Steamworld Dig is populated by intelligent robots. Rusty is a cowboy hat-wearing robot with a confident grin and a tattered scarf sent to a mine by his uncle to claim it. After stepping on a weak spot on the ground and falling into the mine, he quickly stumbles on the body of his fallen uncle. Claiming his stalwart pickaxe, Rusty sets about on his adventure into the bowels of the land.
There isn’t a whole lot of story involved in this game. It is mostly just focused on you exploring your uncle’s mine while interacting with the townsfolk mostly for upgrades. This isn’t a detriment to the game though as its focus is on exploration.
Old West Inspired Music
If you have ever watched any old West movies, then you will have heard music such as what is featured in Steamworld Dig. While in the hub town of Tumbleton, the slow twang of guitar chords compliment loud whistling with the howling of the virulent winds of the harsh wastelands present in the background. The music here is simple, but it is effective at stirring up nostalgic feelings for fans of the old West genre.
In the hub town, there are several NPCs to speak with. There isn’t any voice acting in this game. Instead, the devs opted to insert gargled robot sounds while communicating. This isn’t necessarily new and original, but it certainly does the job and is much better than it simply being silent while talking with NPCs.
As you explore, the satisfying clank of Rusty’s steel footsteps will be your ever-present companion. One thing I especially loved was how my tunnels had a tendency to be only just high enough for me to jump. Almost every jump I made resulted in Rusty’s head clanging against the low ceiling. Good thing the guy is a robot, or he’d have one heck of a headache!
I quite enjoyed the sound effects featured in this title. They certainly made the mines enjoyable to explore, although I would have appreciated some echoing effects to make it more believable.
Visuals & Performance
Much like the music, the visuals are heavily inspired by the old Western era while having a touch of steampunk filtered in thanks to its robotic inhabitants. The game features a bright color pallet focused on dusty browns and yellows to invoke feelings of gritty determination as associated with the cowboys this game so clearly takes inspiration from.
The graphical style is that of a 2D platformer. The characters are fairly well animated and most certainly stand out compared to the rest of the game. They have great designs which especially stand out whenever they talk and a large image of them is displayed on the screen.
The Mines Aren’t Too Exciting
The mines on the other hand are somewhat lackluster. You simply go down into the ground and each layer is designated with a particular design indicating how tough the rock is. If there is a mineral you can mine, then the block will have an image indicating it. The game has three main areas to explore, and they become more interesting as you explore.
The visuals aren’t going to blow you away, but they are still perfectly acceptable for being a port of an old 3DS game. It is just a pleasure being able to go back and experience this title again on the Switch so soon after its sequel had been released on the system.
Limited Touch Controls
For those of you playing in handheld mode, Steamworld Dig features minor touch controls in the menus and for searching your inventory. This doesn’t affect the gameplay very much since this game features very simple menus, but it is always appreciated when we are given the option.
The goal in Steamworld Dig is, as the name implies, to dig. You are a miner, and you will use your pickaxe to dig through blocks of dirt while looking for precious gems, minerals and other resources to bring back to town. As you collect these resources, you will be able to upgrade things such as your pickaxe to go deeper into the mine.
Rusty has one key ability at the start of the game which is to wall jump. By simply jumping while holding the stick towards a wall, he can perform a wall jump as many times as you want. However, that leads into his key limitation. You are unable to perform an attack while jumping. What this means is you have to plan your path to those tantalizing gems hidden in the rock. If you don’t plan your path accordingly, you may end up being unable to reach it.
As you collect minerals and sell them in town, you will level up by increasing your gross revenue. By leveling up, you will unlock new upgrades to buy for Rusty as well as expanding the town’s population and facilities.
As you progress in the mine, you will come across caves dug by Rusty’s uncle. These caves are hand-crafted puzzles which simply feel great when compared with the rest of the game. These caves were by far my favorite part of the game.
At the end of each cave you will find a very handy upgrade. These are your essential Metroidvania abilities such as a dash, a super jump and a new digging tool. While you are digging in the mine, these abilities generally aren’t required unless you dig it in a specific way to take advantage of them, but they can make exploration a little more interesting.
As the name of the game suggests, steam is a vital resource in this world. Rusty is a steam-powered robot, and most of the special abilities you acquire for him require it. Your water meter is essentially your MP for using these abilities, and it can be recharged by simply standing in a pool of water.
When you exit the mine, the sun will charge your light meter on the top-right side of the screen. You can enter the mine again before it is fully charged, but it is generally better to just wait. When you are in the mine, that light meter will slowly tick down. Nothing necessarily changes as it gets darker, but you will be unable to see what is ahead of you which could harm your chances of finding great items.
Enemies and Combat
Occasionally, you will come across blocks with enemies inside of them. You will need to break those rocks quickly or you will risk them escaping. They can’t harm you while they are in the rocks, so you need to take care of them quickly!
One enemies I was particularly fond of was the plated turtle which shot spikes out of its back periodically. This enemy can take some of the mining out of your hands since its spikes will destroy blocks. This enemy’s random attacks created some fun pathways for exploring that I would not have otherwise.
Basic combat isn’t really all that interesting. For a period of time, it is just using the same swing of your pickaxe or using your drill to attack until you learn a few combat abilities along the way. I didn’t feel like battling with enemies was very engaging. It is just there to give you a little bit more of a challenge and a way to get extra light or health as drop from defeated enemies.
Especially at first, exploration is really slow and meticulous. Being able to create your own path through the mine while having the mini map updated as you go is interesting, but getting through the rocks can be a long and arduous process. You will be able to upgrade your pickaxe to get through rocks faster, but getting to that point will take some time. Also, you will always end up reaching new areas which take you back to the same slow process as at the beginning of the game.
About a third of the way into the game, you will unlock the abilities to place fast travel points on the map to speed up travel back and forth between the mine and the town. However, until that point, you will need to frequently make trips up and back down the mine to recharge your light. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since you might end up collecting more minerals on the way, but it didn’t engage me.
What I found to be most enjoyable was to rush through areas as quickly as I could to get the better pickaxes then come back to quickly mine out old areas. It is far more satisfying when you are plowing quickly through the dirt than slowly trudging through it.
Procedurally Generated Mine
My feelings on procedurally generated worlds have a tendency to be mixed. After all, a randomly designed world in most cases will not be as engrossing as a world designed by the careful stroke of a human hand. There are obviously going to be some exceptions such as in the expansive worlds of Minecraft, the infinitely explorable regions of Diablo 2, or the ceaselessly engrossing basement of The Binding of Isaac. Steamworld Dig is a game which almost hits the mark but doesn’t.
The concept of Steamworld Dig is that you will dig and dig and dig. This is fine except that the digging isn’t particularly all that much fun. Sure, the location of gems, enemies and caves will be randomly placed, but the main thing you will be doing is digging down to them. Maybe if I had to time to completely play through the game 4 or 5 times to see the actual potential of the randomly generated worlds, I would have a different opinion. But, the fact is that I simply do not have the opportunity for that.
As it stands, I simply do not see this game standing on the shoulders of the other three successful procedural worlds which I listed above. For some people, the procedurally generated mine will keep them entertained for several runs through the game. In my case, it just wasn’t enough to hold me beyond one time. As Juan pointed out on his review of Steamworld Dig 2, the handcrafted world of that game simply brought the series to the next level in terms of design and fun.
Steamworld Dig was originally released on the 3DS in 2012 and has already been released on multiple systems including the PS4 and PC. The price is the same across all platforms, so you really can’t get a better deal where else.
For $10 on the Switch, it offers you around 5 hours of gameplay, limited touchscreen functionality for handheld mode and, of course, the ability to play on both the TV and on the go. It may be the key feature of the Switch that many of us take for granted now, but it cannot be understated how important this feature is. Just paying $10 for the ability to have both a handheld version and a console version of this game is just phenomenal and makes it completely worth the asking price. However, if you already have the game on another system, I’m not sure that it is worth double dipping for unless you love this game and want to get back into it.
Make Your Own Path
Simple Yet Evocative Music
High Replay Value For Some
Many Abilities to Unlock
Combat Is Not Engaging