This review has been updated to reflect the Wii U release:
Digging for Indie Gold
I’m going to admit it right off the bat: I hate Dig Dug. While I’ve always latched on to arcade titles like Pacman, Galaga, and Arkanoid, I was never able to get in to the tunneling sensation.
I have the opposite problem with Image & Form’s SteamWorld Dig — after draining away 10 hours in a day, burning through my lunch, and missing four calls from my girlfriend, it is fair to say I can’t get away from the addictive gameplay.
SteamWorld Dig made its first appearance on the Nintendo 3DS last year. Though it was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews, I managed to pass up on the title for a simple reason: It’s a game about robots digging–how deep can it really be?
The game starts basic and slow, ramping up in complexity and depth. Protagonist steam bot, Rusty, falls through his (late) Uncle Joe’s mine, and he is charged with the task of digging himself out as well as collecting minerals to bring people to the abandoned town of Tumbleton.
Starting with a basic jump, two pockets to carry your
rocks minerals (Jesus Christ, Marie!), and a weak pickaxe, Rusty is able to turn a small profit, level up, and get some better equipment. As Rusty digs deeper, he needs to upgrade his gear in order to get through the increasingly tougher rubble. The rock around him incrementally takes more swings of the pickaxe to break, sometimes even requiring a drill; therefore digging becomes a wasted effort unless you can afford the new axes and drills, able to tackle the tougher stone.
Rusty’s time in the mine is naturally limited–the longer you are in the mine, the less oil you have to fuel your lantern. While you aren’t required to go to the surface when the oil runs out, finding minerals becomes a near impossibility as the light fades to darkness. I soon realized that the game is found half in the addictive gameplay and leveling system, half in navigating the increasingly complex maze you manage to create through the mine.
The deeper you dig, the more abilities you are able to unlock, the more expensive the minerals are, and the more difficult navigating the mine becomes. It wasn’t too long after I started that I was now wielding a titanium pickaxe, a steam-powered super jump, and the ability to teleport back to town. Finding new minerals and cashing in your hard work quickly becomes an addictive process thanks the polish of the leveling system.
Each world is randomly generated, so no game should have the same mineral placement as the last. While the game will never surprise you on the second or third playthrough, it will always be fresh and interesting.
The gripes I have with the title are nearly nonexistent. The enemies scattered around the mines managed to keep me on my toes, but combat simply fell flat in an otherwise mesmerizing game. Further, I would love to have seen some sort of online integration for the PS4/Vita editions. Time or score leaderboards, and possibly co-op or competitive play would have boosted SteamWorld Dig from a fantastic 3DS port, to a masterpiece on its own merits. Additionally, the Wii U version feels right at home — the dual-screen mechanics have been ported over (allowing for easy item management and a quick reference map). Further, the HD upgrade is on par with the PS4 or PC iterations.
If you own all of the systems, my top two choices are the PlayStation 4 and Wii U versions. Grab the PS4 iteration if you are a Vita owner and care about trophy integration, pick up the Wii U version if you live and die by Off-TV play
The Verdict: 9.0 out of 10
Though my feelings on other digging titles are luke-warm at best (I’m looking at you, Spelunky), SteamWorld Dig managed to convert a non-believer. The addictive gameplay, matched with a mesmerizing leveling system will suck hours of pure enjoyment from your day. While the PS4/Vita and Wii U edition look beautiful in full HD, a few added features may have made these iterations the definitive versions. If you own a current gen PlayStation or Nintendo console, you owe it to yourself to pick up this piece of indie gold.
Lou Contaldi is MONG’s Executive Editor. In his off time, he enjoys being aggressively mediocre at Hearthstone. You can follow his incoherent ramblings at Twitter.
This review is based off of the PS4 and Wii U review copy provided by Image & Form. The reviewer spent 20 hours with the game, over a three day period.