"Procedurally generated levels, beautiful visuals and flawless controls make SteamWorld Dig immensely captivating and difficult to put down."
SteamWorld Dig is the kind of game that makes you late for work, has you skipping meals…and even bathroom breaks. It’s an enchanting and dangerously addictive venture through dark underground tunnels filled with mysterious creatures and precious loot. It can be enjoyed a few minutes at a time, but it’s easy to lose hours on end. Procedurally generated levels, beautiful visuals and flawless controls make SteamWorld Dig immensely captivating and difficult to put down. Originally released on the Nintendo eShop last year, Image & Form’s indie puzzle-platformer finally makes its way to Playstation 4 and PS Vita as a cross-buy release. An overflow of review deadlines and a cramped backlog made me miss this gem last August, but I haven’t let the updated version slip through my fingers a second time. Sharpen your pickaxe, ready your oil lamp and prepare to be buried in a landslide of nostalgic frenzy.
SteamWorld Dig isn’t particularly original or groundbreaking. Mixing elements from Terraria, Metroid, and most notably Dig Dug, the game’s allure isn’t in its ingenuity but rather the superlative blend of genres and tried-and-true gameplay mechanics. It’s easy to pick up but becomes increasingly more difficult the deeper you dig. You play the adorable robot Rusty who’s been summoned by his uncle to claim a mine in the wild-west inspired town of Tumbleton. Rusty quickly finds himself beneath the scant settlement, chipping away at rocks and dirt in hopes of uncovering a long-lost civilization. The laborious first few minutes serve as a gentle warm up. With nothing but an oil lamp and a weak pickaxe, you’re tasked with finding minerals in exchange for coin in order to upgrade equipment.
"Tight corridors reveal a complex labyrinth filled with treasures and danger where one false move can lead to instant death."
Once a drill is acquired, the pacing and challenge escalate significantly and Rusty’s journey to uncover Tumbleton’s secrets begins. At first glance, SteamWorld Dig appears like a direct modern-day reinterpretation of Dig Dug. Tight corridors reveal a complex labyrinth filled with treasures and danger where one false move can lead to instant death. But aside from a few core principles, Rusty’s adventure is far more complex than Namco’s eighties classic. There’s a constant back and forth between mining minerals, upgrading gear and excavating new paths. It’s impossible to reach certain areas without proper gear modifications, particularly when facing various rock types and tougher foes. This is where Metroid’s mechanics become evident. The first time the run function is unlocked, Rusty’s enhanced maneuverability completely changes the way enemies and environmental dangers are tackled. SteamWorld Dig does an amazing job of making each upgrade feel substantial and worthy of your hard earned coin.
"Fighting enemies requires strategy as well. The first few foes are a pushover, but once certain depths are reached a single enemy attack can be deadly."
The game isn’t about just digging holes, fighting enemies and looting rare minerals. As the levels deepen, so does the need for strategy. Rusty can purchase teleportation devices that serve as custom underground checkpoints. Their placement is imperative to progress. If Rusty dies, he’s teleported back to the surface and his collected loot is dropped exactly where his health gauge hit zero. If the teleportation device isn’t placed nearby, you’re forced to backtrack through vast sections and it’s easy to get lost and lose your dropped treasure. Fighting enemies requires strategy as well. The first few foes are a pushover, but once certain depths are reached a single enemy attack can be deadly. Finding ways to dig around enemies and tackle them by surprise is both challenging and rewarding. Then there’s the water and light consumption. The longer you’re digging, the quicker your lamp oil drains and it becomes impossible to venture further in darkness. And if that’s not enough your drill and steam-jump require water to function, which can only be drained via sporadically placed puddles. Since your drill is key to breaking certain rock types, it’s easy to get stuck in a hole if water levels are low.
"SteamWorld Dig provides a stupendous amount of gameplay value and anyone foolish enough to skip this phenomenal adventure is making a big mistake."
The world of SteamWorld Dig is massive. Every play session is filled with exciting discoveries and the procedural level design means no playthrough is the same. Accentuating the experience are the beautifully colorful visuals. There may not be too much aesthetic variety in all the dirt and narrow corridors, but what’s there is undeniably impressive. The cartoony style lends itself perfectly to Tumbleton’s subterranean landscape and the entire game runs without a single hiccup.
SteamWorld Dig is fantastic. It provides a stupendous amount of gameplay value and anyone foolish enough to skip this phenomenal adventure is making a big mistake. If there is one issue, it would be the lack of a cross-save function between the PS4 and VITA, but that’s a small price to pay for such an incredible release. The Playstation 4 may still be in its infancy and there aren’t too many major releases out just yet, but SteamWorld Dig is more than just a temporary distraction and deserves to be ranked among the system’s best games to date.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4 and PS Vita