SteamWorld Dig ReviewJoe Shaffer
SteamWorld Dig is not a complex game. It involves little micromanagement, possesses a practically nonexistent learning curve, and features a dearth of fresh concepts to bog you down. You're also not likely to find yourself pondering overmuch about how to best build your character, nor poring over vast, detailed maps of locales in an effort to uncover all of the game's secrets. Rather, a substantial bit of the SteamWorld Dig experience consists of taking up a pickaxe, breaking into the soft soil beneath a wonderful western frontier-like town, and scoring fat chunks of various ores in order to boost your wealth. From there, you can hit one of the local stores and purchase consumable items and upgrades that allow you to obtain cash more efficiently (i.e. dig faster). Following that, the process starts anew...
I would imagine that to some gamers, the process described above sounds like a terribly repetitive task, and is therefore unworthy of their time and attention. After all, the game isn't meant to be for everyone. However, for players like myself, who enjoy looting, raking in cash, and simple character upgrading, SteamWorld Dig is a short, sweet, relaxing slice of heaven.
Delving into Dig's 2D world requires a bit of planning, despite its simplicity. Pickaxe in hand, you can clear out chunks of dirt to free up space in the mine. As you dig and access the game's immense supply of ores, you end up creating networks of tunnels that eventually evolve into spacious rooms and corridors. I'll put it this way: Dig is basically a platformer that allows you to create platforms to your liking, either as a means of gathering shiny metals or facilitating an exit. As you can imagine, considerate digging is the best policy when mining. It's especially important that you leave some earth untouched. Carelessness could lead to a fair number of missed ores, as you would have no platform to stand on when attempting to liberate them (though you could exhaust some of the game's finite money supply to invest in ladders). Worse, you could end up excising patches of rock that might've allowed for a speedy exit--or even an exit at all! I once found myself in that situation, where I dug unwisely and found my way back cut off because I couldn't leap high enough to reach a patch of dirt. Sure, you can easily ascend by repeatedly wall-jumping, but I couldn't even grasp the wall! I ended up digging like mad in the hopes of finding teleporter, which I thankfully did eventually locate. However, I could have saved myself some trouble had I left some platforms behind.
You can't be too careful down below, because there are plenty of metal-munching monsters capable of taking your life. While continues might be infinite in Dig, that doesn't mean that death is without penalties. Perish and the game will dock a percentage of your current earnings. Worse is that you'll temporarily lose your loot, as it'll remain in a bag next to your busted frame. A minor setback, right? Bear in mind that whatever killed you before is still at large, now guarding your precious collection of pretties. You also need to remember that you don't have all of the time in the world to recover your belongings and recommence mining, as your light source relies on a finite amount of fuel. Once that depletes, you'll be mining blindly, unable to tell if the next rock you break will, say, reward you with uranium or grant you access to an unseen acid pool.
The main objective in Dig's campaign is not merely to mine for ore and become a prospector extraordinaire. Rather, your main concern involves locating your uncle by accessing caves found throughout the game, some of which hold Mega Man X-like machinery that bestow new abilities unto you. For instance, you can reach lofty heights using a water-propelled steam jet [NOTE: No, I couldn't have used this in my earlier anecdote, as I was out of water.]. You can also snag some new weapons/mining devices, like a drill or a projectile-shooting fist, which respectively allow you to break through tough rocks or blast patches of dirt from a distance.
You might notice in your travels that there are certain areas that cannot be immediately accessed in the caves, either because they're unreachable or blocked by an impenetrable barrier. As you might guess, that means that there's plenty of backtracking offered in Dig, some of which is actually required in order to complete the campaign. While this can be nice, as it gives the game a slight Metroid feel, it's also a bit irksome. It can be annoying remember which caves I haven't fully explored, or even recalling that I should backtrack at a time that I want to move the campaign forward. Personally, I say if you're going to commit to a Metroid-style structure, either go all out or don't bother. I've played my share of games that were basically Metroid Lite, and they're usually none too impressive. Thankfully, the backtracking in Dig is not so terrible as to be a major offense.
Although little of what I mentioned above is new material, it all adds up to a refreshing experience. Dig is a nice change of pace from the immense number of platformers that have come out in the last few years, most of which seem to be content with reusing old tropes as if they're long forgotten relics of the past (they're not). I'm not saying that Dig is revolutionary or groundbreaking (pun intended), but there've been so few games like it in the last couple of decades that playing it has been a breath of fresh air.
Players who aren't all that impressed by item farming and upgrading will likely see SteamWorld Dig as a gorgeous 2D game, sporting cartoony visuals and rustic music reminiscent of old westerns, but with little else to offer. Those of us who find looting and exploring to be addictive activities to engage in, though, may find Dig to be a wonderful adventure. It's nice to find a game that reorganizes 2D platformer elements to create a fresh, worthwhile experience.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.