Indie platformer SteamWorld Dig is so engrossing that once you start digging, you won’t be able to stop.
There’s something intrinsically primitive about digging, yet the pastime of exploring uncharted caves is always irresistible in virtual form. Numerous titles have made use of digging mechanics over the years, including independent hits such as Minecraft and Terraria. SteamWorld Dig is one of the latest titles to encourage players to grab a virtual pickaxe to mine pixels, but this indie platformer is so engrossing that once you start digging, you won’t be able to stop.
In SteamWorld Dig, you assume the role of a small mining robot called Rusty, as he arrives at a mine in the remote town of Tumbleton. Soon after meeting the peculiar people who inhabit Tumbleton, Rusty sets out to do what he does best: digging. The most immediate objective is to collect precious minerals that you can sell to a female robot named Dorothy. Once you make enough money, you can upgrade your equipment and buy additional items. Accruing money is also useful to level up and the higher your level, the better the equipment you’ll have access to. Naturally, this encourages you to mine more valuable ore so that the vicious circle continues.
In terms of gameplay, SteamWorld Dig has a lot in common with traditional platformers and what’s unique here is the possibility of digging. But while this sounds like a simplistic mechanic, digging is one of the most absorbing aspects of the game. Apart from using your trusty pickaxe to dig holes, you can also make use of unlockable abilities, such as wall jumps, double jumps, fist attacks and so on.
In a sense, the structure of SteamWorld Dig resembles a Metroidvania game. As you make progress, you find caves and secret areas with unlockable abilities. These abilities give you the opportunity to go back places that were inaccessible before and new areas have valuable minerals that can be sold for more money. Unlocking new equipment, on the other hand, significantly improves the way in which you explore and approach the levels.
But looking for valuable minerals comes at a price, since you’ll be exposed to various hazards, including different kind of underground enemies, toxic waste that leaks from the ceiling, powerful laser beams and so on. Dodging is always an effective mechanic, but sometimes running away from foes isn’t an option, so you need to rely on your drill and pickaxe to annihilate them and make the path a little safer. Each enemy you defeat leaves something behind, such as water, health or light resources.
Sadly, the length of the game is a little disappointing. Finishing your first playthrough could take you as little as five hours, depending on how much time you dedicate to explore or look for hidden places. This is a shame because the last hour of the game is extremely entertaining. The abilities, items and equipment you have are so fun to use that you want another chance to use them and backtracking to previous levels is so amusing that you simply don’t want the SteamWorld Dig to end so on. By the end of the game, the sense of exploration becomes fully realized.
It’s worth mentioning that the PC port of SteamWorld Dig comes with some unique enhancements that weren’t present in the 3DS version. The most apparent change is the graphical overhaul, since the colorful graphics look crisp and clear. Apart from the high-definition visuals, there are other enhancements related to Steam, including achievements, controller support and trading cards.
In the end, SteamWorld Dig is a fantastic platformer with some engrossing mechanics. Most of those mechanics and ideas have been used before, but when they are used together as part of a cohesive package, SteamWorld Dig becomes something special. The game might seem like a traditional platformer, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that once you start playing SteamWorld Dig, you won’t be able to stop until the credits roll.