Steamworld Dig was one of the biggest surprises to come out of the 3DS E-Shop. Slipping silently, unnoticed, into the store, Image & Form’s title soon spread by word of mouth to become one of the 3DS digital shop’s biggest successes. Now, it makes its way to the Wii U’s download service. But is it worth a buy for either new players or those who have bought the game already? Well, I’ll just say this: it is awesome.
Robots, cowboys, technology, and the Old West have always made for a particularly enticing mixture and this game puts the setting to good use. You are a robot who arrives in a small town in the middle of nowhere called Tumbleton to work in your late uncle’s old mine — and that’s nearly all there is to the story. What few residents of Tumbleton there are offer some acceptable dialogue, some of it notably humorous, but other than that, there aren’t really any memorable characters. The story, town, and characters are just there to add a bit more depth, atmosphere, and context to accompany the real meat of the experience: the gameplay.
Dig is Metroidvania at its absolute best. You’re loosed into the world with very simple mechanics: jump and dig through dirt to find pathways further down. Pressing B allows you to jump and A allows you to use a mining tool, which is a pickaxe at the beginning. You can only get through certain blocks of dirt or rock with particular tools and upgrading can make digging go faster. Your immediate goal is to find minerals, which can be brought back to town and sold for money. This money can be used on upgrades such as extending max health, energy, or lantern time, as well as the aforementioned upgrades to your tool strength. Your long-term goal is to just go as far down as possible, but sometimes, you reach areas that seemingly cannot be passed. In come the Metroidvania aspects.
You will find caves throughout the main overworld; some have large quantities of minerals while others have new abilities inside. These range from the ability to sprint or throw dynamite to a new digging or fighting tool. You can dig deeper into the mine once you have these new abilities and tools, finding more valuable minerals and tougher hazards, accessing new caves, gaining even more abilities, and upgrading further. You can re-explore earlier locations in some cases to discover new areas with these abilities.
It’s incredibly well designed; I never felt like it was randomly generated (even though it is.) It balances exploration with direction extremely well. After the first fifteen minutes, collecting minerals, getting upgrades, discovering new areas and gaining new abilities was a constantly satisfying, enjoyable and addicting experience throughout the the five hour game. The pacing is simply phenomenal.
But there are some annoying things that bring down the enjoyment factor. For starters, when enemies get involved, it’s more frustrating than anything. They get some unfair hits in more than not, and too often it becomes a matter of whether you can hit the A button enough times before they kill you by repeatedly running into your face, with little way to avoid it. Of course, sometimes the combat is fine, and it’s necessary to give the exploration some stakes, but it’s annoying too often, and either way, fighting enemies is one of the game’s lowest points.
This game also does not handle death appropriately — it’s a bit too punishing. Every time you die, you get sent back to the town, lose all of your water (energy), lose half of your money, and any minerals that you had are left in the mine where you died. Let’s cover the money thing first: it’s stupid. You lose quite a bit of progress if you die with a whole bunch of money, trying to save up for an expensive upgrade. At the same time, if you just spent your money before dying, you lose barely anything. This is presumably done so that you can get any upgrade you can when you get back to town or that going for the bigger upgrades feel more exciting and risky, but it’s just annoying instead.
And then your minerals get left back where you died, which brings up a pretty massive point against the game’s favor: backtracking. There is so much backtracking. Which in and of itself isn’t a problem, but you have to do it constantly, every time your mineral bag fills up. You have to make your way past tons of hazards, get to the most recent teleport to the surface, sell your stuff and receive upgrades, and go all the way back down where you were. There just aren’t quite enough checkpoints for how often this has to be one.
So these issues are definitely frustrating, and I spent half this review focusing on them, but it’s made up for by how much sheer fun there is to be had. Seriously, I cannot stress enough how enjoyable the game is, despite these issues bringing it down.
For those who have already beaten Steamworld Dig on another console, is it worth getting again on the Wii U? Honestly, no one can answer that but you. There’s no additional content, just features, and it looks better visually with an HD coat of paint, updated character models, bloom filter, and some additional tweaks and polish. The map and interface and all that can be put on the GamePad, leading to an oddly cinematic experience. There’s also the option to use Off-TV Play on the GamePad or use the Pro Controller. And above all else, you now have the chance to play the game on a big TV.
If you have been wanting to jump back into the game, this may be a good place to do it. If these sound like worthy enough upgrades, you liked the original, and you have ten bucks to spare, definitely go for it. If it doesn’t sound like enough additions, stick with the original. The Wii U version is not a massive change, but it is certainly an improvement and that might be enough. Which of course means that those who are debating which version to get should absolutely spring for the Wii U version, as it is better, but if you already have the original, only you know if it is worth upgrading.
Steamworld Dig is brilliantly designed. The gameplay is absolutely awesome. It’s fantastic visually. But it’s not perfect: the penalty for death is stupid, the music is unimpressive, and combat isn’t great. But it definitely makes up for its flaws for just being a fun, addicting good time. It’s definitely worth a purchase on the Wii U if you haven’t played it before and if you have, it might be worth an upgrade. Because if nothing else, you’re a robot mining in an Old West town, and what’s more awesome than that?
- Addicting, fun gameplay
- Perfect pacing
- Great visuals
- Brilliant setting and atmosphere
- Combat isn't very fun
- The penalty for death is stupid
- Backtracking can be frustrating