SteamWorld Dig (Xbox One) review
- Ultimately fun - whether sitting down to long sessions or putting in short delves when time is tighter
- Wonderful atmosphere - by saying less, the world is developed more; and complemented by an admittedly small musical score that hits the right tone for the settings
Not So Much?
- One run will show you pretty much all there is to see
- While the setting is fantastic, the story is essentially "keep digging deeper", which ironically lacks depth
Robot cowboy miners. Come on, tell me you’re not interested already?
“Robot cowboy miners.” As a concept, it sounds like one that can’t go wrong, and certainly it didn’t for developers Image & Form when they released SteamWorld Dig on the 3DS in 2013, gaining several exemplary reviews. Now the title has been released on the Xbox One, following in the footsteps of last year’s ports to the PS4 and Wii U.
At heart, SteamWorld Dig is a platform game, with the twist that your mining is creating and destroying your platforms as you descend. Initially equipped with little more than a mining pick, you can chew your way through the dirt at a respectable pace, uncovering valuable minerals to sell in town. This little hub – initially with a population of three – is where you recharge your lamp, and can buy upgrades, basic equipment, and get occasional prompts for story advancement.
Admittedly, the story could largely be summarised as “you found something cool when you dug down? Dig down further and see if you can find anything else!” Yet despite that, the game’s narrative has a surprising depth by knowing what not to say – occasional lines about who was there before, old civilisations, strange technology… mix this with pieces of scenery like ruined tanks or damaged barrels and you fill in far more details. While the game may not tell an especially profound story (simply put, you’re exploring the mine your uncle died in, seeking the mysterious things he’d uncovered), it does create the lore to a fascinating world it is happening in. It is clear why this is such a strong setting Image & Form want to return to, with SteamWorld Heist currently in development; these titles both follow SteamWorld Tower Defence that was released in 2010.
To complement this, while the game only has a handful of tunes they do add to the atmosphere perfectly. The western inspired pieces for above ground contrast with more sombre pieces for the mine areas, and add to a sense of being alone far below ground.
As you get deeper, the whole process becomes more challenging – more dangerous critters to attack you, blocks that can fall, and the ground becomes denser needing better picks to maintain good mining speeds. You’ll also come across caves to smaller rooms requiring more focused platforming skills, and often holding either more profit or advanced equipment to mine with. However while this could open the door to a Metroidvania style experience, backtracking is minimal. Yes, you will need to briefly revisit early areas with later skills before the game is over, but this is the exception instead of the rule, and progress is ultimately linear.
This lack of significant exploration might be where the game loses long term appeal. Progressing through the mine – and deeper areas – is fun if not overly challenging, and can fill some enjoyable sessions (my first game was finished in seven hours, and it felt like less). However, at this point you’ve seen what is on offer, and so you’re left either simply starting the same experience again, albeit with the mine layouts being randomised, or moving on to something else. The game’s achievements do reward more experienced play as a carrot to dangle for restarting, but if these aren’t enticing for you, you’ll probably come away feeling you’ve seen everything in an enjoyable, if shallow, game.
SteamWorld Dig is an enjoyable platformer, with the desire to explore (and profit) keeping you interested between upgrade caves. While the game’s story is basic, it creates a world that poses intriguing questions about itself and leaves you to form your own answers. It’s main issue lies when you reach the completion screen – you’ll have likely seen everything on offer, and your only long-term goal is to play the same content again, but better. Ultimately, the mining experience is fun but the game isn’t groundbreaking, if you’ll pardon the pun.