The game starts off with our hero Rusty – a ‘steambot’ who is trying to find his uncle in Tumbletown (which only has a handful of robots still residing), and inherit his mine filled with gems… and foes.
Exploring the mine combines a few different gameplay styles together. Digging deeper into the mine to create new pathways and find gems is done in a Mr Driller style; the gems you find pay for bigger and better equipment, which is a definite must. The simple pickaxe you start with is quickly rendered useless – the deeper you go the harder the dirt becomes.
What’s more, you have limited water, light and health resources to prompt you to return to the surface every once in a while, dungeon crawler-style. The mine itself is a complex maze of rooms and puzzles in a way lifted from the early Metroid games.
As you upgrade your equipment and health, heading to the deeper sections of the mine and fighting the enemies within becomes a lot easier, encouraging players to dig away from the main path to find more gems to trade for further upgrades – and the cycle continues. The gems do not always re-spawn when you enter the mine, but there seems to be more than enough to mine, even with the numerous upgrades to purchase.
The pace can feel slow at first, but once the steam powered drill is in your hands digging become a lot less of a hassle. Getting the Steam Jump ability (which boosts your jump height at the cost of water reserves) makes navigation a breeze, but can be risky to use carelessly. In having Metroid and dungeon crawler elements, there are few to-the-surface teleport areas, forcing you to consider whether you dig deeper against how easily you can make it back.
Death will result in you dropping items and half your money as you’re taken back to the surface. However, if you manage to work your way back to the point where you died, you’ll be able to regain your lost items. Death ends up not being crippling, but encourages you to dig with caution.
The controls are responsive and standard fare for a sidescroller – the Control Pad to move around, the B button to jump and the A button to swing your pickaxe/weapons. Although the touch screen is not used for much other than inventory management, it’s not a huge loss. Some games feel like they have to shoehorn in the touch screen or 3D effects, to their detriment.
SteamWorld Dig‘s art direction is relatively simple but has a sense of vibrancy in its environments. Turning the 3D on it gives a nice effect without being too overpowering.
The background music has a western/cowboy theme which suits the game perfectly, although the grinding sound of robots talking instead of actual voice acting can get a bit tiresome, having robots with corny Wild West accents would have brought some laughs.
Though the gameplay is excellent, the length is lacking – there’s only a single boss to the game’s story before it’s all over. This shortcoming also highlights how similar some of the puzzles are, meaning the later parts of the game went by faster as you fall into the game’s rhythm and patterns.
SteamWorld Dig offers a core of dungeon crawling and Metroid-esque sensibilities wrapped in a candy-coloured Sci-Fi Western shell. Despite the short play time, there’s still a fair amount of exploration and puzzle solving to do – certainly worth the £7.99 price tag. Image & Form have confirmed that a sequel is in the works, so if you become a fan of SteamWorld, you have more to look forward to.
- Plenty to explore even after the story’s over.
- Finding hidden gems and buying weapons is rewarding.
- Bold and colourful graphical style.
- Fun in marathon sessions or short bursts.
- The story’s notably short, only around 4-5 hours long.
- Lacking in puzzle diversity and boss fights.