Game: SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt
System: Switch (also on 3DS, Wii U, PC, PS4, Vita, and Xbox One)
Developer|Publisher: Image & Form
Age Rating: EU: 7+| USA: Everyone, 10+
Price: €9,99| £8.99| $9.99
Release Date: 1 February 2018
No review code was provided, bought the game myself.
In my 25 years of gaming, I’ve never bought a platformer. I’m bad at platformers, which is why I don’t buy them. But you see the vicious cycle: If you don’t practice, you don’t improve.
Enter SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt.
The eye-popping visuals and rave reviews of Dig’s other Steamworld cousins hooked my attention. So when Nintendo eShop discounted this 3DS classic at $2.99, I took the bait.
Short, sweet, simple
Dig turned out to be the right platformer for me: addictive exploration, casual difficulty, and a time investment of only several hours.
Unlike combat-heavy platformers, Dig focuses on exploration and mining. It’s a simple loop: Dig for shiny ores and bring them to surface for cash.
That cash from mining gets you upgrades: better tools, more health, more steam power. And oh boy, steam power is fun. As the game progresses, you’ll gain the ability to perform higher jumps and deliver jaw-crunching punches, all powered by steam technology.
But mining can be compelling in itself. You keep wanting to push on further and further in search of ore, though your lantern’s running low on fuel. It’s that gratifying sound of rocks cracking open, and the sweet cool clink of gems falling out, all for your taking.
And once you obtain an ore detector that registers the location of every ore on your mini-map, you might be tempted to detour from the main objective in pursuit of bling.
Yes, there is an over-arching objective: to guide Rusty, the protagonist robot, deeper and deeper underground. A series of pre-designed caves contain puzzles and enemies to conquer. Completing these caves advances the game and rewards you with powerful upgrades. In turn, these upgrades make the game more fun by adding new platforming mechanics.
Dig doesn’t spend much time on storytelling. But what little dialogue there is—in the form of banter with shopkeepers—adds incredible color to Rusty’s cowboy town. As a result, the writing in Dig stands out as much as the visuals do. In fact, this is where the game excels: in its visual design and world-building.
What I didn’t like in Dig was the tedium of climbing back to surface. Sure, you can buy teleporters, but they cost precious orbs which are better spent on upgrading your pickaxe, armor, water tank, or lantern.
Early in the game, lantern fuel runs out pretty fast. When the mines turn dark, it gets much harder to find your way around. This wouldn’t be a problem if you could get back to town easily.
Unfortunately, the mini-map is insanely tiny; I could barely see the location of my teleporters or a much-needed pool of water to refill my tank.
Combat was annoying at times too, but never a pain. Except with the final boss, whom I took 1.5 hours to beat after dying again and again. It took me awhile to figure out the keys to beating the boss. Fair enough for a platformer, though.
Dying penalizes you heavily in cash and sends you back to town. But as a consolation, it kindly leaves your collected ores untouched, so you can pick them up again later. If you ever get stuck underground—I’ve dug myself into a dead end before—you can voluntarily hit the “self-destruct” button. Sometimes, that’s a welcome escape.
Dig is a good length and of manageable difficulty for a casual gamer. At 8 hours, I probably took longer than the average player to finish. But I’d say I did pretty decently. Even if I did die 34 times.
There’s some replay value since the map is procedurally generated, apart from the puzzle caves. But while I wouldn’t mind replaying Dig, I’d much rather move on to SteamWorld Dig 2. Despite any (minor) tedium, the game has gotten me excited to try its sequel.
The verdict: I like it!