How Metroidvania is it? Low Fit. While you do gain ability upgrades that change the way you play, the path through the game is simply digging downward with little ''True'' exploration to be had.
Primary Challenge: Exploration Focus
Time to beat: ~5 hours
Review Info: SteamWorld Dig was played through the Twitch launcher
Buy SteamWorld Dig if you like…
- The loop of looting and selling things
- Puzzle Platforming
- Strategically breaking away level architecture
- The SteamWorld Universe
▼ Review continues below ▼
SteamWorld Dig to me is very reminiscent of some old flash games I used to play, where the primary goal was the addictive loop of discovering precious resources and gaining more money and power from selling them. It’s a delicious pattern, and it’s the type of game partially responsible for much of my last minute procrastination in college. Image & Form’s interpretation of the idea is far more polished than the free amateur work you’d find in a web browser. Its rewards are cleverly implemented in a way that it doesn’t feel like a random slot machine, but rather a strategic dig through a very tall puzzle box. It’s a little short and feels more like a novelty than a full fledged experience – hence my comparison to those old browser games – but it’s also a launching point for something greater, and it shouldn’t be ignored.
Your protagonist, Rusty, arrives in an old town to claim a mine he inherited from his uncle. The town starts out pretty sparse, with only a brothel, a Sheriff, and an old crotchety upgrade salesman; basically everything you need for an old western setting. There’s also a robot named Dorothy who sort of acts as your personal fence. She pays you for whatever loot you find, and is thus the character you’ll be interacting with the most. The game’s intro briefly tutorializes how to dig, shows you have the ability to climb walls, and then it sets you free to simply dig downward and unfold the rest of the game. You dig until your pack is full, talk to Dorothy to buy some upgrades, and then dig some more. Eventually the town will grow with more upgraded salesmen, indicating your work’s affect on the town and providing a sense of satisfaction and progress.
Overall the game isn’t very challenging, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any strategy. Thanks to gravity, you have to be careful how you dig your holes so that you can access as many gemstone blocks as you can. You’re only able to swing your pickaxe when you’re grounded, so if you build a shaft straight downward you’ll miss a ton of opportunities unless you use consumable ladders or dynamite to manipulate what you can reach. Depending on your patience and greed, you’ll probably be spending more time planning out your route than you will whacking at the wall and breaking rocks. There are of course gimmicks to mix up the formula as well, such as exploding barrels, falling rocks, and monsters.
The game advertises “Metroidvania Influences,” but it doesn’t necessarily capture the feel of a Metroidvania game in this particular entry. The linearity of the game makes it pretty straightforward; you literally just dig downward. Along the way you’ll get prompts that there’s a special cave nearby, and inside there’s always some kind of Metroidvania style movement or weapon upgrade. While technically these power-ups act as keys for progression, they serve more to provide variety to the dig rather than to facilitate exploration. The idea of mixing Metroidvania concepts with a mining game is a fantastic one though – it’s just really basic in SteamWorld Dig. If only Image & Form games could make a sequel that really fleshed out these ideas into a memorable whole, it could be something of a masterpiece. (cough)
However, I don’t want to make it seem like the linearity of the level design makes it boring. Besides the aforementioned strategy for how you tackle the mine, you also have some choice on how you upgrade your robot to fit your own personal play style. There are three digging tools you can rely on more or less depending on what you prioritize, and some choice on whether you want more steam power for your stronger tools, or if you want to be able to take more damage.
Besides just having money as a resource, you also find orbs that act as a gating currency, preventing you from strip mining and buying out everything right away. The downside to the orbs is that they can also be used for a dubious consumable teleporter, and abusing that tool could leave you behind on what other upgrades you can buy, which forces you to horde money until you find more orbs. Carrying money is dangerous since if you die you permanently lose half of whatever you have. It adds some tension to straying far from the most recent checkpoint teleporter, but it also could result in a poorly performing player ending up in a very frustrating situation. But, as I said, the game isn’t particularly challenging, and in its hardest parts – such as during boss fights or challenge rooms – the death penalty is completely removed in favor of a regular checkpoint.
SteamWorld Dig wins a lot of points for me with how charming it is, and I think at least part of that charm is thanks to the little details present in the game’s world. All of the games in the SteamWorld universe are apparently connected one with another, with Dig occurring after Image & Form’s first game, SteamWorld Tower Defense. The link to this older game is incidental though. The story here isn’t complex enough to require playing that older game, but tying everything together makes it more interesting overall for fans. For instance, apparently in the SteamWorld universe, humans have been driven underground and have gone insane. I actually didn’t really comprehend the import of this this lore until I played SteamWorld Dig’s sequel – I just thought the goofy cavemen in the mine were just generic enemies. But the fact that the game can still be enjoyed without knowing that little detail is in my opinion a very flavorful use of the themed universe concept, and it also makes me more interested in seeing how it is expanded in the other SteamWorld games.
SteamWorld Dig in a vacuum is ultimately a novelty to me; a fun little time waster that works great as a handheld pick up and play game. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a short, fun, and addictive experience. SteamWorld Dig is also part of something much greater though, and while novelties might be skipped, you might consider checking out Dig just to watch the evolution of a great series made by a talented team of people. At least for me, between this game and its sequel, I’ve certainly been made a fan of their work.
Enemies are basic obstacles and are easily manipulated. The few bosses are also not too difficult.
Platforming never gets too tricky, though there are some interesting puzzle platforming sections to be found.
Your path can diverge a little to the left or right to find more gems, but that's the extent. The rest of the game is just a downward dig.
In a sense the whole game is a puzzle of knowing which tiles to break and when. Low risk, but still engaging.
It's fairly basic, but provides a good mystery for the player to seek out.
The hand-drawn artstyle is very nice, and animates well for the gameplay
Catchy tunes give a great atmosphere to the game.
It's a short enough game that re-experiencing it is pretty low cost, but there isn't a whole lot of extra incentive to bring you back.
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