Rusty is a wandering steambot who just happens to come across a mine town in need of help. Enter SteamWorld Dig, a fantastic exploration-based platformer with heavy inspiration from the Metroid series and Terraria. Developer Image & Form has done a stellar job crafting one of the finest Indie games I have played this year.
SteamWorld Dig feels a bit familar, but that’s okay. It does what it sets out to do so well that I can’t complain. Most of the time you will be digging deep under the ground, collecting minerals and tearing up monsters along the way. The deeper you descend, the more interesting things get, and new enemies and gameplay mechanics are introduced. Trekking back up to the surface allows you to sell your findings for precious money, which you can spend on numerous upgrades. These include expanding your bag’s capacity and increasing your pickax’s strength. Some upgrades can only be discovered underground, such as the ability to sprint or perform a massive jump. Slowly but steadily improving your arsenal creates a wonderful sense of progression, something not many games are able to match.
Every so often you’ll come across doors to enter, which act as large scale puzzles to test your skill and wit. Making full use of abilities provides abundant cash and occasionally essential upgrades. The urge to reach these areas was part of what kept me digging until the very end- and I didn’t want it to end. The game screeches to a halt in what feels like a bit too soon, but the time spent with it is immensely enjoyable. The length is not a big issue, however. SteamWorld Dig keeps track of your stats while you play, heavily encouraging speedruns. In addition, the world is randomly generated each time – and the mines are filled with dirt. You create the pathways in the game, you shape the map – something rarely seen in the genre. It’s utterly fantastic.
SteamWorld Dig isn’t a graphical powerhouse, and it doesn’t need to be. This is a game that makes simplicity work, and the visuals certainly coincide with that model. The ever-approaching darkness caused by the dying torch creates a real sense of danger. Solid ground below foot sparks curiosity, and I couldn’t help but wonder what fiends and new treasures awaited me. New areas help keep things fresh aesthetically. It looks good on both PC and 3DS, but PC has the slight edge. The game looks better in HD than 3D, and the PC has some fancy visual effects under its belt which Nintendo’s handheld can’t quite pull off.
The soundtrack here isn’t all that memorable, but that clearly isn’t what it’s aiming for. The songs are ambient, and the faint echo creates a distinct sense of loneliness and isolation. A slightly gloomy tone can be picked up throughout, signifying that something is a bit fishy down there. Sound effects are well done, also. The satisfying crunch of the dirt and the swing of the pickax are two things you’ll hear a lot of, so they aren’t too obtrusive.
This is game design done right. A simple concept that is executed well, topped off with satisfying visuals and audio. The yearning to just keep digging makes for a fantastic journey. SteamWorld Dig brought out the adventurer in me, and did a damn good job doing it.