For the last week or so, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to explain SteamWorld Dig to the rest of the team in the easiest way possible. After a little bit of “well, it’s kind of like…” and “but then it lets you…” I settled on something that I think most accurately nails the game’s simplicity and premise: DigDug-vania.
With huge repetitive maps and several of them to explore, it may seem like a tedious endeavor on paper. Instead I’ve found it to be nothing short of a wonderfully fun and fulfilling experience.
With the word “Dig” in the game’s title, that there’s a lot of the action is obvious. But the careful push-and-pull with the game’s design had me delightfully surprised. The sprawling levels are ripe for exploration, designed with different densities of dirt, rock, and stone that require specific tools to dig or bore through. Digging downward, left or right through the maps is required to find ore or water (for fuel), and trading that ore in town yields cash to upgrade said tools.
It’s possible to make it through a large chunk of the game through careful exploration alone, but the upgrades work exceedingly well in driving me back up to the top. Want one less swing to break through dirt? That’ll be 400 gold with my current axe. Want to extend my lantern’s time before it goes out? Another 500 gold.
The game controls how we approach collection of supplies through its unforgiving death design. Death, which can be caused by falling, exploding, or being attacked by enemies, leaves me with half of my gold, none of my collected resources, and a trip back to town at the top of the world. I’ve sometimes lost 15 minutes of travel and exploration because of it, but that taught me to stock up on teleportation platforms and to max out my storage pouch for optimal ore storage.
And that’s pretty much it. There’s a loose story that ties into exploration, and pretty steampunk-inspired 16-bit visuals, but the game firmly revolves around those simple principles.
But frankly, that’s all I really needed to enjoy the game. It’s not complicated, though sometimes getting lost or stuck can lead to self-inflict suicide. The tension created in the drive to go deeper for more ore, while at the same time fearing for survival with one tick of life left, is enough to cause palm-sweating anticipation for success.
But when that success comes, when the random teleport is found and I’m able to head back up to town with a sack full of ore and the ability to upgrade every tool and weapon I own, I’m high-fiving myself for not fucking up. SteamWorld Dig is full of little successes, and it’s full of enough little stress to make those successes go a long way.
For such a simple premise, SteamWorld Dig has been able to capture more of my free time over the last month than Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Being able to top Nintendo on its own device is a high accomplishment, and one that does so with a fresh take on classic ideas. Image & Form should celebrate this accomplishment, and the rest of us should grab our pickaxes and try to find the gold that powers them.
This review was based on a digital eShop code sent to SideQuesting by the publisher.