Review: SteamWorld Dig

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There’s a genre I love that maybe exists, where you mine minerals and gems and sell them to get upgrades to mine deeper and greedier until you uncover some terrible secret. This might be a little too specific for a proper genre, but the original Flash game Motherload and its Steam sequel Super Motherload are enough to give this style of game a special place in my heart. Despite this, I slept on SteamWorld Dig for the longest time, even after enjoying the charming tactics of SteamWorld Quest. But I’ve corrected this oversight, and I can say that the dusty caves and lost laboratories of this robotic world are a fine cornerstone of whatever this kind of game is called.

Rusty has inherited his uncle Joe’s mine, a hole in the middle of the desert with a ramshackle robot town clustered around it. Strange things have been happening here as of late, with all manner of unexplained noises and unpleasant beasts rising up from the winding shafts. With the backing of the townsfolk, Rusty must plumb the depths of the mine, uncovering powers and secrets that lead him ever further into the dark underbelly of the world. But expeditions like this are not cheap to mount, and he’ll need to bring back whatever precious materials he finds underground to sell for the upgrades that let him venture further. As the mine gives way to ruins and stranger places, Rusty will close in on the great secret his uncle uncovered, something he’ll have to face head-on.

The core of SteamWorld Dig is essentially that of Motherload, descending into the mine, mining out minerals, and bringing them to the surface to sell. That coin you earn goes into upgrading your pickaxe, lamp, and other powers to open the way deeper underground. As you descend, you’ll have tactical concerns like how to approach dormant enemies, how to mine around crushing rocks and other hazards, and how to reach valuables in awkward places. Charting a clear path down that you can take back up is important, especially since fall damage is something you’ll need to look out for. On the bright side, Steamworld Dig is generous with shortcuts back up to the surface, so it’s unlikely you’ll ever be very far from a way back home.

This would probably be enough for me, but Steamworld Dig takes the formula one step further by introducing entirely new tools and powers as you progress. Tied into the story of the mystery mine are upgrade stations that offer you new capabilities for mining and maneuvering. New powers are put to the test in clever challenges for bonus resources, making them feel more like rewards than simple keys to access the next step of your journey. I won’t spoil any of them but there were a few that opened up the mine in ways I didn’t expect, and really made a difference in how I approached the later areas. You’ll be able to upgrade these as well, using a mix of money from selling mineral findings and orbs obtained from the trickier challenges tucked away on the fringes of your descent.

Above ground, the town expands as you dig ever deeper, and the colorful, steam-powered denizens will offer helpful lore to fill in some of the gaps of the tale. It’s easy to get into a comfortable cycle of mining, selling, upgrading, and exploring, and before the simple formula has a chance to wear out its welcome, it ends. Steamworld Dig is only about 3-4 hours long, depending on how quick you can descend through the mine, and for me that’s a fine length for what this game offers you. The bright, colorful graphics and solid sound design make it a pleasant journey the whole way through, and there are no unexpected difficulty spikes or pain points in the design at all. If you want a dash of metroidvania with your mining, this charming, compact game will absolutely fit the bill.

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