The notion of ‘digging’ has carved out a niche little sub-genre in recent times. We’ve had the indie juggernaut that is Minecraft, Super tough Spelunky and Terraria to name just a few. SteamWorld Dig is, as the title suggests, another game that wants you to dig. However, it’s certainly doing it in its own way.
Playing as Rusty, a lone steamboat designed for digging, you find yourself exploring a post-apocalyptic world where humans seem to have disappeared. You arrive in the dustbowl town of Tumbleton after receiving the deed to your Uncle Joe’s mine. The town is home to a few remaining robotic inhabitants and it’s up to you to uncover the story of the mine and the towns folk.
Your initial forays into the mine will mainly be to find gold and gems which can then be traded and used to upgrade Rusty. All manner of items and upgrades are available and they continually expand as you find more money to spend. Along with this you will gradually uncover more abilities that Rusty can use to help traverse the depths. There’s an element of Metroid to the character advancement but we wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is a Metroidvania.
The game world sets itself out into three main sections. You have the town where you can talk and upgrade, the main part of the mine and self-contained rooms within it. For a large amount of the game you’ll be continually digging downward in the main mine area. The goal here is to find cash, avoid critters and find rooms as you uncover the truth of what happened to the humans and the world. The deeper you go, the thicker the rock gets and the tougher the enemies become. Unless you keep upgrading it can be a tiresome task to break through the bedrock so you’ll need to be heading back to the surface to upgrade your pickaxe and other mining gear often.
This is perhaps one of the few flaws with the game. While there are a number of short cuts back to the surface, there really aren’t enough of them for it to stop the game from dragging and getting repetitive on occasion. It’s not so bad when going down the mine as you can normally drop down tunnels you’ve dug, but going back up can be tiresome. It’s not enough to take away from the experience in the long term and there are teleporters that can be purchased, but a few more short cuts really wouldn’t have gone a miss.
The self-contain rooms within the mine provide a mixture of both platforming and puzzle solving to negotiate. Plot related rooms lead to power ups and boss fights while other hidden areas generally contain precious gems. SteamWorld Dig really is a platformer at heart and these rooms allow for the developers to show off how they have mastered the form. You’ll need quick reflexes and a good understanding of how your powers work to succeed and the difficulty level is pitches just about perfect throughout. Each room and boss is challenging but you’ll always feel you know how you should be beating it - it’s just a case of mustering the skill to do it.
There’s something really compelling about the game and as you dig deeper (both literally and into the mystery), you’ll really want to know what’s going on. It’s the sort of game you’ll start playing for a few minutes and end up sticking with until your 3DS starts telling you it needs to be charged.
We can’t think of another eshop game which has had that effect on us and it shows a skill and understanding by the development team rarely seen elsewhere. SteamWorld Dig may well have gone unnoticed by a lot of you, but we would really recommend checking it out. It’s probably the best 3DS eshop title available right now and it offers a fun, challenging and fresh experience for gamers to test themselves with.