SteamWorld Dig hardly needs any introduction; Image & Form’s 2013 Metroidvania-platformer has cemented itself as part of a much beloved series of games that brightly shine with polish and pedigree. With SteamWorld Dig 2 recently strutting its stuff on Switch, it makes a lot of sense that the developer has decided to bring the original title to the console too, allowing anyone who may have missed the adventure the first time around to experience where Rusty’s platforming endeavours began.
This is the exact game we’ve already come to know and love; no extra modes, features, or the like have been added to the game since we last saw it a few years back. The game sets the scene immediately, thrusting you (as Rusty) into the charming town of Tumbleton to claim your uncle’s old goldmine. After finding your uncle’s body, nonchalantly stealing his pickaxe, and then forgetting about the ordeal with about as much empathy as a lion tearing into a defenceless gazelle, you’ll head off to explore the mine for the very first time.
Gameplay revolves around a constant loop; you’ll head down into the mine, dig as deep as you can go, collect as many minerals and metals as you can, and then head back up to the surface to sell your goods, purchase essential upgrades and, hopefully, level up. The mining aspect puts a heavy emphasis on exploration and progression over anything else, although you will need to deal with enemies in basic combat, too. These enemies get progressively more tough to deal with as the game goes on, but the upgrades you’ll unlock will help you to shrug off even the nastiest of them without too much bother.
It is actually the exploration that stands out as the toughest challenge here. If this is your first time exploring the SteamWorld universe, you’ll inevitably fall into the same rookie mistakes as everyone else. Making your way deeper and deeper into the depths of the mine seems easy at first, but you’ll need to ensure you have a route back up to the surface; if you can’t jump back up thanks to some foolish carving in the scenery, or even steam jump (which uses up your water supply to propel you further), you’ll be forced to self-destruct, losing half of your accumulated moolah in the process.
With time, though, you’ll start to learn what you’re doing wrong and what things cause you to get stuck, eventually reaching a point where you’ll be exploring with almost dangerous levels of confidence. The better you become at carving perfect paths through the mine’s labyrinth of enemies and gold, the more enjoyment you’ll find yourself having; realising that you’re improving, and ultimately moving around with impeccable grace, is an incredibly satisfying feeling.
Your ever-growing efficiency is also helped by the upgrades that are discoverable within the mine. The story’s plot points will guide you towards small caves that house puzzle-like sections, eventually rewarding you with some new equipment if you can reach the end. You’ll stumble across various improvements to your digging and movement skills, such as a drill and a double jump technique, that compliment the health and water improvements available from the merchants on the surface. When you’re fully equipped you’ll have turned into a quite literally well-oiled machine.
The best thing about all of this, though, is how perfectly everything just ‘clicks’. Upgrades that act like new gameplay mechanics are introduced at just the right time, as are changes to your scenery. The controls feel perfectly responsive and you’ll find that map indicators always tell you which direction you need to head in so that you won’t get too lost. These pointers only suggest that you ‘should’ go in that direction, however; you are still free to explore wherever you want to go and the balance between freedom and story progression feels pretty spot on.
Aesthetically, this is as strong as the original Dig has ever looked, too. Just like the Wii U version, this game, of course, consists of beautiful HD graphics and the Switch’s screen makes playing in portable just as pretty. The steampunk/western vibe looks and sounds great; character animations, and especially larger character models when they are shown, look exquisite and the colour schemes within the mine itself really shine.
Of course, by being the exact same release as on 3DS and Wii U, the same (admittedly very slight) niggles we had with the game before are still present here. Mostly, this just concerns the amount of time you’ll get from the game; the campaign can be comfortably completed in little over five hours, by which point most players will be done and ready to move on to something else. You can keep exploring new areas after completion if you like, but there is little incentive without the plotline keeping you going. We’d love for there to be a little more reason to stay within the game’s gorgeous world.
SteamWorld Dig can proudly sit amongst those top-tier eShop titles that can describe themselves as a ‘must-play’. There is a small desert’s worth of charm packed into this game, with a beautifully high level of polish and sheen just oozing from its very core. We’d love to have more reasons to play the game after its relatively short campaign and, considering this game is a short few years old now, having a UK launch price higher than when it released on previous Nintendo systems seems slightly off, but the gameplay alone will show you that this one is a real winner.
If you’re looking to delve into the SteamWorld universe for the first time, this would be a great place to start.