Posted: May 26, 2014
Moving into Steamworld Dig, I knew two things. The first being that a tasty art style is not a good indicator of a game's quality, and two, that this was originally a handheld title. With these things in mind, I begin my journey into the depths of what turns out to be a charming and far more than competent Dig-Dug style, upgrade laden adventure.
When you first enter the only town in the game - which acts as the hub for your adventure - you're limited by the only tool you possess: your trusty pickaxe. In this beginning portion of the game, where your only moves are to jump and slowly break away the dirt beside and beneath your feet, this game's handheld roots seem to become apparent, as there doesn't appear to be any sort of depth to what your doing nor any real goal other than to find your long lost uncle Rusty. I was almost tempted to quit and write it off here as nothing more than a simple throwaway time waster. Luckily I didn't, as the game's (limited) depth soon bubbles it's way to the surface.
Your journey to find your uncle consists of digging deep and hard for minerals of varying value, which can be traded for currency, which in turn increases your "level" and the sorts of things that you can purchase. Finding these minerals is your primary goal in the game, as the ground gets harder the deeper you go, and your simple pickaxe won't always cut it. This is what drives the game, and caused me to play it for hours at a time: Upgrades! That feeling you get when you finally earn enough for that powerful new pickaxe or higher defense against the creepy crawlies that inhabit the underground persists throughout the duration of the game, and you'll have to do a lot of mining to earn enough for all of them. But you won't be able to stay down for hours, hoarding all of the loot you snag. You can only hold a finite amount of minerals, among other, upgradeable necessities, such as light and water, that you will need to replenish by returning to the surface. And that loot pouch fills up quickly, limiting how long you can explore at a time, and you will need upgrade it's capacity if you want to stay deeper for longer.
As you progress, you will find brand new abilities that you will constantly have to utilize if you want to survive and loot the entirety of the world beneath the surface, like a powerful drill arm and the ability to leap larger distances. You will have to use every move you earn if you want to make it to the bottom; there are no useless abilities here.
The world isn't limited to the drab and ordinary beneath that you start your journey, and soon opens up to several varying areas with far more dangerous traps and enemies, as well as more valuable loot. This is the sort of game that you need to stick with past the first hour, as prior to this point, it can seem like a boring and shallow experience. And in many ways, it is very limited by it's handheld origins. A full PC/Console sequel could very easily rectify any complaints I have, the greatest being the limited use of the minerals you find. For a game whose loot can so easily be associated with that of games like Terraria, Starbound or Minecraft, it feels like a massive waste of an opportunity to not utilize the minerals you find in the same way. Finding that last piece raritanium needed to craft the Quantum Drill Head is infinitely more exciting than just finding a gem that sells for the last few coins that you needed to just buy the thing. Especially given that the characters are all robots, it's a shame that there isn't any sort of customizable upgrade system in place, augmented by rare materials you can seek out.
As simple as the experience is, it never gets boring. As you progress downwards, there is always a new ability to be discovered, hidden gem caches to dig up, and upgrades to buy. The game scratches that very special itch to find every last hidden object, and can make playtime range anywhere from 3-10 hours, depending on just how much you really need that final upgrade.
As it is, Steamworld Dig is a fantastic time waster for the loot junkie needing a break from their poison of choice, even if the game does little more than scratch that itch for several hours. The potential for something far greater is there, and I truly do hope for a sequel that capitalizes on crafting systems already implemented in other similar titles. As a solid first entry, with a very real opportunity to make a fantastic sequel, I can only hope that the developers are already hard at work designing the next entry in the Steamworld series.