Developer: Image & Form
Release Date: August 7th, 2013
Available On: Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii U, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PlayStation 4. There may be differences between versions.
Wild west steampunk robots. Do I have your attention now? Good! The setting idea was enough to get me to at least look into SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt, a 2D mining platformer. It has some good ideas and interesting exploration that is unfortunately brought down by a missing story and crummy combat.
SteamWorld Dig puts you in the role of Rusty, a robot that has just arrived in an old mining town. On the discovery that his uncle Joe has died and left both the town and the mine to him Rusty decides to keep mining and make the town prosper again. In the process he discovers that Joe may have discovered something in the mines, something old and dangerous. While its heart is in the right place, the actual story just isn’t very interesting. I found it difficult to care much for the town, and Joe’s discovery basically amounts to nothing really interesting. Rusty himself is barely a character, choosing to go mute after the opening cutscene, and while the rest of the town has some personality, I more cared about the services they provided than their flavor text.
At the start of the game all Rusty has is a crummy pickax that can barely do any mining, and a light. You take an elevator down to the first floor of the mines and can begin to hit blocks until they break, though your constantly draining light will show you which ones have gems in them. Of course you want the gems, since you can trade them in for money which lets you buy better equipment which lets you go deeper which lets you get more gems… as you see it quickly becomes a cycle. That’s not a bad thing, I had fun exploring the mines and seeing just how deep they’d go. Treasures are tucked away in little corners, and you need to use all your smarts to reach each one.
As you explore you’ll find caves left behind by Joe. These caves sort of serve as puzzles for the player to solve, and more importantly they contain upgrades for Rusty. Upgrades range from drills to dig through harder rocks, to a high-jump, to the ability to run. I like the steam fist, which allowed me to shoot a projectile that both mined at a distance and attack enemies from far away. On the other hand, an extremely useful double jump didn’t show up until near the very end of the game which is a shame because that’s the kind of tool that could have made my life less painful. Still, I guess they had to pad the game out some since SteamWorld Dig is on the short side: It only took me a little more than 5 hours to finish it.
I mentioned enemies before, and I’ll be honest: I kind of groaned once they started to become more common. Combat in SteamWorld Dig is just really bad, and I found myself trying to avoid it as much as possible. The only way Rusty really has to defend himself is to smack enemies with his pick ax, which is as simple as pressing square. Then, depending on the enemy, they’ll either stand there and let you smack them again, turn around and walk away, or just walk right through me, damaging me, with the smack having done nothing but lower their HP. That’s basically the entire combat system right there. Later, once I got the steam fist, it at least allowed me to kill the enemies from a distance without having to worry about engaging in the game’s awful combat.
So combat aside, I still enjoyed my time with SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt. The exploration and discovery at least made the game fun for while it lasted. I dunno if I’d suggest this game for full price, unless you get it on a handheld where you’ll probably play in shorter bursts, but if it goes on sale then I think Joe’s mines are worth digging into.