SteamWorld Dig (3DS) – Review

SteamWorld Dig

developed by Image & Form

Let me start this review with it’s conclusion.  I think what we have here is proof that Nintendo needs to be more receptive to, and provide easier access for, indie developers and small game studios.  SteamWorld Dig is easily the best downloadable only game you’ll find for the 3DS on Nintendo’s eShop.  I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who owns the handheld console, and I’d go so far as to say that SteamWorld Dig gives the most bang for the buck, and then some.  This is a platformer that is so slick that it even looks like it could have been developed by one of Nintendo’s own 1st party studios.  Honestly, I think the people in charge at the big ‘N’ need to take note and realize the potential of creating less hurdles for budding indie developers and small game studios who have a much lower financial budget, but more than make up for it in creative energy, drive, and passion.

The story begins with our protagonist, Rusty, a lone mining steambot, arriving in a somewhat desolate mining town called Tumbleton.  The few steambots that still inhabit the town have all but given up hope until you arrive.  Rusty’s uncle, Joe, was also a mining steambot, who had unfortunately died within the mines beneath town.  It appears that his uncle has left Rusty a trail of breadcrumbs to follow, and perhaps find out exactly what he was searching for and whether or not he found it.  With help from a colorful cast of local residents, Rusty delves into the dark mines below Tumbleton, hoping to find riches, unlock the truth behind his uncle’s untimely death, and uncover a few ancient secrets along the way.

SteamWorld Dig is a great little platformer.  It’s played in the style of a Metroidvania meets 2D Minecraft, Spelunky HD, and even a hint of Wrecking Crew.  There are certain aspects of the gameplay that feel a bit like Terraria on the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3, but make no mistake, SteamWorld Dig is very much it’s own unique and charming game.  Players will excavate and explore dark and dank mines in this colorful world, while collecting all of the minerals, items, and powered-up artifacts that will be necessary in order to progress and access newer, deeper areas within the mine.  Digging and creating your own pathways and tunnels through the mines becomes highly addictive very quickly.  Finding items that grant new abilities such as speed dashing and high jumping enhance the game further by allowing you to explore every nook and cranny of the mines in even greater depth and detail, while also allowing you to solve some of the challenging but fun platform puzzles along the way.

As mentioned above, Rusty is able to dig his own pathways through the dirt and rocks in the mines.  At first, all he has is his trusty pickaxe and basic torchlight.  The pickaxe is suitable for digging through most dirt and some minerals.  Mining minerals and then selling them back in town is important because it’s the only way that players can earn gold.  Gold is used to buy and upgrade new items, and collecting minerals and converting them is also the only way to improve the town, it’s resources, and what the local vendors have to offer.  As the town levels up, it allows for new items to be stocked and further upgraded at these local vendors.  You also need a light source while digging and scavenging in the depths below Tumbleton and that’s where the torch comes in.  Luckily, as you increase the town’s resources, you’ll also be able to buy lamps and other upgraded light sources that last a lot longer than the basic torch does.

The minerals scattered throughout the mine have various shapes and colors, and with these differences in appearance also come a difference in value.  You’ll spend a large portion of your game digging tunnels, mining for minerals, and then heading back to town so you can sell off these minerals in order to expand the town and buy new items.  It’s a part of the game that could have easily become repetitive and boring, but instead I found myself completely charmed and immersed while enjoying the exploration and discovery within SteamWorld Dig.  The digging does come with a little bit of grinding, but it is a lot of fun and definitely becomes addictive, without feeling like a chore.  There’s a sense of wonder as you loot the mine and locate new excavation sites that contain power-ups, artifacts, and other hidden secrets including the odd puzzle or problem for you to solve..

Buying newer items and upgrading existing ones become extremely important as you progress through the game.  Items such as increased pouch space will allow you to carry more minerals, which is important because you start off with a very limited amount of inventory slots.  You’ll also be able to upgrade your pickaxe so that you can dig through dirt faster and eventually, you can level it level it up, allowing you to dig through tougher rocks and minerals.  You’ll also need that all-important light source while you’re digging.  In the beginning you start with a torch that has limited use and a low time-limit, but as you level up the town you’ll be able to purchase better light sources and even lamps which can be planted at the locations of your choice throughout the mine.

Occasionally you’ll stumble upon useful artifacts such as the nifty steam boots that collect water and utilize steam, giving your jumps a huge boost in height.  You’ll also find a steam powered drill that you can use to excavate even further into the depths of the mine.  There’s a bit of strategy involved when using specific items, because some of them have a limited amount of uses and run out, but you can usually replenish them quickly and easily, and much like your other items, once the town has evolved, you’ll be able to purchase upgrades that allow you to use the items for more extended periods of time.  SteamWorld Dig is feature rich and you’ll find a lot of useful items that will grant you access to all of the hard-to-reach areas as you dig deeper and deeper into the mine, all while discovering a few hidden secrets along the way.

When not exploring the mines beneath Tumbleton, you’ll find yourself spending the rest of your time in town, speaking to the locals and gathering information about the mine, discussing your uncle, his motives, and his discoveries.  The town itself acts as a hub of sorts and also as your save game point.  Every time you come back to town the game saves, keeping all of your goods and progress recorded until you return once more from your next trip below.  As the town begins to thrive and grow you’ll also find newer technologies and other useful gizmos such as teleporters, which allow Rusty to fast travel from deep within the mine right back to the town hub.

Mining is all well and good, but as you dig deeper you’ll also encounter a number of different unfriendly bots and creatures.  Some of these enemies remain docile until you get too close while others will chase you down until you either dig a trap for them or finish them off with one of your many tools.  The combat becomes pretty intense the further you get into the mine and while it’s not very overly challenging at first, you do need to pay close attention to your surroundings as you delve deeper into the mines, being mindful of falling rocks, explosives, and other hazards.  When you die the game isn’t truly over, but you are instantly teleported back to town and you lose half of your wealth while all of the minerals you were carrying remain at the last position you were in when you died.

I have to say that SteamWorld Dig controls extremely well.  Think of your favorite Super Mario title, whatever it is, that’s how well SteamWorld Dig controls.  You can use the D-Pad or Analog stick for movement while each of the face buttons correspond to jumping, swinging the pick axe, or using special items, while the shoulder buttons allow you to change between those special items.  The controls are extremely tight and responsive.  This is exactly how a Metroidvania style platformer, with it’s exploration and backtracking, should feel.

Graphics and Sound:The graphics in SteamWorld Dig are colorful, stylized, and pleasing all-around.  The characters and enemies add the variety needed to explore a game of this type that involves a lot of backtracking.  Thankfully, the background artwork is also very nicely painted, while the lighting, colors, and some of the minor details, all change as you dig yourself deeper into the mine and it’s many chambers.  The last important aspect graphics-wise, is that it both looks and plays great in 2D and 3D.

The audio very good as well, with great sound fx, particularly when chipping away at rocks and minerals with your pickaxe.  The music is reminiscent of an old wild west movie and it certainly delivers with it’s atmospheric setting and the mood of the game.  SteamWorld Dig has extremely high production values that rival many of the AAA games available on the 3DS, or any other handheld for that matter.  I think that says quite a bit considering it was developed by a smaller game studio.

Gamers who love exploring their games, finding every secret, and getting as much out of their games as possible, will find themselves easily squeezing 8 – 10 hours out of SteamWorld Dig.  The game definitely deserves that kind of time and attention.  It’s clear that Form & Image have put a lot of time and effort into making SteamWorld Dig.  Considering how affordable the game is at only $8.99 US, and that it has more play value than your average full-retail 3DS game release, you’d be foolish not to treat yourself to SteamWorld Dig and it’s excellent gameplay!

Next time you turn on your 3DS, do yourself a favor, head to the eShop and pick up SteamWorld Dig right away.  You won’t find a better game for the price.  It’s that good, and, it’s the kind of game that can be enjoyed by gamers of all ages!

[   9   /   10   ]

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