Uncle Joe is dead. He dug too deep trying to uncover the mysteries that lay buried deep in the ground. With the falling rays of the setting sun, a new steambot swaggers in to the tiny town of Tumbleton. Rusty has come to collect his inheritance: the claim to his uncle’s mine and an old pickaxe to help him dig out the treasures buried deep within it. There are mysterious things happening deep under this sleepy little town, and Rusty just might be the steambot to discover what they are.
So begins SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt, a game set in a world where steam powered robots control the surface of the Earth, and mankind is nothing but a legend from a bygone era. You play as Rusty, the new bot in town with a desire to uncover the mystery of his uncle’s death. To do that, you’re going to have to dig. And dig. And then dig some more. Equipped with an old pickaxe, you quickly descend into the mine and begin to chip away at rock and sand in search of answers (and gold). As your lamp starts to burn out, you head back to the surface to recharge and trade the minerals you have mined for upgrades to your equipment. The better your tools, the deeper you can dig. Then it is back to the mines once again.
You’ll also discover strange new technologies hidden in scattered locations throughout the mine. These pieces of advanced tech will give your steambot new abilities that will enable you to enter areas that were previously inaccessible.
Your new powers will allow you to defeat (or avoid) the many perils which lurk deep in the mine. Robotic turtles, dynamite throwing zombies, and pits of acid are just a few of the dangers that will try to turn your steambot into a pile of scrap metal. The good part is that when you die, you are brought back up to the surface and reassembled for a small fee: 50% of all your gold. The cost of dying will be determined by how much money you have saved up. If you have spent it all, you will lose very little. If you were saving for a big-ticket upgrade then you could see half of that gold disappear. Then it’s back into the mine to dig your way to prosperity again.
SteamWorld Dig is an adventure platformer at its heart. While the mining aspect might make many think of games like Terraria or Minecraft, this game uses the mining concept to let the player craft his own mine, which will determine how difficult a platformer it is. If you mine carefully you can create a perfect tunnel that will easily allow you to return to the surface. But if you’re careless and just break every rock you see, you could easily find yourself trapped at the bottom of a shaft with no way to get back home.
This “make your own platformer” works really well thanks to the fantastic controls. Everything feels very natural. Whether you are double jumping, wall running, or drilling through a block of granite, the controls are always very precise. It makes navigating your way through the mine a lot of fun.
The look of the game draws heavily from the spaghetti westerns of the past and updated with a cartoon twist. In short, it’s beautiful. The sad part is that as your lamp runs out of light everthing gets darker until you can’t see much of this beautiful world anymore. You’re stuck playing in the dark until you can find your way back to the surface to recharge.
The music is also heavily influenced by old western movies and is a perfect fit for the game. It turns slightly eerie as you edge deeper and deeper into the mine to give a sense of the foreboding danger that seems to be around every turn. Something mysterious is down there and the music often reflects that.
The sound effects also do a great job of adding to the atmosphere of the game. Every time Rusty lands hard on a rock, the heavy metallic thud (and jingle of gold coins) echoes in just the right way to make you feel you’re deep in a mine.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
There are a lot of good things happening in SteamWorld Dig that make the game easy to enjoy. It looks and sounds great. The platforming aspects are handled really well, and there’s a lot of fun to be had in mining resources in exchange for upgrades. The characters are cute and charming, and the dangers you face are challenging but never too frustrating. The game is also cross-buy with the PS4. It plays identically on both systems, which is great, though I find it easier to play on the Vita since the more compact button layout provides for tighter control when platforming. The downside though is that there is no cross-save. Any progress you make on the Vita will not be reflected on the PS4.
There are also a few bad elements that bring down the experience a little. For one, the game is on the short side. I was able to finish the game in just over five hours, and there is a trophy for finishing it in less than two and a half hours. Presumably you can speed run it in even less time. Normally this isn’t a problem, but when I got to the end, I couldn’t help but feel like there was something missing. There was a sense that it wasn’t complete. You spend a lot of time mining for gold to upgrade Rusty, and by the time you can do some really fun things with him, the game is over.
And while the mining is fun, it can also be repetitive and laborious at times, especially as you get further down. Rocks that could once easily be crushed with a swing of your pickaxe now require eight or more swings to break. It can get a little old after a while. It finally gets fun again after you have upgraded everything… which sadly is also when you do not need to dig anymore.
The one ugly aspect to SteamWorld Dig is that the game tends to hold your hand too often. It can almost be too easy at times. Everything is set up to allow for a game that should encourage exploration and discovery, but your next objective is always clearly marked for you on the map. You will never get lost in SteamWorld because there’s a bright red beacon pointing to where you should go next. This has the effect of actually discouraging exploration. It would be nice if there was an option to turn the beacon off and allow players the opportunity to feel a little lost in this underground world.
SteamWorld Dig is a really good adventure platformer set in a beautifully crafted world. It looks great, it sounds great, and it plays great. Despite the few issues I have with the game, it is a lot fun to play and definitely worth checking out.
Check out the trailer below to see the game in action.
What do you think of the game? Let us know in the comments.