Coming in to SteamWorld Dig, I had no idea that I was going to be playing a Metroidvania game. Rusty doesn’t realize it when his uncle leaves him a mine, but there’s a lot more than digging up and selling pieces of Trashium for one dollar a piece in his future.
Your first few trips down the mine will ease you into mining. At the start, Rusty has a pickaxe, his lantern and the ability to jump. As the lantern runs down, visibility is reduced, which makes it harder to find ores to sell. As you collect ores and use lantern fuel, Rusty’s inventory will fill up. Whether you go up when your hands are full or you’re out of light, the trader will be your first stop. She’s the only game in town, and she’ll buy every ore you collect. With the proceeds, you’ll run next door to the Upgrade Shop and buy improvements to the pickaxe, the pouch and Rusty’s armor.
As you progress, Rusty will acquire tools and powers from special rooms a la Metroid. These powers often require water to function, like a Steam Jump, a Steam Drill and a Rocket Fist. How efficiently Rusty uses water and how much he can hold can be upgraded, as well. There is always something to save money for, and improving Rusty’s various accessories make exploration easier and more satisfying. Along with mining ores and collecting upgrades, there are puzzle rooms to find. The reward is almost always rare ores, but that’s all right. Rare ores are great, because the sale price is high, meaning purchasing upgrades sooner to mine deeper and collect better, more expensive ores sooner.
Throughout the adventure, though, there are hints of more. Characters are not fleshed out, and there is only one boss encounter in the entire adventure. There is plenty of challenge in traversal through the three layers of mine and solving the puzzle rooms, but more use of Rusty’s combat abilities would have been welcome. Similarly, I wanted more of a story than what we got. The setting is great, and the SNES aesthetic serves the game well, but exploration for exploration’s sake can only captivate for so long. Without a real narrative to drive the experience forward, SteamWorld Dig feels lacking.
SteamWorld Dig comes to PC via a port of the 3DS title. We don’t usually see 3DS ports on the PC, due to the lack of ubiquitous touch interfaces. That’s not a problem here, though, as SteamWorld Dig only used touch in the pause menus on the 3DS. Those same menus are simple to navigate on the PC with either the mouse or a 360 controller. It’s nice to experience everything at the higher resolutions afforded by PCs, and with no loss of functionality I’m confident claiming that this is the definitive version of the game.
SteamWorld Dig is a fun experience but a brief one, and it works to the game’s favor. Upgrades come quickly; I could usually afford one every other trip down the mine. I also had a great time solving puzzle rooms, finding new teleporters to push my starting point down just a bit deeper and watching as the town above grew when my mining boosted the local economy. I just wished for more motivation to do those things, because with a better narrative, SteamWorld Dig would be a more complete experience.
Pros: Great SNES aesthetic, numerous upgrades to collect and buy
Cons: Nearly-nonexistent story