Best to leave this one buried in the rubble
SteamWorld Dig might be best described as Metroid plus mining or at least, that seems to be what Swedish developers Image & Form were going for. The result however is such that none of the core elements are fleshed out enough to be of any real value and the moment to moment gameplay is too straightforward and simple to be engaging.
Players assume the role of Rusty, a robotic miner who journeys out into the desert landscape to find a Western steampunk town by the name of Tumbleton. His mission, at least initially, is to ascertain the meaning of the deed passed onto him from his now dead uncle. Beyond this, the narrative is kept to a minimum with brief snippets told through serviceable but unremarkable dialogue.
SteamWorld Dig’s primary focus is on exploring the deep, cavernous mines that lie below the surface of the town. Players will venture into this perilous pit in an attempt to acquire trinkets which can be then be sold in order to facilitate equipment upgrades. Here lies the game’s primary loop and problem. The activity of smashing down blocks and collecting loot is a mundane and tiresome affair, devoid of any satisfaction.
This wouldn’t be a big issue were there other aspects of gameplay to compensate for it. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much else happening in SteamWorld Dig, beyond some light puzzle solving and platforming, both of which are also executed in a similarly uninspired manner.
Visually, its bright and vibrant cartoon aesthetic is pleasing on the eyes but the environments designed for the player to explore are never really worth seeing given their repetitive nature and lack of meaningful objects to discover.
The game’s length is worth mentioning, with completion easily possible in less than three hours. This seems to intentional on the developer’s part, with each play through featuring a procedurally and randomly generation mine to explore. However, when the initial experience is this dull, there is little desire to go back a second time.
The PS4 and Vita versions of the game don’t feature any new content nor do they take advantage of their respective platforms in any specific way beyond upgraded visuals compared to the 3DS original. Thankfully the game is cross-buy, a good consumer friendly decision on behalf of Image & Form and a great initiative Sony is continuing to push, meaning players who purchase one version of the game will get the other for free.
There probably is a solid game lurking within the confines of SteamWorld Dig’s general idea but this most certainly isn’t it. What is here feels like little more than a skeleton of a game and any semblance of a body it does have is marred by too many key deficiencies, the most notable of which is an overwhelming collective sense of banality.
Best to leave this one buried in the rubble.