I believe that this is an unpopular opinion, and an odd one to come from a person who claims to be planning the purchase of a Playstation Vita this summer, but I really do not like playing on handhelds. It is true that their portability allows for far more versatility in one’s life, especially if they do not have permanent access to a television at home, but when it comes to playing with a controller, I will never consider it anything above a substitute. Yes, the dual screen aspect is nice and touch screens can be keen, but I could just get a dual monitor display running for the former, and a phone for the later. Now then, time to review SteamWorld Dig. Choo-choo!
SteamWorld Dig Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux, 3DS, and soon PS4 and Vita
Developer/Publisher: Image & Form
Set in a western themed world where the surface has been occupied by humanoid robots, the actual story of SteamWorld Dig is one of those delightful one that are very basic in concept, but offer more depth as time goes on, and the player remembers to not skip through dialog boxes. Still, the important things is that a robot who wears a cowboy hat for aesthetic purposes, Rusty, is called by his uncle Joe to go out and meet him in a small town that could also really use a digger like him. After very quickly finding his corpse, Rusty takes his pick and begins digging through just under 800 meters of dirt and debris, uncovering secrets and the power that come with them.
From the mention of secrets alone, and the fact the description on Steam uses the term Metroidvania, the connection to that delightful genre in dire need of a renaming is pretty understandable. However, I would be more keen on comparing the game to, say, Miner Dig Deep, an Xbox Live Indie game. In fact, the whole concept of digging through a more or less open region of dirt, rocks, and minerals for purchasing and creating upgrades in a grid based structure is very common with both games. Both even use the same breed of compulsion to keep the player digging through the seemingly endless catacombs for far longer than they should be.
At its core, that is precisely what SteamWorld Dig is, a dig ‘em up if you will, but at the same time it does quite a bit to warrant it being ten times the price of the aforementioned Xbox Live Indie Game. From very simple things like the ability to wall jump, slick controls all around, and powers ranging from an ever helpful super jump to the ability to mine obstacles not in one of Rusty’s four primary directions. It even manages to create something of a connection to what amounts to a series of squares made of dirt as you need to regularly backtrack to the surface and sell your goods. Only to then make your way back down with a full lantern and often newly upgraded equipment so you can dig further and faster.
Said exploration and backtracking can unfortunately grow a little bit tiresome. Not so much due to the number of times that you need to ascend to the old west town that grows as the game progresses, but due to the length you need to travel. While you are given an amount of purchasable ladders to ease the ascension, the distance between teleporters to the surface and the amount of time it takes to get there felt far too long, as if there should be two teleporters per environment instead of just one.
It’s not even like there are enemies that need to be fought as they only appear once outside of secret holding caverns and are hardly that enthralling to fight as combat more or less consisted of running up to the enemies and hitting them with a pickaxe, have them ricochet, and hit them once more It works for the most part as the game does not place much emphasis on enemies being anything but obstacles, with even the game’s sole boss being more focused on the destruction of blocks than any sort of combat.
Not that I would say that makes SteamWorld Dig remarkably easy, as things do get tricky when dealing with the desire to use the minimal amount of limited resources. With automated lasers that are indestructible, the possibility of getting trapped in a hole you simply cannot get out of because you did not wish to buy ladders, or just how an enemy got stuck inside of a group of unbreakable rocks because they threw some dynamite. It actually does a good job at keeping one on their toes, as there is nothing more crushing than being crushed by rock and losing a trip’s worth of money.
Yet, I would hardly call the scene a spectacle, along with most of the game. SteamWorld Dig was originally made for a pretty low resolution screen, so its well drawn 2D art does not emphasize unique stylistic visuals as much as it does a very clean looking and visually appealing world that I honestly never realized consisted of mostly brown and grey until describing it. Regardless, it and a score fitting its western tone do make for a world I did very much enjoy exploring.
As it stands, I found my time with SteamWorld Dig to be a compelling little adventure that I can very easily see myself returning to on a somewhat annual basis. While its mechanics and most of its gameplay revolve around pressing X to break away dirt the most efficiently, the effect you have on the world and randomly generated impulse driven traversal was enough to elevate the game in my mind into being something special. That aside, there are enough minor grievances due to a playtime that lasts a hair too long, sloshy combat, and a fair amount of repetition that kept the game from being something I loved, but that is hardly an insult.
Applaudable efforts that do get hung up on a few too many branches, but very much deserving of a recommendation despite not being all that astonishing.