Developer: Image & Form (2014)
Console: PS Vita (Originally on 3DS)
Reviewed by V1
This will be short! In SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt, you play as a small mining Robot named Rusty. Rusty has arrived at Tumbleton to see his Uncle Joe (another mining Robot). Unfortunately Joe has gone missing in the mine, & Rusty sets off to find him. So off you go to dig your way to the bottom of the mine, collecting everything on your way to finding your uncle. There are 4 other characters in the entirety of this game. They have basically no defining features other than the wares they sell (which are, hilariously, upgraded versions of the shite the last fella sold). I couldn’t even tell you their names to be honest.
Ok, so I’ve padded out the story section enough, now onto the meat of this review. Steamworld Dig is a 2D metroidvania style platformer. The main gameplay mechanic of the game is digging further into the mine, while collecting precious metals & ores. These minerals allow you to return to the surface world & purchase new upgrades, which allow you to dig more & get more upgrades etc. The aim is to reach the bottom of the mine & rescue your Uncle.
To start off all you have is a wooden pickaxe & the ability to hold a few pieces of ore. But mining will allow buy stronger pickaxes, drills, water tanks (to power up special moves), dynamite, ladders, teleporters, loot bags & lanterns. All of these feature multiple variations e.g. each new version is stronger, lasts longer or holds more items. As well as the ability to improve on your existing gear, there are also special moves found throughout the mine. These are usually found in special areas in the mine & include a charge jump, double jump (found shockingly late in the game) &no fall damage. Unlike other games of this kind. The special moves don’t exist to allow you to reach new areas of the game. Quite the opposite actually. Their real ability is to allow you to climb out of mine easily in order to sell your ores & get money to purchase more upgrades. This makes playing this game in short bits very enjoyable, but don’t be shocked when a quick game turns into a multi hour session. For the most part, playing Steamworld Dig is a lot of fun. Making a new run through the mine can be fantastic. Finding out how to reach that piece of diamond that has eluded you for hours is very gratifying, as is finding new uses for your moves.
However, it’s not all fun in Tumbleton. Every time you enter the mine you have a set lantern timer (can be upgraded) which is constantly counting down. This mechanic is probably programmed to create a sense of urgency or panic, but it didn’t work for me. I personally found it to be the single most annoying feature of the game. Sometimes I want to clear out a section of mine without tripling the amount of time it takes, because I had to make 4 trips to the surface. This feels like padding out the game to me. Another mechanic that I wasn’t a fan of in the game is the wall jump. Being a Metroid fanatic I’m pretty good at wall jumping, but the controls for the wall jump in Steamworld Dig are just annoying. Instead of going with the norm (jumping up against the wall, & them pressing opposite the wall to jump off it), you are forced to press against the wall as you jump & switch afterwards. I found this to be awkward & counter intuitive. In fact I quit the game after a few minutes, only to return to it a week later, because of the wall jump. I did get used to the changes eventually, but I had a few deaths that were 100% caused by this mechanic.
This is a decent looking 2D game. The big, colourful sprites are the best aspect of the game without doubt. Rusty is a pretty cool looking little fella & the rest of the cast are charming looking too (just as well, there’s only 5 characters in the game). The world itself is nothing special. Tumbleton is a tiny little western style town, featuring a salon, a jailhouse & a few other places. But these are just for decoration as you can’t enter any of the buildings. The mines themselves are a bit better. It’s split into different regions (changes with depth) each with its own colour scheme. It’s easy to tell the different soil types & ores apart, which comes in handy when mining for more expensive loot. Another thing worthy of mention is the lighting, particularly on PS4, the different coloured lighting can look fantastic on the big screen.
The musical score in Steamworld Dig is fairly underwhelming. Not memorable at all, but fine in the background…. MEH! There is no voice acting or narration in the game at all, all story is fed through speech bubbles.
• Fun gameplay.
• Looting & upgrading is addictive.
• Metroid style exploring & powering up is always good.
• Fun in short bursts & long sessions.
• Annoying lantern timer forces you to surface.
• Terrible wall jump.
• Most upgrades are improved version of acquired powers. I want a tonne of new powers!!!
• No story, very little dialogue & character interaction.
Overall: At the beginning I asked how this game compares to Super Metroid. It doesn’t! I’m not sure if I’m being unfair by comparing it to my all-time favourite game. But when your marketing campaign makes a song & dance about how you’re a metroidvania game, I think it’s only right to make the comparison. But Steamworld Dig: A Fist Full of Dirt is a fun game nonetheless. It’s not ground breaking (sorry) in any way, but still worth a go at under 10 quid.