Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-08-13 06:38:31
SteamWorld Dig rocks the 3DS eShop
SteamWorld Dig is another example from the ever-expanding 3DS Nintendo eShop of a fairly-priced, well-made title with all the lovingly-crafted qualities of a cult-classic. For £7.99, developer Image & Form offer the player a trip - quite literally - down an ever expanding mineshaft, combining excellent platforming elements with the steady drip-feeding of Metroid-esque power-ups. For its asking price, there is plenty of content to this unique little game that absolutely makes it worthy of a purchase.
The landscape is a unique selling point for SteamWorld: a scarcely populated desert town on the surface acts as a hub world above the mine. Complete with saloons and quirky robotic citizens (SteamWorld's steampunk aesthetic is brought to life through this cast of coggy-and-springy characters) the Frontier settlement is frequently revisited by the player. The game boasts a clever economy of risk-and-reward - when down in the mine, digging through different block types can grant the player a variety of gems, which can be sold in the town in exchange for cash. This cash can then be used to purchase buffs for power-ups.
There are a multitude of power-ups in the game that can be built up through upgrades. While specific areas within the mine contain abilities such as the power drill or the chance to double jump that are necessary to make it through the game, cash can optionally be spent at shops to increase the power and longevity of these latent skills. Thus, players who really want to tuck into the meat of the game can spend hours collecting gems, making a profit and then upgrading their equipment, while more conservative players can get through the game without worrying too much about the economy.
Neglecting equipment, however, can be the player's downfall. SteamWorld can be challenging, particularly in the latter stages of the game where enemies in the mine can take off large chunks of health. If the player hasn't bought armour and increased their health bar, these sections can be difficult. However, the game never makes the collection of gems a chore, as it occurs as part of the main game - while digging downwards and progressing through the mine, you'll automatically acquire gems. And, if players deliberately wish to avoid upgrading equipment, they can manufacture a rudimentary 'hard mode' by avoiding skill buffs.
Enemy variety down in the mine is thoughtfully impressive, with everything from bugs to troll-like creatures to explosive robots. Gameplay starts off simple, but there is a permanent need for strategy as you work your way through the mine - you'll constantly need to think about where you're digging in order to create routes and shortcuts that can be navigated back up in order to resurface. It is possible, with careless thinking, to get stuck in the mine, where the only course is to keep going down as you've thoughtlessly dug through the blocks you needed to jump on to get out. Rather than being a nuisance, a little thought goes a long way, and soon you'll be digging routes that half the duration of your journey back to the surface. Back-tracking is also kept to a minimum, as teleporters back to the hub become available throughout the mine, and optional teleportation devices can be purchased and set up wherever the player chooses.
With a constant stream of new materials to be found and sold, plenty of challenge and puzzles, especially in the latter parts of the game, and enough upgrades to work towards to give the title that one-more-go factor, SteamWorld Dig is everything you could possibly want from a high-quality eShop title. It oozes personality at every turn, from its iconic hub world of colourful robotic characters to its Wild West colour scheme and environments. For players looking for a fun game with plenty of depth and challenge, SteamWorld Dig is easy to recommend to anyone with a 3DS.