System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS4, 3DS, PC, Mac, Linux
Genre: Platformer, Adventure
Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Price: $9.99 [cross buy for PS Vita/PS4]
Release Date: March 18, 2014 [PS Vita/PS4 release]
SteamWorld Dig is a game that feels so familiar yet so unique at the same time. Dubbed a “hardcore platform mining adventure” by its developers, it plays out like a combination of Spelunky, Terraria and the Metroidvania genre. It also just happens to be a perfect fit for the Playstation Vita.
The game places you in the role of Rusty, a steambot who visits the long-abandoned mining town of Tumbleton (current population: 3) at the request of his uncle. Upon arrival, Rusty becomes determined to dig and dig some more in hopes of finding valuable ore that can breathe some life into this barren town.
Originally armed with just a regular pickaxe, Rusty is eventually able to upgrade his arsenal by finding and selling gems and minerals to the few people in town. By continuing to explore deeper underground, hidden mines and powerups can also be found. These provide new abilities to make traversing the increasingly tricky subterranean areas a bit more manageable. Over time, Rusty can learn how to run faster and jump higher, both of which become quite crucial as the game goes on.
Of course, there is more to the underground than just minerals. There are all sorts of creatures roaming around, as well as some that can be found hibernating within individual blocks. If you manage to wake a creature without destroying it in the process, you can quickly find yourself in a world of hurt. That’s not even mentioning the automated lasers and barrels of dynamite that become more and more common the deeper you go.
If you happen to die, you will lose a large portion of money and whatever ore you happen to be carrying with you at the time. You can still go down and retrieve what you left behind, but you will have to do so with less health. There are certain items that can be purchased to help with the constant up-and-down platforming, including teleporters (which are appropriately expensive, given their worth).
The overall exploration can grow to be downright addictive. As Rusty acquires new equipment, more areas can be traversed, and he can dispatch of enemies more quickly. The constant upgrading of drills and other gadgets brings to light the wonderful Metroidvania aspects of the gameplay. By getting new toys to play with, you can go back to other parts of the mine and get to places that were unreachable earlier. I found myself constantly saying “oh, I’m just going to dig until I get to the next marker”, only to end up playing much longer than I planned.
The game’s design really is terrific, as it leads you into new abilities and gadgets at a perfect pace. The first 10-15 minutes are a bit slow since Rusty can only use a pickaxe, but the game opens up quickly after that. On top of that, every playthrough contains a randomly generated underworld, meaning that every experience will be different.
SteamWorld Dig is relatively short — I completed my first playthrough in just over four hours — but it still manages to have a good amount of replay value. I barely scratched the surface of things to do in my first campaign, and I immediately started a second one to see what I missed before. If you’re a trophy hunter, there are quite a few that will provide you with new goals to hit during each session. Best of all, there’s no filler at all — you pretty much just jump in and play right away.
The game nails nearly everything it sets out to do, but I couldn’t help wanting more. I know that this is a small downloadable title, but the gameplay is so enriching that I would love to find even more areas to explore. There is so much potential here for an even better, bigger game, and I really hope that this isn’t the last we have seen of this world. Still, as it stands, this is one of the biggest early surprises in gaming this year.
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)