If youíre a fan of Metroid and its exploration, youíll probably like SteamWorld Dig. If you enjoy Marioís flowing style of platforming, youíll probably like SteamWorld Dig. If you find yourself getting lost in dungeon-crawler RPGs, offering you level ups and upgrades as you play, youíll probably like SteamWorld Dig. Swedish development team, Image & Form have combined elements from the best of these genres, and more, to create a 3DS game youíll have trouble putting down.
You start the game taking on the role of Rusty, a steam-powered robot who arrives in the small mining town of Tumbleton. The town serves as a main hub of sorts, with other robots to talk to and learn about the town, as well as stores which can sell you items and upgrades to assist you in your adventure. The bulk of the game however, takes place in the mines below the town.
This is where you will begin to discover the many gameplay elements that Dig has to offer. Initially, the concept of exploration through digging reminded me greatly of the recent indie darling, Terraria. Rusty uses his various tools to dig deeper and deeper into the mine, and along the way uncovers precious minerals which can be brought back to the surface and traded for equipment. In addition the minerals can be used to level up the equipment available for purchase in town. By having limited inventory space the game facilitates a similar gameplay hook to a dungeon-crawler RPG like Etrian Odyssey or Diablo. You will make many trips into the mine to explore and gather minerals, return to the town to upgrade your equipment, which then allows you to return to the mine and explore further again. Between finding new areas to explore, upgrading your equipment and discovering brand new abilities to assist with your exploration, the game ensures that players feel as though they have made some progress almost regardless of how short their play session may be.
The exploration is made even more enjoyable by fantastic controls and fluid platforming. Jumps feel just right, and as you play you will find upgrades that make traversing your labyrinth of tunnels more and more enjoyable. Your basic wall jumps and the like are accompanied by some more non-traditional means of digging and traversal to make the experience feel consistently fresh throughout. Unlocking these new abilities only makes the desire to explore even greater, especially when you find an upgrade that will allow you to access previously difficult or inaccessible areas.
Dig looks strikingly good. It feels as though some real attention has been given to each of the elements to make sure that character, environment and creature sprites look consistent with the world they inhabit, and have enough character of their own to be memorable. The game does utilise a 3D effect, however it is quite subtle. For a game such as this, itís not terribly necessary. The game is more than pretty enough without any 3D effects. The ambient music that accompanies expeditions is serviceable, and generally compliments the environment, however donít expect any memorable melodies to stick with you after playing. The sound effects played while digging also start to grate over time, though not enough to be of any real detriment to the experience.
SteamWorld Dig is, admittedly, a concise experience. It is not lengthy, typically completed in about 4 hours, however nearly every moment of play gives a feeling of progress. Even when Rusty is destroyed by creatures or hazards, you can return to reclaim any valuables that were dropped, and thanks to the versatile platforming abilities available, it is never frustrating to make your way back to where Rusty fell. The game never feels as though it punishes you needlessly, but also doesnít guide you so much that you feel as though you have no control over the experience. Dig seems to strike a near-perfect balance between giving players freedom, and ensuring that they are subtly guided through the experience.
Itís hard to find significant fault with SteamWorld Dig. While many of its individual gameplay elements may feel borrowed from other successful genres or titles, they combine to make a game that feels both refreshing and satisfyingly familiar. Dig succeeds in using each of these gameplay elements so well, that they complement each other, forming an experience greater than the sum of its parts. If youíre after an engaging platformer, puzzler, or dungeon-crawler that wonít outstay itís welcome, you really should give SteamWorld Dig a try.