I don’t remember exactly how SteamWorld Dig came to my attention, but as soon as I watched the trailer it had my interest. SteamWorld Dig, available for the Nintendo 3DS eShop, is sort of a cross between Spelunky and Metroid set in a sort of steampunk machine world inhabited by robots. You continuously dig down looking for rare minerals to sell while trying to avoid falling rocks, spikes, various enemies, and other hazards. Along the way you can obtain special powerups that will help along in your adventure. It’s a really fun concept that works rather well.
Initially you are only given a pick which starts things off slow. You can dig one space down, up, left and right. If you get to the very edge of a block you can hit a space two over but for the most part that’s the extent of your reach. You wont be able to break some of the harder dirt until you start to upgrade your pick and rocky blocks require a drill to get through. There are also some blocks that cannot be broken at all. They are mainly off to both sides to limit your horizontal traversal but are also sometimes used to support doorways or specifically designed puzzle areas. Mixed in with all of these are gem blocks that will reward you with valuable ores and gems which can be sold in the town above. Up there you can spend your money on upgrades to your pick, armor, and other powerups you find along the way.
You will have to make regular trips back to the surface because you are only given a few inventory slots initially, and your light source has a limited burn time. As it runs out the area around you gets dimmer and dimmer until you can no longer distinguish what is in the earth around you. You are still able to see a little bit and could keep digging if you really wanted but you risk not being able to see valuable ores and you could easily cause your own death by causing a rock to fall on you or by striking an explosive barrel. To make traversal easier you can buy ladders and torches but not really in high enough quantities to benefit you over a long period of time. You can also buy a teleport pad which is immensely useful for instantly getting back to base. However these require special orbs that you don’t come by often and are also used to upgrade yourself so you really have to decide where your resources are best spent.
My favorite aspect of the game is your ability to use steam to power your various functions. Your little robot dude will find pools of water underground which he can suck up and store in his tank. With that he can power is steam drill, steam boost, and steam punch. Each use takes a portion of your tanks so you will have to manage your supply until you can upgrade to a higher tank capacity. It creates a fun power-management aspect of the game. You can’t refill your tanks at town so you have to keep an eye out for water.
Every now and then you will come across a room which you can enter. These are the rooms which will hold the various powerups you can get and are usually designated so on your minimap as where to go next. There are other unmarked rooms which contain just ore or orbs but they seem to be entirely optional. These rooms usually offer most of the platforming that you will come across along with some puzzle element. There are usually one or two secret areas as well which lie behind inconspicuous blocks and usually keep a valuable gem or orb cache.
The whole game will take you probably anywhere from 7-8 hours on your first go depending entirely on how many upgrades you want to max and how much money you earn. You can actually get rated at the end of your run in categories like Time, Deaths, Money, and Orbs. I think I got gold in orbs and Money but bronze in the others. What can I say, I like to take my time and collect stuff. Plus I died a whole lot. Anyway, it’s a great game and easily among the best – if not the best — of the Nintendo 3DS eShop.
Review copy provided by Image & Form. They’re awesome.