Impeccable pacing; neat execution of exploration as puzzle; polish
SteamWorld Dig does not pretend. First and foremost, SteamWorld Dig is an indie title in the 3DS eShop; the choice of its publishing platform speaks volumes about this title’s expectations. However, SteamWorld Dig sets itself apart from most indie titles by presenting a polished and complete– although short, clocking in at around five hours– experience. Also unlike most indie games, SteamWorld Dig does not innovate. Instead, it sets out to refine celebrated and proven gameplay. In this sense, this game is a unique beast in the indie puzzle-platformer pool rife with incomplete but innovative games. SteamWorld Dig manages to overcome these expectations of its publishing platform to become a solidly fun game.
SteamWorld Dig borrows liberally from famous indies Terraria and Spelunky. In all three games, your goal is to dig deeper and deeper into a seemingly bottomless abyss, acquiring treasure, fighting monsters, and solving puzzles on your way down. In the game of our interest, you play as a steampunk robot ranger. Starting from ground level, you can begin to clear a passage downward with your trusty pickax. Along the way, you can find tiles glittering with valuable minerals that you can exchange for upgrades. You will also find monsters crawling around, and what else to do than attack them with your trusty pickax? The dirt gets tougher, the monsters nastier, and the minerals more valuable the deeper you dig. So down and down you go.
SteamWorld Dig does an amazing job of pacing the seemingly tedious grind poorly described above: you will never find a moment of repetitious boredom in your five hour adventure. The math behind the values of minerals and the prices of upgrades is impeccably balanced. The rates of introduction of new enemies and new types of dirt tiles are equally keen. The dynamic lighting mechanic– the longer you spend in the underground, the dimmer it gets– brings in welcomed elements of surprise into an otherwise predictable game. Together, every tiny, polished detail of SteamWorld Dig works to create an immaculately paced digging adventure.
Along your dig, you will often dig yourself into an inescapable trap in search of glittering minerals. In these scenarios, you can choose to go deeper, or if you are lucky enough to have some ladders on you, build your way out. These emergent gameplay scenarios created by the randomized underground levels are nicely complemented by specifically designed areas that demand exact digging and precise platforming. Again, SteamWorld Dig shows its completeness by presenting equally enjoyable components of puzzling and platforming. Furthermore, these components interact in very intriguing ways that make SteamWorld Dig immensely fun to play.
SteamWorld Dig offers a complete and absolutely enjoyable experience but, to be terse, SteamWorld Dig contributes nothing in terms of innovation. You will not see anything you haven’t seen before in your short five hour journey. The upgrades, the monsters, and the entire concept of the game have all been done before. The game even goes so far as to borrow the concept of its final and only boss from the famous Portal. The lack of innovation usually marks the downfall of unsuccessful indie games. However, different games deserve different critical lenses, and SteamWorld Dig does not pretend to be innovative. In the end, SteamWorld Dig accomplishes its ambitions. SteamWorld Dig sets out to be a safe but amazingly polished gem, and SteamWorld Dig is exactly that, no more, no less.