SteamWorld Dig: A Fistfull of Dirt (Switch) Review

I owe my soul to the company store

Darkness creeps closer as the light from my lamp fades, but I continue to chip away against the rock in front of me anyway. Something squirms in the ever-encroaching shadows of SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt’s randomly generated mine, but this is no time to worry about mineral munching sand worms, there’s gems to be had – I press on churning through thick layers of dirt, hoping that the water reserves in my steam drill hold out just long enough for me to find some glittering prize before something hungry finds me. Risk vs reward is a part of the daily grind in SteamWorld Dig, you load 16 tonnes and what do you get? Hooked, that’s what you get.

Just as the light faded and I was left in the gloom of the mine, several miles from the surface, I catch a faint glint of something in the darkness, changing course I plunge my drill into the stone beneath my feet, grinding through the sandstone I tumble down into the blackness as the ground cracks open. As i fall i see it, a huge diamond. I’m probably not going to live to regret this, and death has a steep price in Tumbleton, but I’m a greedy bugger and that next upgrade is so close i can taste it. I chase the gem into the unknown. It’s risky business being a miner.

I land with a clamorous bump, but I’m alive, just. and have a shiny bauble for my troubles. However, just as i try to clamber back out, there’s a croaking, guttural grunt in the cavern ahead of me. I pull out my trusty (if a little rusty) pickaxe and rush the creature. swinging wildly. Just when I think I’m home free, I hear the familiar hiss of a fuse,the bastards know how to use explosives, Well shit…Then everything goes white, and I’m back on the surface, broke, and cursing the shower of bastards that infest the mine. But there’s no time to feel sorry for myself. I have to to get that diamond back, and more importantly revenge. IT’s a mater of principle, and loot. sweet, sweet loot. .

SteamWorld Dig is a bumpy ride to say the least – Heady highs, and rich rewards, await when your plans all come together and Rusty emerges from the labyrinthine mine laden with precious stones… and crushing disappointments that would turn most gnarled prospectors to drink, when it goes calamitously wrong.  It’s a simple premise but an incredibly effective one – dig through an abandoned mine for buried treasures to sell to the townsfolk above, buy upgrades and gear rinse, repeat – but it’d also incredibly compelling and addictive, despite the setbacks it’s impossible not to get sucked in.

Regardless of platform the core addictive hook that made the original 3DS version so damn good remains in every version of the game, from the PS4 and Vita, and WiiU to the latest incarnation on Switch which sports crisper textures, as well as improved animation and lighting, and a wider field of view. making it easier to see the awful gits lurking in the mine below. Basically it’s the prettiest version of the game, with the added benefit of being able to play it whether you like.

steamworld dig switchThough the game’s protagonist, a steam powered prospector named Rusty only spends a few minutes at a time before, delving into the mines below Tumbletown, before he has to retreat to the surface to recharge his solar-powered light lamp and refill his water supplies, It’s one of those games where you’ll always want to have “just one more run.” Trading minerals and gems for cash to buy better equipment, finding new shortcuts through the mine, and inching your way deeper, in your bid to get to the bottom of the mine creates the kind of compulsive positive feedback loop that will keep you coming back, time and again.

Complimenting the tight gameplay systems, is some rather clever audio design combining the steady clink of your pickaxe and a western tinged score pulling you into the action.

The surface hub of Tumbletown is a bit plain, Though, the inhabitants Rusty comes across are varied and well-designed they are still ultimately forgettable. But maybe that’s the point. For a prospector obsessed with exploring the subterranean world of the mine, the surface world is more necessary evil than a place you pay much attention to.   .

While SteamWorld Dig’s mine is randomly generated, with a fully destructible environment that sits somewhere between Spelunky and Terraria, the moment to moment play actually feels more like a cross between Dig Dug and Super Metroid. Though players carve their own path through the mine, at predetermined points you’ll discover new gear that allows you to overcome obstacles  like double-jump boots that help you escape the mine easier, which ultimately is where you want to be.

SteamWorldDig 2What makes SteamWorld Dig so compelling though is the openness of its design, and that many of Rusty’s additional abilities can be skipped once you know the best route through to the bottom of the mine. Since each new playthrough generates a new layout for the mine, its a matter of figuring out the best upgrades opt for rather than simply memorizing where they all live. The first playthrough takes about six hours, and it’s easy to shave a couple hours off once you know where everything is.

SteamWorld Dig remains as compelling now as it was when it was first released on the 3DS back in 2013. With a core gameplay loop that is simple yet addictive, an engrossing atmosphere, and solid platforming action. The new Switch port is possibly the definitive version which combines the graphical improvements of recent home console editions with the portability of the original on the 3DS.

 

 

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