Dig. Gather. Upgrade.
That is how I would describe the concept behind Steamworld Dig and while it might sound simple, there is a lot more to discover just below the surface.
The game opened up with our hero, a steam powered robot in a cowboy hat named Rusty, approaching the very small western town of Tumbleton. So small in fact that when the town sign becomes visible it read a very functional population of 3. Rusty continued forward, as he had been sent the deed to his Uncles mine which was apparently located below the town, only to have the very ground underneath him suddenly collapse.
As per video game coincidence, he fell right into the very mine he was searching for. After taking a second to observe his surroundings he was approached by Dorothy, one of Tumbletons three inhabitants, who claimed that she would sometimes sneaks down there to do some mining. After a slight exchange about how the roof was caved in she informed Rusty that she has just found his uncle and that he should go take a look for himself.
A couple of quick jumps deeper into the mine revealed the skeleton of dear old Uncle Joe, who had been seemingly dead for some time. At this point I couldn’t help but wonder, how does a robot even have an uncle, why does this uncle have a skeletal system and how in the world did he send off the deed if he had been gone long enough for the town to have already updated the population on their sign? Not sharing in my curiosity, Rusty decided that rather than take a moment to mourn his Uncle’s passing he should immediately plunder his belongings and head back to Dorothy instead.
This is where the digging portion of the game began. Dorothy explained that the lever to open the way to town had been buried by the cave in and that I must uncover it. Luckily I was equipped for task now thanks to the pickaxe off of Uncle Joe’s corpse, despite seeing one in Rusty’s hand during an earlier cut scene, and ignoring the fact that Dorothy apparently came down here to mine without one herself.
I may poke fun at the story for being odd but that was not the main draw of the title, it was the gameplay. As we saw earlier there are three words I used to describe the concept. Now I will use two additional words to describe playing the game, fun and addictive.
The few townsfolk I met would give me random tasks that always revolved around digging to a new milestone or finding some cave deeper within the mine because they somehow already knew what was down there. These random caves in particular would often house an upgrade used to increase the efficiency of my digging or a large cache of currencies to purchase more upgrades. Since the caves themselves were often more of a puzzle with elements of platforming or some light combat they did just enough to mask the obvious repetitive nature of the actual digging.
The upgrades themselves came in two forms, permanent improvements and abilities or limited consumables that could be purchased from the town vendor. The former included such things as increased carrying/resource capacity, a drill arm or even a steam powered jump that could break some forms of the soil above so that I would not find myself stuck due to poor vertical planning. Consumables on the other hand were primarily for back up convenience, such as a ladder that could be placed should I run out of resources or a teleporter if I needed to head back to town and was not by one of the permanent fixtures placed at a predetermined checkpoint.
These teleporters were an almost must have as I found myself going back to town more times than I could count, especially before I got a few increases to the gem wallet. Gems were crucial to the process as they were traded to Dorothy in exchange for the cash used to do any of the purchasing at the vendor. Since buying upgrades was also required to dig even further and get even more valuable gems, it’s easy to see where I got addicted to the cycle.
There was a lot for me to keep track of in this game such as how much light do I have remaining, which upgrade would be the most valuable for me first, or should I push just a bit further in hopes of getting enough gems without running out of bag space in order to buy the next upgrade while avoiding multiple trips back to town. A health bar could also be seen but it was honestly rarely a concern. Enemies did not pose much of a threat and when defeated would often drop more resources as a reward than what was used to get to them and finish them off. The most damage I would take would be from the environment if I dug too deep in one column for example and took fall damage. Even if I did manage to deplete the health bar, which only happened a couple times in the few hours it took to beat the game, the punishment was a small knock to my wallet and while not ideal, it was far from unmanageable.
I have yet to mention the graphics or sound because there isn’t too much to highlight. The game is bold and colorful with a fun aesthetic that matches the light hearted mood that the developers were aiming for. It won’t be winning any awards but at the same time it didn’t give me any reason to nitpick.
I absolutely think that Steamworld dig is a fun game worth a playthrough, if it can be purchased at a cheap price due to a low playtime. I also believe that those who are going to be playing it on a portable device will enjoy it quite a bit for its simple pick up and play nature.