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SteamWorld Dig Review: Digging into my heart

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Title: SteamWorld Dig
Price: $8.99
System(s): 3DS
Release Date: August 8, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Image & Form (Image & Form)
ESRB Rating: “Everyone 10+” for Fantasy Violence

So, I get this 3DS game to review, called SteamWorld Dig. It looks promising, especially considering it’s a 3DS eShop exclusive, but I’m not seeing any major news story about it. You know, hype to get people excited, or insight into its development. I didn’t even realize it was part of a series, with a prior entry, until I really started hunting for information on it and discovered SteamWorld Tower Defense came first, on the DSi. It’s a shame, because Image & Form have something really unusual and cool with SteamWorld Dig. I find myself sucked in, each time I play, and wanting to scream at anyone who’ll listen that this game exists, and they need to play it.

steamworld dig

A Steambot strolls into the Wild West.

Rusty’s just an ordinary steambot, who doesn’t know much about fighting or mining. He just knows that his Uncle Joe used to own a mine in the now dilapidated and dying town of Tumbleton, and he just inherited it. Not only that, but the second he arrives in town, he falls into it, and one of the few residents, Dorothy, has to help him climb back up to the surface after he finds his Uncle Joe’s remains.

There, he learns that the mine not only houses enough ores, metals and minerals to turn Tumbleton into a thriving town again, it also posses some strange secrets. See, the mine was actually constructed on top of the “old world,” where the “shiners” used to live. That’s what the steambots call humans. They’re mostly gone, though some crazy and insane remnants of their civilization eek out a half-life in the depths of the earth.

Still, it doesn’t pay to worry about them. At least, not initially. The best thing is to just do some minor exploring, get some powerups like a steam-powered jump, the ability to run and a drill, and take on the mysteries of the mine as Rusty unearths them.

steamworld dig

Digging into the past to upgrade Rusty.

SteamWorld Dig is a Metroidvania game, meaning it melds 2D dungeon exploration with some RPG progression. What’s interesting is, players have to dig their own dungeon. Rusty has a pickaxe, and later a drill and high powered punch, and is faced with a huge wall of dirt. Yes, there are occasionally caves, which lead to platformer areas, new equipment acquisition and powerups, but most of the time spent involves digging into this massive chunk of dirt in the hopes of finding precious metals and glowing orbs, uncovering caves, reaching the bottom and learning the secret of the Shiners.

At the start, Rusty is a very basic steambot. He has the pickaxe and the ability to wall-jump. He doesn’t have much health, can’t use any steam-powered abilities, can’t detect metal in the rock and has the absolute worst pickaxe he can possibly get. While certain upgrades, like hydraulics that allow him to fall further or the ability to double jump, are found in caves, the others are only available in Tumbleton’s shops after Rusty levels up. Since he’s a robot and can’t “level up” naturally like a human character would, it’s really Tumbleton that levels up instead. The ore that Rusty mines and sells to Dorothy is used to improve the town. Once certain monetary plateaus are reached, everything levels up. Which means Cranky could have more stock to sell, or new vendors will move to town. Rusty can then use the money he’s earned and glowing orbs he’s collected to purchase items, like dynamite, ladders and teleporters, or make himself better, by purchasing more armor, getting extra water tanks or upgrading his equipment.

It’s a system that works incredibly well, as I always felt like I had this incredible incentive to keep digging deeper. There are actually three different “mine” areas, each accessed by digging deep enough into an area. However, there’s a catch. Rusty has a lantern that only lasts for a certain amount of time. Upgrades can be purchased to make it last for a few minutes longer, but initially players only get about two minutes of time to go spelunking. Which makes the entire affair even more exciting. I started wondering how far could I go, how deep could I dig and, if I was in the mine too long, could I still reach an exit or teleporter in the dark? I enjoyed setting little challenges for myself.

Even if a player doesn’t set these personal challenges, there are still other dangers in the mine. Aside from strange, robotic grub and turtle creatures, there are crazed humans and robots, as well as dripping ooze, there are also the dangers players create. Initially, Rusty is pretty powerless. Dig too deep of a hole, or stumble into a pocket, and he could end up trapped, with no way to get out. Unless he continues down until he finds a teleporter, but who knows if there will be one waiting. At that point, there’s usually no alternative than to Self Destruct. If Rusty dies or self destructs, half of his money will be taken as repair fees, the ore he’d collected will be left in a bag in the spot where he gave up and he will be returned to the surface with one bar of health left. It’s a situation that sounds like something that would never happen to you, but I’ve either died or been forced to self destruct eight times, and I’ve been playing carefully.

steamworld dig

The SteamWorld is a lovely place to live.

I’ll admit it. I’m enamored with SteamWorld Dig. It’s hard to explain the experience. It’s like I’m savoring one of my favorite Castlevania games, adventuring through an unexplored region, but at the same time I’m mining through Terraria searching for the bits and pieces to make Rusty’s life better and further exploration easier. Moreover, I want to dig deeper and see hints at what may have happened to human life. While the story is rather bare bones, it’s almost like the mine itself tells a tale. Each monster encountered, ore excavated, and area unlocked shows what happened with small visual details or ore names. While I would have enjoyed a bit more exposition, and perhaps a few side-quests to provide some kind of incentive for beating enemies or exploring extra caves, I still consider every moment with SteamWorld Dig well spent, and found the final matchup quite satisfying. It was as though I’d spent the entire game preparing for that one moment, and when victory came, it was all worth it.

Site [SteamWorld Dig]

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