A surprisingly deep and enjoyable digging adventure that features a charming setting and some fun gameplay, that suffers from a slightly-to-short runtime.

Developer Image & Form
Publisher
Image & Form; Limited Run Games
Franchise SteamWorld
Genre
PSTV Yes
Physical English
Yes – NA only (LRG)

 

World-building & Story

In SteamWorld Dig you play as Rusty, a steambot who comes to his uncle Joe’s mine to find his family member deceased and a potential fortune underneath the ground of Tumbleton that can be unearthed to act as his inheritance. And thus the game begins – you yank the pickaxe out of Joe’s still warm metallic corpse and start burrowing underground. 

2018-11-27-230557The most interesting thing about the SteamWorld games is undoubtedly their setting – this is a traditional spaghetti western mixed with steampunk and sci-fi in a manner not dissimilar to Firefly and just as it acted as a brilliant backdrop there, so it does here too. Tumbleton is presented as a traditional desert town with saloons and trade shops, but just below the surface is a veritable sea of technology that’s just waiting to be unearthed. 

And so storytelling takes a backseat to this environmental interaction as you find out more and more about the world, although that’s not to say the game is completely devoid of character. Indeed, the town is filled with a side cast that you’ll get to know – including the likeable Dorothy who acts as your guide and her father Cranky, who runs a shop that provides you with various upgrades. Tumbleton grows and evolves as you progress and acts as a nice safe, friendly base throughout your adventure. 

2018-11-28-192806There’s nothing mindblowingly special here, but SteamWorld Dig’s elements work well enough to craft a plot and world that’s worth seeing through – even if it does end with a setup for an obvious sequel.  

 

Presentation & Sound

While its simplistic 2D stylized graphics aren’t likely to win any awards, there’s a certain charm to everything here which, combined with some nice lighting, make SteamWorld Dig more than just the sum of its parts.

2018-11-27-231019Each of the robots in the town is well designed – Lola is a busty barmaid who fits the traditional archetype of Western damsel in distress, while Dorothy is a cuter blue robot who wears practical clothing and exploration goggles. Sadly enemy types aren’t quite as interesting – skeletons, insects and other robots make up the vast majority of what you’ll come across, not quite having the same visual flair as the cast. 

Environments are understandably basic (this did start life as a 3DS game) but still have elements that make them pleasant to look at. When you start out it’ll just be a mass of brown rock and grey stone, although orange lighting fills each chamber which is nice. Further down you’ll encounter green pools of acid, purple bolts of electricity and more – colour permeates everything here and it helps transform the drab backgrounds into something more special. 

2018-11-28-183128The one area SteamWorld Dig stumbles is in sound – although the music does change upon every new area you reach, it’s repetitive and fairly forgettable before this which slightly detracts from the exploration. Effects are your standard mentallic chip of a pickaxe or explosion of dynamite – nothing bad, but nothing special 

 

Gameplay & Content

While on the surface it might appear like a Terraria-esque 2D builder, SteamWorld Dig is far from it – it’s a carefully planned exploration-platformer where you delve ever deeper in a mine and pick up tonnes of new abilities along the way. 

2018-11-29-203605Rusty comes to Tumbleton with very little in the way of skills – he can jump and mine rocks using his uncle’s pickaxe, but otherwise he starts with a pretty limited moveset. What he does have – and what makes the game incredibly playable and fun – is the ability to infinitely wall jump upwards which comes in handy when he’s escaping from the tunnels he’s dug out, allowing a great sense of movement ability. 

He’ll need to use this quite a lot too as the game’s premise is that you need to keep digging down to discover what’s hidden underneath the town. This means using your pickaxe and eventually a drill and other gadgets to break rocks, crafting your own path to explore in whatever direction you choose – even though the mine is penned in by walls at either side, there’s a great sense of discovery and freedom here as you have the ultimate decision on where you want to go (which makes it feel a bit like you’re crafting your own adventure).

2018-11-28-000421Along the way, you’ll uncover caves that act like mini-dungeons where you’ll have to overcome a specific challenge such as jumping to avoid pits of lava or tiptoeing through without setting off dynamite barrel explosions. Your reward will usually be a new ability which makes Rusty even more manoeuvrable – things like a steam jump are fun to mess around with (fires him straight upwards), but taking reduced fall damage is arguably even more helpful in getting around, meaning they’re all pretty handy.

You won’t collect everything you smash like in Minecraft, but you are able to gather various gems ranging from trasharium to precious diamonds (there’s also even rarer orbs), which can be sold to Dorothy at the surface for money – which of course, can be used to purchase upgrades. This can be something as simple as making your axe dig through rocks quicker to something far more useful such as giving you a stronger light source meaning you can explore for longer. The dig -> sell -> upgrade loop is addictive and actually kept me playing long after I’d finished the story as I wanted to pop a few trophies for selling a certain amount of gems or gathering a set amount of orbs.

2018-11-28-174308Of course, there’s plenty of hazards along the way – enemies are scattered around which can range from lumbering zombies to laser beams that trigger upon seeing you nearby. You’ll also have to contend with a number of different types of rocks – some respawn after a short period while others can only be destroyed if attacked from a certain angle, as well as considering the power of your light which will need recharging at the surface fairly often. It all feeds in to you constantly thinking when playing – about what your next move is going to be, where you need to get to and what the risks are, that make the game one of the smartest 2D platformers I’ve played that rewards strategy.

It all culminates in a search to find a number of hidden generators which allow access to a final boss battle that’s a tonne of fun and quite challenging too. And then it’s over – just as quickly as SteamWorld Dig starts, it ends rather abruptly setting up the next adventure but not feeling like everything has quite been resolved as it should have been, which is a bit of a shame. 

2018-11-29-185405As I previously mentioned, I did go back after the final boss to find more gems and orbs that I’d missed, which was quite a lot of fun as I dug deeper in these areas I’d breezed through before. It’s quite rewarding to figure out how to get to that far-off area or pass a group of enemies without dying that makes the game a rewarding experience – it’s just a shame there’s not a little more of it. 

 

Conclusion

SteamWorld Dig hooked me in with its intriguing world but kept me engaged with its stellar gameplay – there’s a flow to everything here that feels entirely natural and makes exploring underneath Tumbleton a joy. Some of the presentational elements aren’t quite as polished and it’s all over rather quickly, but otherwise this is a Vita game that you should definitely check out for an afternoon of pure fun. 

8.0/10 

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