SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt Review

Much like many gamers, SteamWorld Dig wasn’t a title on my gaming radar until I took a closer look at the 3DS exclusive title. Conceived by little known Swedish developer Image & Form, Dig could very well be their stand-out hit, being in my mind a quintessential title which makes owning a Nintendo 3DS so worthwhile. Drawing inspiration from other successful titles, Dig carves its own groove, bringing to life a robots quest for riches and the dangers that lurk beneath.

SteamWorld Dig Review

Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: 3DS eShop (Reviewed)
Players: Single-Player
Genre: Mining Adventure
Release: (EU) August 7th 2013, (NA) August 8th 2013

SteamWorld Dig takes place in the Wild West, crossed with old world steam-powered charm. Centered on a clunky steam-powered robot named Rusty, our vagabond hero rolls into the old, struggling mining town of Tumbleton and quickly sets about exploring the cavernous mines below, chasing riches and uncovering ancient dangers along the way. At its heart, Dig is a mining platformer that is comparable to indie stand-outs Terraria and Spelunky, borrowing the addictive elements of unearthing treasures, but adds its own twists and original concepts. The mines are an expansive world that offers plenty to plunder and explore as Rusty descends into the unknown.

From the outset, things begin rather dire with nothing more than Rusty and his degraded pick-axe to chip away stubborn boulders. Things quickly develop as gems and precious stones uncovered can be sold to the local townsfolk for cash, unlocking new levels, abilities, equipment upgrades and new items to aide Rusty on his quest below the surface.

SteamWorld Dig Review

Limited resources such as bag space, health, light source and water supply ensures regular trips back to the earth’s surface, which surprisingly doesn’t break up the pacing as much as you’d expect. By having to venture at intervals provides a much-needed break from the grind (pun intended) and presents opportunities to replenish supplies and upgrade to avoid falling victim to an unexpected death. To make the trek more bearable are a handful of instant travel methods that definitely improves travel fatigue and the need to constant backtrack.

Dangers lurk within the stones in the form of dormant monsters; awaken by the constant bashing of rock. Initially easy to pick away at, these enemies do prove challenging later in the game due to some clever level designs that will require a bit of brain power to overcome. There are also the hazards of spiked traps, injury from free-falling great distances and massive crushing boulders; all capable of putting an end to Rusty if he isn’t careful. Within the mine there are hidden chambers to loot, usually containing a key item and high-selling gemstones which make it all worthwhile. The puzzles in here are also a little more complex and are deeply gratifying to clear.

SteamWorld Dig Review

It’s the carefully crafted, steady pace of progression that makes Dig so difficult to put down and kept me coming back for more. There’s always a sense of accomplishment to be felt with each play session, and it’s that degree of self-satisfaction and immersion that elevates SteamWorld Dig above other similar platformers.

Once you’ve finished Dig, there’s still plenty of replayability on offer as each new game created produces a brand-new random mine to explore giving Dig bucket loads of longevity, even after the first expedition is done and dusted.

High-resolution graphics, dynamic lighting and what Image & Form refer to as “multiple parallaxed background layers” all help to bring Tumbleton and its many levels under the surface to life. Given what should have amounted to a limited colour palette; particular for a sprawling dungeon crawler, Dig never felt gloomy or unappealing, but delightfully vibrant and light.

SteamWorld Dig Review

Possibly the weakest element of Dig is the music which isn’t all that memorable and can become a tad repetitious when spelunking for hours on end. A few more tunes to mix-it-up a little certainly would give Dig a bit more punch. That being said, it’s a minor niggle as the sound effects are done quite well and the overall polish and feel would make most question if Dig really was produced by a small team of indie developers.

SteamWorld Dig is a perfect example of what can be accomplished when the sum of many elements work together like a well-oiled machine. Being able to capture the attention of time-poor gamers on a portable device is no easy feat, yet Dig will have you pulling out your 3DS long after you’re returned home. It’s a must-have title on the 3DS and thankfully makes the Nintendo eShop a richer experience. If you’re only going to purchase one title from the eShop this year, SteamWorld Dig is highly recommended and would be a worthy inclusion on your memory card.

8.5 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.