SteamWorld Dig Review (PS4)

SWD Header from Steam Store Page

*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.

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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.

SWD Pic 1 from PlayStation Store Page

Rusty, the hero of SteamWorld Dig, swinging his pickaxe.

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.

SWD Pic 4 from PlayStation Store Page

This particular type of Shiner is called a “Boozer.”

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:

Digging.

SWD Pic 2 from PlayStation Store Page

“Did he just say ‘digging?'”

Yes, digging!

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.

Caverns like this one are one of the few non-randomly generated areas in SteamWorld Dig and often contain thoughtfully designed puzzles/upgrades and materials

Caverns like this are one of the few non-randomly generated areas in SteamWorld Dig. They often contain thoughtfully designed puzzles/challenges and special upgrade materials.

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.

SWD Pic 6 from PlayStation Store Page

Conclusion:

SteamWorld Dig impresses in its relatively short running time (roughly 6-7 hours) by using engrossing Metroidvania gameplay mechanics, beautiful visuals and a unique setting that goes outside of typical “magic or sci-fi” tropes.

I’m hopeful the developer’s next title, SteamWorld Heist, continues this trend of making tightly-designed experiences that gamers and families can enjoy.

Potential Concerns:

Some dark themes (not explicitly described or rendered) such as the fall of humanity.

A rather large-bosomed Steambot named Lola runs the town Saloon.

SWD Pic Potential Concerns 1 from TheGullofdoom YouTube Channel

Finally…

*SPOILER*

…At the end of the game, one of the shopkeepers makes a statute in Rusty’s honor. He says that it is:

“…the abstraction of a destructible Steambot acquiring godhood

In a conversation I had with the developers, they stated:

…they say “It is the abstraction of a destructible Steambot acquiring godhood,” but it’s a quirky comment out of context – it’s the words of a whimsical shopkeeper/sculptor. He does *not* acquire godhood in any sense. It’s more of an abstract comment over a (quite strange and unrecognizable) sculpture he’s just created to Rusty’s honor.

From what I’ve seen, this is true. Rusty gains power throughout the game, but doesn’t become like God.

Buy Now! (Steam)

Buy Now! (PS4/PS Vita)

SteamWorld Dig is also available on the Nintendo Wii U/3DS and is coming soon to
Xbox One.

*This title was received for review/coverage. See our statement of ethics here and game review criteria here.
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*More reviews from Video Games and the Bible.

About Nelson

Writer, amateur #gamedev, and Founder o' Video Games and the Bible. My interviews bring the boys to the yard. Featured from Kotaku to Rock Paper Shotgun. Dropsy.
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One Response to SteamWorld Dig Review (PS4)

  1. mjoshua says:

    This is good. I forgot about the smart ‘Souls’ nature of the death mechanics. This was hands down the best game I played on 3DS. So glad they ported it to Steam and consoles where people might actually play it.

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