It’s often strange returning to an upgraded version of a game on a different platform. You’ll see the same world, gameplay that often remains the same despite a slightly different control system, and a few noticeable upgrades here and there.
With SteamWorld Dig on PS4 and Vita, you’re getting the same game that released on 3DS last year. That’s a non-issue, as the gameplay and pacing is already superbly tuned and tweaking those things might’ve spoiled it. So, it’s relatively the same experience, although with much crisper visuals on Sony’s handheld opposed to Nintendo’s, and with a few other tricks up its sleeve.
SteamWorld dig is a very well made two dimensional platformer game, but it’s also a fantastic exploration game with a purpose. Rather than mining away for resources, or to escape the monsters at night, you’re actively exploring the depths of Rusty’s uncle’s mines, finding out what lies below. And it’s worth going all the way down, just to see how the environment changes and to find out the true mysteries of the core.
To get there, you will have to collect and trade minerals for cash, which you can achieve by climbing back to the top or using one of the teleport points when you get a bit deeper. Your inventory space is finite, which means careful time and resource management before returning to the top and cashing in.
Trading these resources also acts as a levelling system, though brilliantly you’re not levelling yourself up, but the desolate Western town above. That means new items in shops, new characters coming to town, and ways to get better upgrades for Rusty, which in turn leads to further collection of minerals.
It’s a trick many games have played before, and while in those you might realise that you’re essentially pointlessly trading and collecting more minerals, SteamWorld Dig gives you that purpose. You’re constantly trying to find out what’s deeper down the mines – which new environments you’ll come across – as well as upgrading the town above. It’s a superb dynamic, and one of the game’s real strengths.
Yet SteamWorld’s greatest asset is something subtle, and something that has been there even before these new PS4 and Vita versions: the procedurally generated environments in the mines below. This means that no two playthroughs are the same, and while it’s balanced, you might find yourself encountering more enemies and less minerals or vice versa from one playthrough to another. It makes a return to the mines a refreshing experience, particularly across different platforms.
The procedural generation is limited though, in that the puzzle rooms – where you’ll find Rusty’s main upgrades – are fine-tuned for gameplay. These therefore remain the same, but once again they still have a lot to offer for newcomers and returners alike. Outside of those rooms though, you’ll see different blockades in places which might make you explore the mines a bit more.
Unless you’re a handheld aficionado, SteamWorld Dig is at its best on PS4. There’s no cross platform saves, so it’s likely you’ll be choosing between one or the other despite getting both for one price. Remote Play should help you decide, as the experience from either the native Vita version or streaming to your Vita is much the same, only in the latter you’ll be able to share your PS4 save.
At least if you do choose to play both, you’ll have different environments in each playthrough, but the lack of cross save when there is cross buy is ultimately disappointing.
The biggest improvement is ultimately the visuals. It’s really something you have to see in action, but such a nice change from other indie games on the market. It’s extremely sharp, and almost cartoon-like with some bold edges. In 1080p and at 60fps on PS4, it lets the stunning art direction take hold, with some effects put to extremely good use. You’ll often notice some brilliant quirks and attention to detail that the 3DS – or perhaps even the Vita – just isn’t able to offer.
While the controls worked fine on the 3DS, there’s a lot more room for customisation here. I found that changing the mining and sprinting buttons to the triggers felt much more natural than the face buttons on the PS4 version for example, but you can pick and choose these yourself. It also integrates the Vita’s touch screen and PS4’s touch pad quite well when it comes to managing your inventory.
SteamWorld Dig is a very good game. It takes most of the fun to be found in other mining games such as Terraria and adds some elements of traditional platformer and exploration games. You have objectives, rather than doing what you want, which doesn’t hinder the game but instead adds to it.
It remains one of the best 3DS titles, and now takes its place among PlayStation’s best too. It might not be an extremely lengthy affair, but when it comes to art direction, well paced gameplay, and a brilliant sense of exploration, SteamWorld remains king.
Versions tested: PS4, PS Vita