Steamworld Dig

Sweden

I am just gonna get this out right away: Steamworld Dig combines plenty of elements I love. Steampunk, cute robots, shiny objects to make me rich, dungeon exploring and metroidvania. When I saw the trailer for it back in 2013, this seemed very interesting and I did not even know about their previous title for the DSiWare. Now that it has been re-released for other consoles than just the 3DS,  I want to share with you why I own it on 5 different platforms.

Addictive Treasure Hunting

After surviving falling through the ground, your controllable steambot Rusty finds himself trapped in his uncle’s mine. He, unfortunately, died in this cave, but left his pickaxe for his nephew to have and, with this, he ventures through his uncle’s mine to uncover treasures and the secrets it holds. This is where the main-gimmick comes into place: mining. Rusty starts out with the pickaxe, which can be both used to dig tunnels and attack fiends, a normal jump, and a very handy wall-jump where you only need one wall to scale upwards.

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This might seem like an odd design-choice to get such a useful ability so early, but don’t think you can simply traverse as you please. You must plan for how to travel with your abilities, as you can find yourself easily stuck if you don’t make a clear path for scaling upwards. Adding to this, while you are able to use your mining-tools while stationary or walking, you can’t while in the air or sliding alongside walls, so you can’t make spots to take a break or uncover more treasures easily by making only vertical tunnels. This is a great way to keep you on your toes and, with a handy map, it is very satisfying to see your well-constructed mine.

However, you aren’t digging just to get to the bottom of this mine, both figuratively and literally. These mines hold plenty of treasures to gather, such as trashium and amethysts. These are very valuable, but you have limited space with smaller treasures of the same type sharing one box at the bottom of the screen and the bigger ones taking up perhaps one whole unit. Not only that, but you also have a limit with light sources, which helps you see treasures and spot enemies & hazards. This can be filled up at fire-icons left by fallen enemies or by getting up to the only town in the game. Because of the fast scaling with wall jumping and making paths, backtracking is never a problem and when you get far down, warp-points become available. You never feel the drag of traversing, only your curiosity and greed will be your enemy.

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In the town you can trade-in your gathered treasures for gold and if you trade enough, you will upgrade the town with new available purchases for upgrading Rusty, such as a longer lifebar and stronger pickaxe, or one-use items to help you like ladders and dynamite. You always should afford to buy something when you bring back treasures, but be wise with what to purchase to suit your playstyle. These caves are incredibly dangerous and anything can be your next death. Falling rocks, traps, panicking miners, and machines are only a few of the obstacles, and Rusty is no fighter. He can defend himself with his tools, but you must be careful with every encounter or a better choice: avoid them altogether. Should you bite the dust or have made poor planning forcing you to self destruct, you will lose your current treasures and lose half of your gold. Luckily, the treasure can be picked up again should you get back to your death-spot, but you will still feel the penalty from any wrong choice due to losing money. This is a great way to keep you on your toes at all time and make planning for any step. 

In these caves, there are also some tunnels you can go into where you will be given creative obstacle-courses and, if there is a sign outside, they will also include a new power-up and showcase quickly its uses. These stages are incredibly fun and challenging, since they are designed more as levels in a traditional platformer, than areas you can simply dig through. Because of this, you must rethink your platforming skills and they are a lovely variety to the already addictive treasure hunting. 

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The upgrades as well are no slackers with multiple uses, such as the speed boost for running over crumbling rocks or jumping further, or the drill that can damage harder rocks which the pickaxe can’t and attacks enemies quicker. However, some of these new power-ups, like the drill, will require water for use. This is a steampunk world after all with even a bar showing how much water you have left. It is a good way to make you not overpowered and keep you still strategizing your descent, while always giving you a new tool for different uses. Puddles of water will refill this bar, but they are not common and rarely have enough to fill up the bar completely. 

There are 3 different caves you will visit and the game does a great job at making each unique with different enemies, traps, treasures, upgrades, and even the types of earth. The third area even has reconstructable dirt-pads, making it so you must be lean with your descent, but not to the point of making you stuck. However, the game can be very short depending on your greed and wish to explore. I personally had a fun time and got everything I could get my hands on in six and a half hours, but there is an achievement for beating it in two and a half hours and while challenging, it is far from impossible. Still, I couldn’t stop playing as it is so addictive, always gives you something in both level-design and upgrades to be excited about, and the final and only bossfight is an entertaining platforming-course that ends a fantastic journey. Even if I wish for just one more cave.

Gameplay Score: 9/10

Caves don’t have to be dull

I am a huge fan of steampunk and Steamworld Dig does not disappoint with its title. I love the design of the steamboats, with Cranky being damaged and on the verge of exploding, while Rusty has a simple, but appealing design, with small touches such as a pipe in the back blowing steam. The world above is bare, but fits this desert-town lovely and the houses are also appealing with their strange constructions.

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What is the most interesting, however, are the caves. The 3 caves have a lot of details both in the foreground and background, such as the first cave representing the ground of a warm desert with orange rocks and dark muds, and the next area with poisonous servers and mysterious pipes in the background. Even the light-sources from machines and lanterns are incredible and show how important filling up your lantern will be. The void and big space in the far distance, with the mentioned small details they can accompany also conveys that there is a lot to see. It is interesting how I can feel both claustrophobic due to being inside a cave, and yet so small due to its size.

The soundtrack fits the mood of this emptiness so well, with guitar and violin echoing with harmonica, whistles, and a blow-instrument I am unable to identify, accompanying them. They make each cave unique thanks to conveying the same basic mood, but being different altogether. The main-theme is quite the contrast, using the same instruments, but making you feel badass with a much stronger tone and being more varied and not as long as the ones in-game. The hub town has its soothing, but unnerving tune which also makes you calm after and before digging through the ground and it is impressive how all of these tracks are so effective at creating atmosphere to affect the player. The game also ends with a track that made me ponder on what really happened.

Presentation Score: 9/10

Another dive?

After you finished the game, your performance will be ranked based on the time it took to beat the game, cash and orbs gathered, and how many times you died. This is not just to give you a boost or make you ashamed of your skills, but also because with each playthrough, the mines will be randomized with locations of treasures, caves, enemies, traps and shape of the mines. This is a nice way for coming back a second time, but due to the game’s length being anything from two and a half hours to six or seven hours, it might not be something you will experience again right away. Still, it will definitely help replaying it a later time when you reminisce on your last journey.

Extra Score: 7.5/10

Verdict

Creating an atmosphere and exciting gameplay through testing your skills and planning, is a huge accomplishment. Steamworld Dig succeeds in such high regards with this and is a marvel. Despite being just a tad short and not as easy to replay right away, it is a game that is always fun revisiting thanks to randomized dungeons, and variety being provided both in character-upgrade and level-design. I dig this game and I bet you will too. It is out on any console, and while I usually like to go into details on which might be the best version, all have exclusive positives, so just get it on the platform you enjoy.

85/100

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