Not every video game character has to work as hard as California Gold Rush's Mandy to earn her keep. For console game icons Mario and Sonic, gold coins and rings just sit there within reach, waiting to be picked collected. But Mandy has to get her hands dirty, chiseling gold from layers of solid rock. Fortunately for this newcomer, the extra effort pays off because she's the star of a thoroughly engaging game with a whole lot of depth.
California Gold Rush is a 2D digging game that plays very differently from others that have come before it. You might be tempted to compare it to such arcade games as Dig Dug or Mr. Driller, but the focus in California Gold Rush is more on exploring mines and discovering riches than fighting enemies or racing against the clock.
Mandy the miner is a cheerful and charming lass who comes equipped with all the tools of the trade: a pickaxe, maps, and dynamite. For each mine you explore, Mandy has a set amount of stamina that she can use to tunnel through different kinds of rock. The thicker the rocks, the more stamina it takes her to chisel through them.
At first, you'll blindly hack your way through, drawn to the glints of gold in the darkness. As more of the maps are revealed and you go deeper below ground, you'll have to make tough decisions. For example, you'll have to decide whether to exert stamina to dig toward the gold or use your scarce dynamite to just blast through the rock.
The game constantly forces you to consider trade-offs among gold, stamina, and supplies in a very subtle way. Each of the 30 different mines is challenging and full of hidden rewards. Exploring them becomes a gradually more-intense experience as you run low on stamina and supplies. Such variables as treasure chests (which can hit you with curses or bring you good luck), cave-ins, bats, gas, and lava all help make this game seem unassuming but deviously challenging.
The main game is fantastic, but a few of the rewards can be slightly disappointing. For example, the history textbook excerpts you unlock throughout the game pale in comparison to the five golden idols buried in the mines that reveal the location of a legendary stash of gold--a much more interesting bonus to uncover.
California Gold Rush is original, addictive, and provides a ton of quality content. If you've been digging away at the huge variety of iDevice games out there in search of a good game of this sort, then you can put down that pickaxe, because you'll strike gold here
This review was provided by GameSpot mobile content partner SlideToPlay.com.