SteamWorld Dig on Nintendo 3DS was a surprise hit for me. I cranked through the whole thing on an unusually long plane ride and was engrossed from start to finish. It turned me into a huge fan of the series and proved to me that indie developers can make some truly compelling games. With the re-release on Nintendo Switch, I gladly took up the opportunity to dust off the pickaxe and start the spelunking all over again. While it’s been great revisiting where it all began, it’s hard to shake the feeling that I’m playing a beta version of a better game. Luckily (unluckily?) for Image and Form, they are their own best competition.

Gameplay:

SteamWorld Dig has you playing as Rusty, a Steambot who inherited the deed to his uncle’s mine located in the middle of a deserted old west styled town. You embark on a familiar “Metroidvania” like quest that’s structured around an loop of digging and mining for ore and gems to sell so you can buy upgrades to get yourself further. As you continue digging deeper, you’ll find some major upgrades that help make traversal easier as you move up and down the mine. Some of the best parts of the SteamWorld games are the gameplay loops and the loops here are just as satisfyingly addictive as always. You’ll find yourself repeating “Just one more trip down” constantly as the hours drift by. The loops here are tighter and quicker then in SteamWorld Dig 2 and I was often surprised by how quickly I needed to return to the surface.

Gettin’ upgrades.

The “dig” in SteamWorld Dig is a fun little puzzle in itself. As you pick away each square of dirt, you’ll want to be mindful to make sure you don’t trap yourself, or make your return trip any harder than it has to be. I enjoyed trying to design my tunnels to be as clean and efficient as possible, priding myself on how quickly I could get back up and how swiftly I could fall back down. As you progress further and further down, you’ll have to square off with a few enemies, as well as increasingly more difficult environmental hazards. For instance, you’ll come across barrels of sensitive TNT, or boulders that might fall on you if you weaken the dirt unearth them, and even the dirt you dig through starts fighting back as it gets more difficult to mine, requiring you to spend some cash to upgrade your digging tools.

In addition, you’ll have to watch three separate meters: health, light, and water (you are a STEAMbot after all). Health is pretty self explanatory, light allows you to brighten up those dark tunnels while you dig and water is used to fuel many of your actions and abilities. You’ll come across a number of ways in which you can recharge each of these three meters while in the mines, but if you run out of either light or water, you could find yourself suddenly feeling stuck and claustrophobic as you have to then try to blindly find your way out. While the obstacles never get too overwhelming, they do provide a nice variety to the gameplay and will cause you to stop and think before you carve out that next chuck of dirt. The same can’t be said about the combat however. It’s as simple as can be and really isn’t very enjoyable. You have a limited amount of options to tackle any combat situation and it usually all boils down to you running up to the enemy and bashing attack. It’s very simple and straightforward.

Rusty is the GOAT.

The biggest problem with the game isn’t the combat or any of the gameplay. There’s a ton of fun to be had here. But if you’re playing SteamWorld Dig after playing the outstandingly superb SteamWorld Dig 2, it’s a challenge not to feel like you’re playing an inferior game. Dig 2 does practically everything Dig does, but better. As a revisit of an older game in the series, it’s easy to look past some of the rougher edges. However if you’re playing this because you’re looking for more SteamWorld Dig 2, you’ll find that it just isn’t quite as polished or well designed. This issue could have been mitigated slightly if the developers had opted to include any sort of extra content or improvements. I found myself checking for a in game full view map multiple times, which would have been a welcome addition. How about some new upgrades? Some extra areas to explore? Instead, its a straight port of an admittedly great game that feels worse than it is due to its age and the fact that its own sequel not only outclassed it, but also released before it on the very system Dig was ported to.

Controls:

The game controls great, and I never once felt like I wasn’t the one responsible for my actions. The mapping feels natural and anyone who has played a 2D game should feel right at home. You move Rusty by using the D-Pad/Analog sticks, jump with the B button and press A for your action button. L/ZL-Triggers let you swap between your digging tools and R/ZR-Triggers let you swap between your supplemental items. That’s pretty much it. You’ll eventually unlock some upgrades that will allow you further movement options, but the controls never feel overwhelming. Getting around the tunnels you’ve dug or wall jumping up a long mine shaft feels snappy and fluid and movement in general just feels “right”.

Graphics:

The style and ambiance of the SteamWorld games have always struck a cord with me. The team’s art direction is always so spot on and always complements the game play so perfectly. SteamWorld Dig is no exception. The move to the Switch screen both in docked and undocked play looks great. Some of the character sprites look a bit low budget and feel smaller than I remember, but overall it’s still a great looking game with an unbeatable western aesthetic and some really beautiful lighting. Rusty as a main character is one of my favorite designs out of any video game. As I progressed through the 6 hours I spent with him, there was more than once where I thought to myself “Man, I’d LOVE to play as Rusty in Super Smash Bros!” (Pipe dream, I know). Regardless, there is something so fantastic about his design and it fits within the game and its themes so perfectly.

The only thing missing is the tumbleweed.

Music/Sound:

One look at a screen shot of the game’s only town and you’ll know exactly the type of music you’re in for. It’s crusty and dusty, twangy and clangy, and it suits the the look of the world and complements the feel of the game perfectly. The sound effects are on point as well. You’ll hear plenty of great clanks as you over jump and knock Rusty’s head into a block and the sound of the dirt crumbling away as you dig away at is weirdly satisfying.

Summary:

Five years later and SteamWorld Dig is just as charming as ever. The graphics and world are wonderful, the music and sound design is fantastic, and the gameplay and controls are spot on. But if you’ve already played SteamWorld Dig 2 it’s hard to ignore the nagging feeling that you’re playing a prototype of a better game. I did my best to judge it on its own merit and not only compare it to Dig 2, but that is a hard task to accomplish when Dig 2 is only a few icons away on my Switch screen.

By all means SteamWorld Dig is still a great game. If anything, it’s a compliment to the success of the team that built this in that they not only built a great game, but then blew it out of the water with a sequel. But I think better timing of Dig’s release, as well as some additional content would have helped elevate the game and break through the shadow of its younger brother. Having said that, this is definitely money well spent. You’ll get a very enjoyable and (most important) fun 5-6+ hour experience. The gameplay loop and concept alone is enough to sustain this game and you’ll find yourself addicted to the progress you achieve as you see yourself getting further and further down. Even if you’ve played both SteamWorld Heist and SteamWorld Dig 2, there is still lots of fun to be had here. Just go in with proper expectations and you’ll find yourself buried in a great game.

Pros:

  • Main gameplay loop is still a blast
  • Charming, beautiful, and has a great sense of atmosphere
  • One of the coolest playable characters in any game
  • Digging and designing your tunnels feel like a game in itself

Cons:

  • Combat is basic and pretty boring
  • No extra content or improvements
  • If you’ve already played SteamWorld Dig 2, this will feel inferior

Rating: B-

Disclaimer: A digital copy of the game was provided by Image & Form for review purposes.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Rating
80 %
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Pat
Likes long walks on virtual beaches and longer walks with Pokemon Go open in the background. Loves all things video games and bleeds Nintendo red. Married a woman who finds his large Amiibo collection only slightly off-putting. Can only fall asleep to the sound of a pug snoring.

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