Mining has been a gaming obsession of mine ever since Minecraft took over my life years ago. I don’t know what about digging up ores solely with the intent of using them to dig more ores more quickly strikes me as an exciting game mechanic, but it is one I repeatedly seek out and enjoy. SteamWorld Dig has lots of ore mining in its gameplay but it is more than just that. Blair reviewed its original release on 3DS four months ago and it has since made its way over to Steam for Windows, OS X, and Linux.
It is reasonably well described by saying it is Miner Dig Deep done Metroidvania style, with a mysterious storyline and plenty of platforming and puzzles. Set in a seemingly post-apocalyptic western world that is populated by steam-powered robots, you take control of Rusty, who has been sent the deed to explore his uncle’s mine, and takes a visit to find out why. He quickly finds his uncle dead in the mine, takes his pickaxe and decides to keep the mine open to discover what happened to his uncle and unravel the mystery that hangs over it.
You begin with just a pickaxe but soon find yourself acquiring not just more equipment, but powers as well. You can sell the shiny ores you retrieve from the earth’s bowels for cash in the village at the surface, where you can also upgrade your equipment. You can upgrade most of your equipment, from increasing the power of your pickaxe to upgrading your pouch so you can carry more ore at a time, it’s all useful and paid for with a mixture of gold and odd glowing orbs that can be found in spheres around the mines.
New powers are acquired by completing caves, the entrances to which are marked on the mini-map when you get close enough. These caves are essentially puzzles, usually involving a twist that is unique to the cave that you need to work out and use to get to the prize at the end. Said prize is in the form of a pedestal that, once you’ve stepped on it, will give you a fancy new power. The powers can be anything from a drill to get through harder surfaces (which can then be further upgraded at an upgrade shop), to a variety of steam-powered abilities like the steam punch, which can be charged and launched Rayman-style to destroy both land and enemies alike.
These powers consume water to use which is replenished by finding it in the environment, either in pools that you can drain to replenish your supply or dropped by enemies. In addition to water you’ll need to keep an eye on your lamp which will slowly deplete as you explore the caves. It can be partly replenished by drops from enemies but you will inevitably need to return to the surface to replenish it fully eventually, that is provided you don’t need to return to empty your inventory first, or to stock up on ladders and placeable lamps, which suspiciously don’t run out of power or get dimmer.
Returning to the surface is important as the variety, toughness and number of enemies grow the deeper you get into the mine. If you die, in addition to paying a substantial amount of cash for repair, your no doubt huge collection of ores will be dropped where you passed and you will have to reach it again to retrieve it.
Initially, enemies are few and of maybe one or two types, but as you delve deeper those types are replaced by other, more powerful monsters that do not seem to like you at all. Many of them have different behaviours as well, with some of them moving side to side dumbly and others throwing things at you if they spot you. Obstacles increase in variety and frequency as you go, starting with boulders that drop if you dig out the block below them and increasing in severity, such as blocks that drop acid that burns away flesh and stone alike.
So you will be making your way back to the surface pretty often for a variety of reasons. When you start the game you need to climb back up to the entrance, but just as you start to think that it’s going to get old you encounter a teleporter in the caves that quickly returns you the the town. Then you can buy teleporters that you can place in the mine yourself, enabling you to quickly reach the surface from anywhere provided you have enough glowing orbs to keep buying them while you’re there. This helps make your trips to the surface as quick and painless as possible, which is helpful as it would likely get abrasive quite quickly otherwise.
The further you descend into the caves the more the story will advance, and the further the story advances the more the caves will change around you. From the western-style mine near the top it will slowly grow more science fiction and it all looks great in full 1080p. It’s no graphical powerhouse but its aesthetic is a charming one that is sufficiently apart from any others, despite the familiar square-based make-up of the mine itself.
Overall, SteamWorld Dig is an enjoyable experience if you are at all entertained by mining, platforming, puzzling, or any combination of the above. At the low price of £5.99 (currently on sale for £5.49) on Steam you can’t really go wrong if you are at all interested in the genre. Put simply, it is fun and manages to continue to be so for plenty of playtime.