling the resources and ores also levels up the shops and adds new add-ons to Rusty, while gamers can upgrade their health and their pickaxe allowing Rusty to dig faster and do more damage to enemies.
While players dig they will find caves to explore, which hold secrets that gamers discover as they complete well designed puzzles and transverse multiple traps. Most of these caves contain upgrades for Rusty, which are essential for completing all the hidden caves and obtaining all the secrets in the game. Most upgrades are given to players as they progress through the story, but some can be completely missed. Upgrades range from double-jumping and avoiding drop damage. Some of the more important upgrades that Rusty will acquire is a drill arm and a power punch. The drill arm allows Rusty to dig through stone and the power punch allows him to destroy blocks and attack enemies from a distance. However, these abilities run on water, which players will have to replenish by finding water pools throughout the world, but be warned; the pools won’t refill once they have been depleted. Overall, Rusty will dig through three different environments: a mining tunnel, an abandoned city, and a long lost robotic location.
Each environment is completely different from the last, full of its own traps and enemies. The further players progress the more difficult the enemies get; gamers will encounter everything from giant rock turtles in the mining tunnels to shambling zombies in the old abandoned city. It’s also worth noting that the layout of the maps change with each playthrough, offering gamers a reason to return to SteamWorld Dig after completing it. Unfortunately, none of the upgrades or collected money and level upgrade carry over to other playthroughs.
Another issue is the game itself isn’t as challenging as I was hoping it would be. Dying simply returns you back to town with a small currency deduction and a loss of all the resources that the player has collected, but you can easily recover lost resources by returning to the point where you died. The story itself also isn’t that inspiring and its world and characters don’t develop past their introduction. The game also has a boss battle at the end, which I found extremely entertaining and wished that the developers would have expanded more on.
It took me about four hours to complete SteamWorld Dig, but those four hours flew before I even noticed. Needless to say, Image & Form has created one of the most addictive titles I have played in quite some time, and digging to the bottom of the world and exploring large underground caves for treasure and upgrades never once got monotonous. With the mine changing its layout throughout every playthrough I never found a reason to not return to my digging, and Image & Form’s smart decision to release the game as a cross-buy between the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita just means I can now dig on the go.