Retro-inspired platformers have taken the eshop by storm the past couple of years. Games like Mutant Mudds, Gunman Clive and the critically acclaimed Shovel Knight have all sold well and received glowing reviews. Another game inspired by the 8-bit and 16-bit era of gaming is Image & Form’s SteamWorld Dig, a highly addictive mining adventure. Regularly priced just under $9, the game is currently on sale for $4.49 (Hurry, hurry, hurry…. the sale only lasts until July 31st).
Assuming the role of Rusty, a robot cowboy, you receive the deed to his deceased Uncle’s mine. The mine is located below the town of “Tumbleton: Population 3,” and you are quickly introduced to the towns residents. Dorothy runs the trade shop, where she purchases all the ores you discover while mining. Her father , Cranky, runs the upgrades store, where you can buy various tools and upgrades for your equipment. Cranky carries everything from stronger pick axes and larger pouches, to teleportation devices and pressurized steam tanks (all of your equipment is powered by steam, and gradually drains with each use, requiring fuel ups in underground pools scattered throughout the mine). The final resident of Tumbleton is Lola. She works at the saloon and appears to be the town prostitute.
Gameplay is simple, yet addictive. Equipped only with a lantern and a pick axe in the beginning, you explore the mine, digging deeper and deeper, collecting various ores. As you run out of steam for your lantern, or fill your pouch with ores, you must return to the surface. There you can sell off your ores and purchase upgrades required to progress through the mine. As you journey deeper and deeper into the mine Rusty uncovers more and more of his Uncle’s secrets. You discover teleportation devices, new tools and secret passageways. However, there is more than just ores and tools within the mine. Creatures slumber within the depths of the mine, and the deeper you dig, the larger and meaner the creatures get.
While the game is largely platform based, with Rusty digging deeper and deeper into the mine, SteamWorld also features some puzzle aspects, along with minor RPG elements. Within the mine you will come across areas that require deep thought and strategy to proceed through properly. Certain tunnels and side passages pose significant challenges, forcing you to “Self Destruct” and attempt them again and again, until you dig just the right tunnel to progress to the other side. Leveling up and upgrading your tools brings a slight RPG feel to the game, as there are certain areas that are impossible to maneuver through without improved tools.
The game does not bog you down with lengthy tutorials and trials. Instead it sticks to its 16-bit roots, and allows you to figure out the controls largely on your own. SteamWorld Dig respects you as a gamer, assuming you can quickly discover your own techniques. It doesn’t hold your hand, as many games do nowadays. It frees you to get right into the action almost immediately. The controls are simple and well laid out. Many of the classic platforming abilities are present: speed running, wall jumps and speed jumps all aid Rusty on his mining journey.
The music throughout is very minimalist, with only a handful of tracks present. The few scores featured have a strong western feel, capturing the sense of wandering into an old, deserted cowboy town. While the argument could be made for a larger variety of music, the few selections there are capture the mood excellently.
Where Mutant Mudds and Shovel Knight wear their 8-bit inspirations on their sleeves, SteamWorld Dig comes across as a brilliant throwback to the SNES era. The game features brilliantly sharp HD visuals, with stunning, crisp colors and imaginative characters. Cut scenes are quite minimal, with only a still headshot of each character shown as they speak.
While the game would have certainly benefitted from more varied NPC conversation and a larger soundtrack, overall, SteamWorld Dig is a cleverly original, and surprisingly addicting, puzzle platformer. A simple concept, with a unique twist, SteamWorld Dig will easily transform your cries of “One More Level” into cries of “One More Dig!”
Note: A Wii U release has been announced for Fall 2014