Review: SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt

Steamworld Dig is a mix of steam-powered robots, platforming, Dig Dug, Metroidvania games and westerns. Those things may seem like they have little in common, but that strange combination winds up working fairly well here. As Rusty the mining steambot, your main goal is to dig as deep as you can while gathering treasure and power-ups, then bringing them to the surface before you either run out of light or life.

Life may be fairly obvious, but light is something you wouldn’t normally consider in a game, needed here because you’re sometimes deep underground. Beating enemies to death with your pickaxe can either give you nothing, life, or some light. You can also go all Dig Dug on them and crush them with giant rocks. The latter can happen to you as well if you’re aren’t careful, so make sure to actually look where you’re digging before letting loose a pile of giant rocks.

Death isn’t that much of a deterrent, though. If you die, you’ll be put back together on the surface and lose some money and your treasure. If you get stuck, you can just restart the level — something you’ll be doing a lot early on. You have very few powers and only a couple of expensive tools to get out of jams, so you’ll need to restart, regroup, and try a different strategy. The bottom screen displays a small map of the underground areas you explore, and while it all just seems like a bunch of dirt, studying the map results in amazement at how big the area really is.

Like a 2D Metroid game, the map can be tackled in any order so long as it’s reachable, eventually revealing new items to use and make the adventure easier. You’ll see jumps you know should be able to make, and then feel the thrill of finally being able to make that giant leap with a steam-powered leap. After wondering why a billion thwacks with your axe won’t damage a certain kind of rock, you’ll find out that it can only be drilled through.

Beyond saving your life, the townsfolk will be amazed by your new tools, and also trade found treasures for goods like a more powerful pickaxe and a larger pouch to hold more loot, and then you can go back and get more. Leveling up is also accomplished through finding treasure, and will itself net you some bonuses as well.

The visual western movie influences come in the form of character designs and the above-ground environments. The underground graphics evoke Dig Dug if it was in a 16-bit graphical style, while the town is purely western and looks awesome. Rich colors are used for everything and while there’s a lot of brown, it makes the bright orange colors used for light power-ups and the deep blue water stand out even more. Animation is always smooth and fits the action nicely.

The soundtrack fits in with the cartoonish western visuals and sounds like something Ennio Morricone would put in a film, but modified to be more comedic. Unfortunately, the soundtrack is a bit limited, so you’ll hear music repeated a lot. Beyond the music, the axe, drill and digging sounds are good. The robotic gibberish spoken by the townspeople is also enjoyable to listen to in short doses, and doesn’t wear out its welcome due to only short phrases being spoken aloud.


Closing Comments:

If you love Metroidvania games, you’ll love Steamworld Dig. It takes a little while to get going, but once you find your first upgrade underground, you’ll be hooked. It blends action-platforming with exploration very well, and manages to feel different enough from every other MV-style game while still feeling somewhat familiar. For under ten dollars, there’s a lot of fun to be had with SteamWorld Dig.

 Platform: Nintendo 3DS (eShop)