*Sources of screenshots are listed in their respective file names.
Please note that the review below is for the version available on PlayStation platforms. As far as I know, there are no functional differences between the PS4/PS Vita, PC, Wii U/3DS and upcoming Xbox One versions.
SteamWorld Dig* (SWD) gameplay from the Video Games and the Bible YouTube channel:
SteamWorld Dig is a wonderfully absorbing Metroidvania set in a unique steam-powered world.
For those unfamiliar with the term “Metroidvania,” it’s a reference to two major franchises focusing on a mix of 2D exploration, combat and puzzle solving: Metroid and Castlevania.
Games in this genre typically feature a world with a number of areas/puzzles that are inaccessible or unsolvable when first encountered. Tools, weapons and abilities gained allow you to surpass these obstacles, improve your character and take on greater challenges.
Despite its cartoon appearance, SWD touches on some heavy themes. The pale monster you see in the picture below (a “Shiner”) is one of the last remnants of humanity.
While unique in several ways, SteamWorld Dig adds one fundamental thing to the basic Metroidvania formula that makes it immensely addictive compared to many of its predecessors:
Players will harvest minerals, gems and other materials in the environments beneath the surface of Tumbleton. These items can be traded in town for supplies and upgrades. This cycle (explore, mine, trade, upgrade) taps into the same compulsion felt in titles like Minecraft–without the spiritual issues.
The worlds beneath Tumbleton are (for the most part) randomly generated. This means the majority of the tunnels and paths are created by your mining, not necessarily a Level Designer. Having difficulty with a platforming section? Can’t reach a precious mineral? It’s usually due to your own actions and thus feels fair, especially with Rusty’s prodigious platforming abilities.
While randomly generated, SteamWorld Dig is also pretty forgiving. Even after making crucial mistakes, I nearly always felt that I could find a way around them.
Death is an interesting prospect in SteamWorld Dig. When you are defeated, everything you are currently carrying is dropped at the site of your death. This prompts a mad dash back to your body and raises several questions:
Do you dig a route that would provide an easy way back to town and/or your body at the expense of future profit? Do you invest precious resources into teleporters to take you far beneath the surface in a short amount of time? Do you continue searching for every scrap of gold and risk running out of lantern fluid…Your precious loot possibly lost in your dash through the darkness?
Even though mining and collecting materials is relaxing, questions like these (alongside an increasing stable of new and empowering abilities) make your underground adventures exciting and oddly thoughtful.