Steam­boats in a mi­ne­shaft

Imagine a Wild West set­ting with steam-pow­ered ro­bots, and a fo­cus on min­ing and ex­plo­ration. If that sounds awe­some to you, then you re­ally, re­ally need to start delv­ing into Steam World Dig.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TECHNOLOGY - BY SHAUN A. NO­ORDIN bytz@thes­tar.com.my

STEAM WORLD dig is a Metroid­va­nia-styled plat­former/puz­zler set in a fan­tas­ti­cal Wild West world pop­u­lated by steam-pow­ered ro­bots, and your goal is to dig deep in­side a mine to un­cover its trea­sures and se­crets.

We re­ally wanted to come up with a more orig­i­nal open­ing for this re­view, but ev­ery sin­gle word we used in that pre­vi­ous para­graph al­ready had us squeal­ing in delight.

Metroid­va­nia? We love ex­plor­ing while grow­ing more pow­er­ful! Wild West set­ting? Cow­boys are awe­some! A world pop­u­lated by ro­bots, and the ro­bots are pow­ered by old-timey steam tech­nol­ogy? Squee!

Have pick­axe, will travel

In SteamWorld, you play the role of Rusty, a wan­der­ing steam­bot who ar­rives at the town of Tum­ble­ton af­ter be­ing given the deed to his de­ceased (dis­man­tled? de­comis­sioned?) Un­cle Joe’s mine. Game­play-wise, this means that you’ll be con­stantly jump­ing into the mine, armed only with a pick­axe, to ex­ca­vate as much trea­sure as you can be­fore you ei­ther run out of in­ven­tory space or your lamp runs out of light. Once you re­turn to town, you can ex­change the trea­sures for up­grades that make Rusty bet­ter at min­ing, cre­at­ing a rather com­pul­sive game­play loop.

The real beauty of SteamWorld, how­ever, is that de­spite its ini­tially sim­ple setup, both the game­play and the story go way deeper to re­veal much more, not un­like Tum­ble­ton’s trea­sure-filled and monster-in­fested mine.

Metroid­va­nia in a mine

The first 10 or 15 min­utes of the game will feel like a straight­for­ward min­ing game, and the main chal­lenge is fig­ur­ing out how to care­fully dig tun­nels in such a way that you don’t trap your­self.

How­ever, once you dis­cover the first few puz­zle-laden sub-caves and earn their spe­cial abil­ity up­grades, the game­play changes bit by bit.

The Steam Jump abil­ity lets you as­cend pre­vi­ously un­reach­able heights, but in ex­change you need to start look­ing for a new re­source: Wa­ter. The Drill makes the pre­vi­ously te­dious parts of min­ing laugh­ably easy, but at the same time you’ll en­counter ex­plo­sive new traps in the mine that make ex­plo­ration even more dan­ger­ous.

By the end of the game, you’ll go from a care­ful, me­thod­i­cal miner in a rather quiet mine to a chasm-leap­ing, trap-dodg­ing su­per bot in cav­erns full of mon­sters.

This is one of the ap­peals of Metroid­va­nia games: You can ac­tu­ally feel that you’re grow­ing stronger and more pow­er­ful the more you play, and the game throws enough chal­lenges at you to make you feel that you’ve earned it.

Also, SteamWorld does some­thing we thought was ab­so­lutely ge­nius: It mar­ries the core ap­peals of its game­play me­chan­ics (grow­ing and over­com­ing chal­lenges) into its very story.

We won’t elab­o­rate for fear of spoil­ers, but will say that the game’s de­cep­tively “sim­ple” story hook (steam-pow­ered ro­bots in the Wild West) hides a sur­pris­ingly wellthought and en­gag­ing story set­ting.

The con­ver­sa­tions with Tum­ble­ton’s few NPCs de­liver a lot of world-build­ing with a min­i­mal amount of di­a­logue, and then, as you delve deeper into the earth, you’ll start to no­tice sub­tle story hints hid­den in the game’s bril­liantly colour­ful car­toon vi­su­als. (Hint: Pay at­ten­tion to the back­grounds.)

A good game keeps us en­ter­tained when we play it, but a great game makes us want to play even more — and we sin­cerely hope that there’ll be fu­ture SteamWorld games so we can fur­ther ex­plore the set­ting.

haz­ards of dig­ging

That said, there are two is­sues that stop SteamWorld from be­ing per­fect for ev­ery gamer.

First, the game has lit­tle re­play value for some­thing that’s rel­a­tively short. We fin­ished our first run in five hours, and the “ran­domised worlds” fea­ture touted by the game didn’t re­ally add that much va­ri­ety on our se­cond run.

Se­cond, es­pe­cially in the early game, it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble for a new player to com­pletely screw him/her­self over. It could be some­thing as sim­ple as dig­ging in such a way that pre­vents you from climb­ing back to town, or over­spend­ing gold (or the much more pre­cious orbs) without re­al­is­ing such re­sources are fi­nite within the world.

We per­son­ally had no prob­lems with these two is­sues — we thought USD$9.99 (RM32) on Steam was per­fectly worth five hours of gam­ing and we en­joyed the chal­lenge of plan­ning — but you need to be aware of those bumps be­fore you jump down the mi­ne­shaft.

end game

What we do per­son­ally re­gret, how­ever, was that we some­how hadn’t even heard of SteamWorld dig when it was orig­i­nally re­leased on the 3DS way back in Au­gust. We only pur­chased the game when it re­cently ap­peared on Steam, and our one so­lace is that we’re play­ing SteamWorld on a more aptly-named plat­form.

If you have a Steam on your PC or a Nin­tendo 3DS and you’re look­ing to dig into a well-crafted game that of­fers a real sense of growth and ac­com­plish­ment, then you re­ally, re­ally need to un­earth this lit­tle trea­sure.

Pros: Fan­tas­tic world-build­ing; game­play de­liv­ers a sense of growth and ac­com­plish­ment.

Cons: Not much re­play value for a short game.

SteaMWorld dig (Im­age&For­mIn­ter­na­tion­alab) Puz­zle/plat­form­ing game for Pc, nin­tendo 3dS Price: US$9.99 (rM32) on Steam; US$8.99 (rM29) for 3dS WeB­Site: steam­worldgames.com rat­ing: HHHH✩

The abil­ity to mine and create path­ways gives you a

Short and sweet: The con­ver­sa­tions with Tum­ble­ton’s few nPcs de­liver a lot of info with a min­i­mal amount of di­a­logue.

you a lot of free­dom to ex­plore any way you like.

This tiny town re­ally cap­tures the essence of the game — the Wild West, steam-pow­ered ro­bots, and a prom­ise of ad­ven­ture.

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