SteamWorld Dig is an addictive mining platformer deserving of the praise it gets. I’m furious with myself for not picking up this gem earlier, and guilty that I got it at half price. Following its purchase during Black Friday, I’ve been playing it nonstop and at a furious pace. I can still feel the curve of the 3DS in my hands even after I set it down to go about my day. I’m well aware the game released in 2013 and that I’m four years late to the party, but as the saying goes, it’s better late than never.
The town of Tumbleton has seen better days. Enter Rusty, a steambot who moves in after receiving a deed to his uncle’s mine. In an unfortunate turn of events, he finds his uncle dead and takes up the unenviable role of revitalizing the withering town. Armed with a pickaxe, he explores the mine for precious ores and metals. As he ventures deeper into the earth, Rusty soon uncovers remnants of the human civilization and something vastly more advanced than anything he’s ever seen.
I like SteamWorld Dig’s hands-off approach to storytelling. I had no clue what the game was about five minutes after I’d started, only understanding that I needed to explore and gather resources. Talking to the few steambots in Tumbleton hints at something deeper, but without much to go on I settled into a comfortable and familiar rhythm of mining, finding ores, and then selling them on the surface. It was easy to be fixated on levelling up and upgrading Rusty, equipping him with more powerful tools the deeper I went.
The story slowly takes shape the longer you play, like pieces of a puzzle coming together. My aim quickly shifted from earning as much as possible to exploring as much as possible. My curiosity steadily grew as Rusty uncovered the trail of breadcrumbs left by his enigmatic, deceased uncle, finding technology far beyond anything he’d ever seen. My only gripe with SteamWorld Dig’s story is its predictability. The build up toward the ending is rendered moot if the player can see it coming from a mile away. I hoped things would play out differently, but it didn’t. The story is passable, though if you go in expecting an interesting, unique narrative, you’ll find yourself disappointed.
SteamWorld Dig is a mining platformer, which means you’ll be chipping away at dirt and rocks most of the time. The beginning is the hardest part as the game only gives you three empty slots to hold your ores, and a bar dictating your ability to see, which drains absurdly quickly. This makes for irritating moments where I’m forced to return to the surface to clear my slots despite doing the same thing ten minutes prior.
Thankfully, those moments are lessened as you progress, and overall the game is well-balanced. Ores are plentiful and easy to find, and Rusty can purchase gadgets to move to and fro more efficiently. I won’t lie and say I didn’t grind for ores, but it feels comfortable rather than irritating, and a part of the experience rather than empty filler to rack up my playtime.
Platforming in SteamWorld Dig is pretty enjoyable. There are small mines littered within the main one where Rusty can obtain valuable ores and revitalizing power-ups. They include some manner of platform puzzles that aren’t too difficult to figure out, and secret areas where more ores are usually hidden. These sections are a nice breather from the cycle of dig-sell-dig, but I wished there were more of them since they were useful in breaking the occasionally monotonous cycle.
Regarding game controls, SteamWorld Dig is handled beautifully on the 3DS. I didn’t have a problem with the layout or the choice of action for each button. If you care about portability, I’d suggest the handheld version over the PC port. If you prefer crispy graphics, HD images and trading cards, the Steam version might be a better fit, and it also comes with full controller support. You can’t go wrong with either version, or you might even decide to get it on both platforms if you like it enough.
SteamWorld Dig is a solid buy regardless of if you enjoy platform games. Play time varies between players, but I finished it in a little under nine hours. You could probably finish it faster if you didn’t bother exploring, but I recommend taking it slow as SteamWorld Dig is a game meant to be savored.