Game Review: “SteamWorld Dig”

Courtesy of Image&Form
Screenshots from the game SteamWorld Dig by the Valve Corporation

Felipe Cabrera

I do not understand why digging is so entertaining, but “SteamWorld Dig” does. In fact, the game is built around the idea that people love to dig and explore an undiscovered world beneath our feet with childlike wonderment.

“SteamWorld Dig” allows you to live out your geological fantasy as a steambot named Rusty. Armed with a pickaxe — in wonderful Western/Steampunk-inspired HD — he travels to an old mining town called Tumbleton to help the robo-citizens get the town back on its feet.

The game mainly draws its inspiration from classic SNES Metroidvania-styled platformers (more “Metroid” than “Castlevania“) with new school innovations from the likes of “Terraria,” and the results make for an addictive gameplay experience. You spend the game digging through a randomly generated mine under Tumbleton, searching for ores you can sell in town once your bag is full. The deeper you forge into the unpredictable caverns, you will find more valuable ores.

Putting money onto Tumbleton opens up new shops where you can purchase items and upgrades. Increasing the capacity of Rusty’s water tank for steam-powered tools, as well as purchasing a better pickaxe, will allow you to explore the mines for a longer duration. A case can be made for upgrading the lantern, but odds are you will find oil from defeating weak enemies before it goes dark.

There is something inexplicably enjoyable about whittling away Earth as you dive deeper into the depths of the mine. Each mine has multiple dungeons you need to complete to obtain a new tool so Rusty can continue excavating. Dungeons require a bit of platforming finesse. You will dash across bridges of crumbling earth over pits of acid and spikes, or utilize a combination of quick wall jumps and high-soaring steam jumps to reach higher places. These platforming puzzles can range from simple to tossing-your-laptop-off-a-third-floor-balcony hard. There was one section where I had to swiftly hop across crumbling platforms over a long spike pit. It took me about eight tries and much pacing.

Acquiring a new tool to Rusty’s mining arsenal rewards you with a feeling of newfound might — especially since the enemies laugh at your attempts at defeating them.

The steam-powered arm drill is essential for cracking through stones Rusty’s pickaxe is too flimsy to handle and for blasting through dirt at a greater speed. Or you can become the worst nightmare of the armored spike-spitting turtle that killed you earlier.

Stock up on teleporters and dynamite sticks, because the mines harbor some frustrating enemies. Sometimes I feel like it is better to simply bypass them, if you can, than to face them head-on. At first I thought it could not get any worse than kamikaze zombies and bottle-chucking fat men. This changed when I progressed into a new mine that bore the remnants of a technologically advanced society. There I found wall-mounted lasers, steel-plated robotic parasites and more things that want to explode when in close proximity. I am always up for a challenging game, but falling once again to a suicidal robot — subsequently sending me back to the surface — is frustrating enough for me to say uncle and play another game.

“SteamWorld Dig” debuted ealier this spring on Nintendo’s eShop, which probably means not enough people played it. Alas, it has been unleashed on Steam to the broader audience it deserves. “SteamWorld Dig” exploits the fun of digging introduced to us by “Minecraft” and “Terraria,” then fuses it with the addictive gameplay formulas of old school Metroid games SNES. The enemies can get a little too harsh for my manic fingers jumping across the keyboard, but once crack into the core of this game, “SteamWorld Dig” is hard to put down.