Sunday, 5 January 2014

Review - SteamWorld Dig (PC)

Indie platforming action, Ya Dig?

SteamWorld Dig is yet another one of those super tedious mining games. You know, those games where you constantly dig for minerals, return to the surface, and repeat ad infinitum. Big fucking yawn, right? Well normally, yes, but SteamWorld Dig is actually good. Really good in fact. I admit, I'm a little late to the party, as SteamWorld Dig has garnered positive reviews across the board over the last month or so, but it escaped my radar as I simply couldn't be arsed with a mining game. But it was one word that changed my mind, a word that may not even really fit this digtastic title, but one that got my heart pumping. That word was Metroidvania. So it was with new found excitement that I picked up my tools and headed into the desert.

The first thing that grabs you is the wonderful art style. A steampunk Wild West filled with robotic characters, all brimming with charm. The characters are a joy to converse with and everything looks incredibly polished, with some impressive lighting effects that bring the subterranean world to life. It is an obvious comparison to make, but SteamWorld definitely has a similar look to the sublime 2012 revamped edition of Spelunky, but with enough of its own identity to not feel like a copycat. This could, of course, just be down to the similar subterranean setting that both games have in common. The music is perfectly suited to the Western setting, with tunes that could easily have come from any of the classic Western movies (no doubt starring a certain mister Eastwood). The story concerns your robot protagonist Rusty, who, upon returning home to see his uncle, finds himself helping the locals to uncover the truth behind the strange goings on under the ground below their town. What follows is an epic descent into the depths, through mud, stone, and metal, mining precious minerals and defeating (or avoiding) strange creatures, born of both flesh or metal. 

Using your trusty pickaxe, you are tasked with digging through the ground and walls around you, working your way down, taking time to dig out those tough to extract valuables. You can then return to the surface and cash in your goodies, which also work as a levelling up mechanism, with each new level granting new items that can be purchased at the shop. On your travels you will discover rooms that hold special items which are the key to progressing. Early on you obtain a drill which allows you to break through harder rocks, at the cost of water, which can be replenished by taking a dip in some of the pools dotted around the landscape. Further special items include dash boots and the ability to double jump - the standard Metroidvania staple of powerups, but with a few surprises. Each new ability will allow access to previously inaccessible parts of the game world (hence the Metroidvania term), with the shops array of goodies further assisting you - longer lasting lanterns, stronger axes, larger backpacks, sticks of dynamite and armour all help immensely in your quest. By far the most handy of all is the teleporter, which allows instant access to the surface in order to flog off your gems and gear up, before returning to the same spot you left off.

Presentation and mechanics can only get a game so far, but thankfully SteamWorld Dig more than lives up to its premise, with tight and precise controls that make controlling Rusty a joy. One major plus point is the ability to wall climb from the offset, ridding the game of the tedious 'getting stuck down a hole' mechanic that most mining games tend to feature. It is incredibly addictive stuff, and you can easily play the game from beginning to end in one sitting as you simply won't want to put down the controller. There is always a new item to test out, An underground anomoly that you want to check out, or just the overpowering urge to dig deeper into the depths to see what awaits you. SteamWorld Dig exudes a powerful hold over you, much like Spelunky, and Mr Driller, the two games that could well have given birth to this title. Indeed, it features both a similar graphical style and the randomly generated worlds of Derek Yu's seminal platformer, mixed with the constantly digging downwards featured in Namco's addictive action puzzler. 

I have been let down several times this year by indie games that, on paper, looked to be my ideal game. From the FPS epic fail of Wrack, to the incredibly overrated and boring Rogue Legacy, these disappointments have left me slightly cautious about getting too excited by new titles, but SteamWorld Dig was the complete opposite, completely blowing me away with its exceptionally engaging and addictive gameplay, brilliant art design, glorious Western steampunk aesthetics, tight controls and rewarding play mechanics. The only issue I can level at SteamWorld is the length. I polished off the game in two and a half hours, just as I was at the height of my addiction, making it seem like a bit of an anti-climax. I didn't feel that compelled to continue digging more minerals after the end credits rolled, but I am sure I will come back to play it again soon, such is the pulling power of its additive and engaging gameplay.

The Good

  • Fantastic visual style brimming with charm
  • Professional Western soundtrack that could have come straight from the movies
  • Tight controls and addictive gameplay
  • Thoroughly engaging and rewarding

The Bad

  • Very short and easy to complete

Title : SteamWorld Dig
Developer : Image & Form
Year : 2013
System : PC
Also On : 3DS, Mac
Price : £6.99