Steamworld Dig Review

SteamWorld Dig is a charming, atmospheric exploration adventure, but it grinds to a halt just when it starts going full steam.

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Great game ideas are no longer as rare as diamonds; where major publishers are content to rely on established franchises, independent developers are eager to break new ground. Swedish developer Image and Form has stepped up with SteamWorld Dig, a Western-inspired platforming adventure in a world populated by steam-powered robots. It's not a typical platformer, however, combining Metroid-style exploration and upgrade-gathering with randomly generated environments to chop through in search of secrets. Too bad the mining comes to an abrupt halt, because SteamWorld Dig's setting hints at even more riches begging to be unearthed.

SteamWorld Dig follows Rusty, a steam-powered mining robot. He has come to the tiny desert town of Tumbleton to explore a mine left to him by his Uncle Joe. The others in the village don't know what became of Joe, but they assume that something interesting lies deep within the mine. It's up to you to dig into the depths and discover the secrets held far below. Will you find untold secrets and riches, or will you stumble into treacherous traps and wake fierce foes instead?

Rusty starts with very few abilities at first: he can jump, wall-jump, and attack enemies and walls with his trusty pickaxe. A lantern he carries illuminates the area surrounding him, but as the light runs low on fuel, his ability to see his immediate surroundings deteriorates. Smashing through the dirt can reveal passageways, enemies, and precious ores that can be taken back to town in exchange for cash to buy tools and equipment upgrades. Tools include ladders, stationary lights, and, later on, instant teleporters and highly destructive dynamite. Equipment upgrades enhance the weapons and mining implements you find, as well as allow for increased health, lighter fuel, and water.

Water becomes very important as the game progresses. Since Rusty is a steam-powered robot, many of the special skills he learns require fluid, like the steam-enhanced high jump and the drill needed to tear through tough rocks. Unfortunately, resources like water pools tend to be fairly scarce underground, so the best way to recover health, lighter fuel, and water is by defeating enemies and taking their leftover power-ups.

The game becomes a challenge in managing your various resources: Should you try to search for a water pool, possibly stumbling into traps, or instead attempt to kill challenging foes with your measly pickaxe and hope they drop fluid? Do you tough it out and try to dig as deep as possible with low light to get as much loot as possible, or just set an expensive teleporter to return to town and cash out what you have? While losing all of your health in the mines doesn't reset your digging progress, it does cause you to lose half your money, get sent back to town, and drop the ore you're carrying, giving a fair sense of risk versus reward.

Of course, you wouldn't even want to take such risks if the rewards weren't worthwhile. The mines in SteamWorld Dig are laden with secrets, ranging from rarer-than-usual ores and precious upgrade orbs to side caves filled with puzzles, traps, and hidden passages. Said caves typically boast new weapons and mobility enhancements, but require solving a challenging platforming puzzle and mastering the game mechanics you've learned thus far. (Thankfully, perishing in these caves lets you retry rather than incur the typical death penalty.)

There's a sense of progress as you dig deeper and deeper into the mines, uncovering rarer ores and augmenting your abilities. The moody, lonely atmosphere of the dark mines builds gradually, and the way the backgrounds and enemies change--as well as the talk in Tumbleton about the Old World lying deep beneath the earth--hints at some tantalizing mysteries about the game's setting. Frustratingly, these mysteries are barely explored, leaving a lot of curiosity about the world of these steambots that is never satiated.

This is a common problem throughout SteamWorld Dig: it feels like the game has just gotten started exploring one element or another, only to leave you with a sense that it never reaches its potential payoff. Getting new abilities is great for exploring, but there's very little combat in which extended mobility and weaponry are fully utilized. Without some big enemy fights to break things up, the thrill of digging starts to wear thin. Additionally, in many games of this type, getting a new ability inspires you to return to previous areas and explore them in hopes of uncovering new, previously inaccessible secrets. Only a few areas in this game yield rewards when revisited in this way, making the effort needed to revisit and explore them feel wasted. And just as Rusty's mobility is approaching that of a typical platforming hero, the game comes to an abrupt end, with a single boss encounter--the only one in the game--capping off the experience.

Perhaps the game's brief length and unfulfilling conclusion wouldn't be issues if everything else about SteamWorld Dig weren't so good. Exploration and augmentation are a lot of fun, the setting is interesting, and the resource management adds some challenge and tension. Yet the game seems to be leading to more and more awesome things, only to have these elements--the setting, the combat, the skill upgrades--end just as it they get interesting. Nevertheless, SteamWorld Dig is an entertaining underground adventure worth digging into.

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The Good
Excellent sense of atmosphere
Exploration is fun and rewarding
The Bad
Ends just as it feels like it's starting to get interesting
7
Good
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About the Author

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Heidi Kemps likes long role-playing games, intricate fighting games, and all things Japanese.

Discussion

10 comments
1wikkid1
1wikkid1

I haven't gotten deep into the game yet, but played enough to know that I like this one. There's been a plethora of collect & craft type games in the recent past but most of them are either too simple or much too complex, Steamworld Dig manages to find a sweet spot where it's actually about digging and collecting lewts instead of fighting enemies. I also like that at any point within a minute you can leave the game and then pick up where you left off, there are no hours long missions or funny spaced checkpoints.

It is a simple game when compared with the likes of Salem and Don't Starve, but it also has a different objective. This game is about having fun while *not* dying whereas most of the other games are extremely punishing and deaths are guaranteed.

Playing this on PC the controls are simple and intuitive, so far the mechanics didn't present any obstacles either. Overall I think a score of 7.6 is about what this game deserves... personally I'd round it off at 8 but I've not yet reached that point where the game leaves me wanting more, only spent an hour or two with it so far.

Djmaster214
Djmaster214

i feel i might be the only person who likes short games lol, i just dont have the time for 20-30 hour games hell at that rate it would take me 2 months to beat 1 game

nait2k4
nait2k4

Like a Brazilian bikini model dwarf, this looks and sounds awesome, but is probably too short.

hadlee73
hadlee73

Sounds like an episode of Star Trek Enterprise. So much promise... it just gets going... and then is wrapped up in an unsatisfactory manner. :P

RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

@Djmaster214  Shorter games remind me of the 8-16 bit era of gaming, I feel these games pave homage to that age of gaming. & in that respect is ok with me. With that said I also clock 300 hours in some games so. . . Depends on its intention :P

grove12345
grove12345

@Djmaster214 most fun or great games i played i got tired after 20 hours. 

The number of games i played past 20hours and enjoyed it, usually ended up with me playing the game for about 100 hours. And those games i played about 60-100 hours can be counted on one hand.

So 20 hours sounds good enough for me.

Xero1246
Xero1246

@Djmaster214 i think i concur with the this....i i also enjoy the direct game types (missions, missions , missions) the open world tends to get a little bit too "open" and you get carried away from the objectives of the game too quickly (not that i hate it or anything) thats just my opinion

1wikkid1
1wikkid1

@nait2k4  Too short is very rarely a bad thing for games. Usually we see the opposite, where the game drags on and on but nothing new is brought forth. Very few games can provide 100s of hours of playtime, and out of those that could most are either strategy titles or simulators where the proccess of playing is just as (if not more) important than finishing.

SteamWorld Dig

  • 3DS
  • PC
  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation Vita
  • + 2 more
  • Unix/Linux
  • Macintosh
ESRB
Everyone 10+
All Platforms
Fantasy Violence
Check out even more info at the SteamWorld Dig Wiki on Giantbomb.com