Friday, November 7, 2014

Mining and Metroidvania Collide with Good Results in SteamWorld Dig - The Take Your Time Review

Quick Note: Though a little repetitive and lacking a compelling story, Steamworld Dig satisfies that grind. The upgrades and new mechanics help keep the game going and makes traveling to older areas more enjoyable. Great for gamers who enjoy grinding, 2D platforming or smaller games on the go.

Most games shoehorn themselves into nice, neat categories. As more and more games are created by smaller, independent teams, these categories start to blur between one another, often times creating new and interesting experiences we've never had before. SteamWorld Dig feels like it is close to that potential, but falls just short of greatness with pacing issues.

SteamWorld Dig drops the player into the boots of Rusty, an old steam powered robot who has stumbled into Tumbleton to meet his uncle, who is has unfortunately passed away. It's now up to Rusty to take up his uncle's pick axe and explore the mines below town. The story is there, and though it's cute and has an interesting ending, it is not the reason to dive into this game. SteamWorld Dig is all about the gameplay.

Welcome to Tumbleton, your hub for upgrades and dropping off your treasures.

Rusty follows a simple premise through out the game. Using his rusty pick axe (and eventually other tools), Rusty digs up precious gems and gold while trying to find new locations in the mine. This cargo can then be traded back in town for gold. Gold is not only the currency of the game, but also contributes to a leveling system for upgrades. After a certain amount of currency is surpassed by Rusty, new items (and even new shops) become available to increase health, water and lantern capacity. 

Aside from finding precious stones, Rusty is also tasked with exploring various locations within the mine. These caves are puzzle laden and often times lead to brand new abilities, such as running or a new tool to dig with. This is where the game picks up from Metroid and Castlevania. Each of these caves holds secret pathways, which often times, require abilities gathered later on to obtain. However, the pacing of getting to the abilities falls a little flat.

Enemies get stronger as you dig deeper, and the pick axe is not always the best solution

At the start, locomotion for Rusty is very limited. His lantern, health and water capacities are very low, so it takes time to build up your abilities to move further into the cave. This grinding is actually kind of fun, but it feels totally pointless once you get to the later abilities. On more than one occasion I worked myself to the bone, often times destroying a pathway back to safety to get a precious gem or unlock a secret, only to find out that if I had just went straight for the next cave the newest ability would have made it ten times easier. The biggest offender had to be the final ability that Rusty unlocks, which turns navigating the mine from a fun, puzzle exercise of digging in the perfect spot to give you a pathway back up to completely pointless. The meticulousness of going through each area is stripped away, and the sense of carefulness and puzzle solving with it.

Careful how you dig. If you leave yourself no way to get back up, you'll be forced to keep going down.

That being said, the game is still really fun. Going into a new area, digging carefully around traps and enemies to gather materials is so rewarding, and buying that next upgrade makes you feel accomplished for sure. Aside from the smaller pacing issues, SteamWorld Dig is a great 2D exploration game. If you're a fan of Metroid, Castlevania or any of the more modern iterations (such as the excellent Guacamelee!) you should definitely check it out, especially since it's only $10. 

7.5 out of 10

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