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.
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.
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.