- Format: Wii U (version reviewed), 3DS, PS4, Vita, PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Image & Form
- Developer: Image & Form
- Players: 1
- Site: steamworldgames.com/dig/
When mining platformer SteamWorld Dig launched on 3DS last year, there was a sense that perhaps it belonged on a home console. After skipping Nintendo with a PlayStation 4 port, the game has finally come to Wii U.
SteamWorld Dig begins with Rusty, a steam-powered robot, entering the town of Tumbleton at the request of his recently deceased uncle. Rusty’s mission is to dig through the town’s mines to discover his fate. It’s a very simple story and not particularly captivating, but the hints of “It’s like he’s preparing you for something” from some of the game’s characters do create some intrigue. There’s also a pretty well delivered twist in there.
The core of the game takes place within the three differently themed mines beneath Tumbleton, where the player takes control of Rusty and digs ever further down. Rusty begins with the ability to jump, wall-jump, and mine with his pickaxe. You can also use items such as dynamite or ladders that are bought in town; simple tools that are let down by some rather mundane level design where any perceived challenge can be simply dug around. Some of these use water as a resource, refilled at pools dotted throughout the mine.
There are a series of rooms in each mine, a few of which challenge Rusty with some platforming puzzles with the reward of new powers. These rooms are a lot better designed, utilising the game’s core mechanics and limiting Rusty’s item use to challenge the player’s puzzle-solving abilities. While some of these can be tough, they never veer into the realm of intentionally frustrating players.
The powers gained from these include double jumps and super jumps. While use of them are necessary for exiting the rooms in which Rusty finds them, they’re more of a convenience in every other area. It’s a shame the player is never given challenges that require their use outside of these rooms, as it becomes quite easy to forget that they exist.
This is, perhaps, down to a lack of mechanical diversity since everything basically boils down to picking away at blocks. There are also enemies to fight, but even these can be easily disposed of by getting into the right position and simply holding the pickaxe button or launching a stick of dynamite at them: the same tools used for everything else.
As players navigate through the mines, they can collect diamonds and other precious stones along the way. These are easily spotted by colourful patterns, and can be sold in Tumbleton for gold coins. There is also blue ore that can be mined. Both of these serve as the currency used for purchasing items and upgrades, which also has the byproduct of opening new shops and allowing for even better upgrades.
This seems a little behind the times when similar games use crafting for this instead. It could have instilled some much-needed mechanical diversity, and would have made the act of mining for resources a lot more interesting; hunting for specific resources for recipes would have been a lot more rewarding in the long-run.
Rusty’s lantern will slowly diminish and eventually fade away, limiting the amount of time you can comfortably mine. There are many upgrades that can make this more efficient, such as increasing your health and water limit, and lengthening the amount of time your lantern itself lasts. It’s perhaps a rather mundane method of gating the player’s progress, but it serves its purpose without issue.
You can also buy teleporters that allow you to go between the town and your last position in the mine which really helps your progress – when you die without a teleporter at your most recent position, it’s a real pain to work your way back. Death is also punished by charging you a certain amount of gold, as well as removing all items from your inventory – though they’ll be dropped in a bag in the mine, presenting the extra challenge of regaining your lost wares.
Visually, SteamWorld Dig communicates things very well. You can always distinguish between the different types of block which makes it very easy to know whether you’ll need a pickaxe or drill to dig through. The three mines also feature very varied themes that help build a sense of history and intrigue to Tumbleton, though there is a disconnect between the sterile look of the third area and a character’s line that states Rusty is covered in ice so it must be cold there. Perhaps the visual goal for that area was not met, though it looked fine without that line of dialogue.
Tumbleton and the character designs do a good job of setting the spaghetti western theme, with ramshackle saloons and robots wearing cowboy hats. The sunset colour palette also furthers this by easily calling upon tropes of the genre.
Sound design is a mixed bag. It’s once again all very functional, though not necessarily interesting or flavoured. While the main menu music is a wonderful, playful homage to cowboy movies, the rest of the soundtrack is easily forgettable. Most of the sound effects are good, however, with no glaring inconsistencies.
Gamepad implementation is good; the minimap and inventory being relocated there gets it out of the way of on-screen elements such as enemies or resources. It also allows the minimap to be a little larger, providing a more in-depth look at where these elements are when they’re not on-screen.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of SteamWorld Dig’s mechanics, it does seem to be missing just a little something extra, be that a more interesting way of gaining items or something else used for combat. This lack of mechanical diversity makes for a game that becomes tiring quite quickly in spite of its core being well executed, making it far better suited for playing in short bursts.