SteamWorld Dig – As We Play

Format – PlayStation 4

It’s been a while since I’ve got excited for a downloadable title. Sure, I buy quite a few, but far more often on a whim or during a sale. SteamWorld Dig is an exception to that statement and is a game I have been excited about for quite sometime. Also, as the game has recently been released on two Sony platforms – PlayStation 4 and PS Vita – I will be focusing on completing the game on PS4, but I will also put several hours into the Vita version to make sure it holds up on both platforms.

No matter how many times I write the name SteamWorld Dig I can’t help but think of Valve. Probably goes a long way to show how popular their service is.

What is it? Well, boiled down to its barest bones it’s another addition to the “Like Minecraft/Terraria But” category of games. In this particular case SteamWorld Dig is like Terraria but with a greater focus on resource gathering and exploring, rather than crafting. You play as Rusty, a steam-powered robot cowboy (?), who pretty much shows up at his uncle’s mine one day and takes over the place. Simple enough, gets the job done, just don’t expect any BioShock Infinite level writing depth here.

4 - SWD Hub

Straight off the bat I am going to give some serious love to the art design. Going into it I knew I was going to love the art, based off screenshots alone, but it really is beautifully stylised. Both on my huge TV and on the PS Vita’s screen. That’s not to say the graphics are complex, but for the simplicity of the gameplay the visuals really need to be spot on – and they are.

The music is pretty stellar too, but if I were forced to make a criticism, it can get mildly repetitive after a while. It changes based on the environment, so different layers tend to have different melodies, but if you chose to boot this up on Vita during a long train ride I doubt headphones would be considered a must-have.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk gameplay. The first thing you will notice within a few minutes of digging into your newly inherited mine is that, if you fall too far you will lose health. They putting falling damage in their motherfucking 2D platform game?! (Any excuse to quote the always great JonTron.)

4 - SWD Dirt

Another big point worth jotting down is that you can’t dig while jumping, á la MineCraft, which can lead you into some very tricky situations. I’m not marking this one down as a score against the game, as it was clearly a design decision to add some strategy and forethought to the player’s actions, but know ahead of time that you will be platforming a lot through your newly dug mine maze to reach everything you need to.

The entire goal of the game is to collect gems and orbs to take back up to the surface and sell for some cold hard Benjamins. You have a limited inventory though, so you’ll have to make frequent trips to the bright side of the world to trade in your gems for experience points, upgrades, and better equipment. There are some teleporters along the way, but they are sparse, so expect to be doing a lot of runs to the land of the sun.

Upgrades are quite linear: upgrade pickaxe, upgrade light sources, more health, larger inventory – that sort of thing. It’s a basic system but it gets the job done. The real killer is you need gold from selling gems and special orbs that are scattered throughout the mine, and the special orbs are not easy to find. Not every upgrade needs orbs, but once you’re about half way on levelling up, they become damn near a necessity. Numerous times I found myself sitting on 2,000+ gold but only 2 orbs. I highly recommend scouting for secret areas. Wink!

4 - SWD Shop

Oh, also, you lose half your gold every time you die. Doesn’t matter how much you have. 2,000 or 20, it’s a 50% death tax. This becomes more infuriating as you level up because you’re still scouting around for orbs and there’s no way to store/save that gold! On the plus side, after you die, you can recover what gems you had in your inventory from the spot you died. That dampened the anger tremendously.

More interesting elements come in the further you dig. Layer after layer the scenery and enemies change, as well as certain environmental hazards (personally I was a fan of the zombie layer, but I’m a Romero nut!).

The coolest mechanic by far is that the mine you dig is permanent. Meaning as you traverse deeper and deeper your path above shall remain. This can be both a positive and a negative, depending on how well you are able to plan a route for travelling up AND down. You can wall jump though, Super Meat Boy style, nearly infinitely – so that can be a major time saver.

4 - SWD Slime

My personal favourite though are the puzzle rooms. You can find doorways as you explore, and certain doors can be found which are, essentially, an enclosed platform puzzle. At the end you get yourself a special power up. These power ups vary from double jumps, to super high jumps, to better digging equipment (such as drills and robofists). Admittedly you do get a ‘no falling damage’ power up a few hours into the game, but that should have been there from the first place, dammit!

It all comes to a climactic finish with a final boss battle, which I will not spoil, but it’s a right kick in the teeth. Timed puzzle platforming along with a lot of obstacles and enemies being flung at you. Think N+ cross-bred with Stealth Inc.. Pretty fun battle, but damn if it doesn’t kick your ass the first few times. It’s also (partially) randomised, which makes it more challenging, and adds value to your game replays.

I do feel that, if more, smaller, bosses had been spread throughout the game that it could’ve broken up the game a bit more.

4 - SWD Robot

There’s not much more to say about the game itself, that’s pretty much it. It’s fun, if a tad repetitive, and will give you a solid 3-5 hours of gameplay on your first playthrough. Likely even more if you want to replay it and go full completionist.

The one thing I will add is that this feels like far more of a PS Vita game than a PlayStation 4 game. It was fun sat down in front of a console for the time it took to complete it, but being able to pick up and play this for 10-30 minute bursts strikes me as a better way to play it from my experience. Especially on second or third play-throughs. GOOD NEWS, however: SteamWorld Dig is cross-buy. Meaning you get to pick your favourite for yourself. The Vita version is my pick, but both are excellent.

Areas for Improvement

  • Perhaps more, smaller, boss battles sprinkled throughout the game.
  • Cross-save functionality between PlayStation 4 and PS Vita.

Final Analysis

SteamWorld Dig is a terrific game. Fantastic visual art style, solid platform mechanics, tight controls, and even with cross-buy functionality between the Vita and PS4. A superb game at a very reasonable price.

Technical Competency – 8/10

Graphic/Sound Quality – 8.5/10

Network Stability – N/A

Overall – 8/10

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