SteamWorld Dig is indie developer Image & Form’s first claim to fame. Originally released on 3DS in 2013, Dig was universally “dug” around the industry. On February 1st, 2018, Nintendo fans get another chance to play this instant classic on Switch.
SteamWorld Dig joins its sequel and SteamWorld Heist, on the eShop. The main differences between the original Dig and Dig 2 are that, 1: this game is shorter, and 2: the underground labyrinths are randomly generated. It’s kind of like having your own village in Animal Crossing, where all the same features are present, but their placements are determined by an algorithm. This is helpful for people like me who have beaten the game before, to have a fresh experience upon revisiting the steampunk world.
You play as Rusty as you navigate the Earth’s underbelly, mining deeper and deeper under the surface. As you traverse, you’ll gather gems and ore along the way. Once your pouch is full, or your lantern runs out, you will return to the town above, sell your goods, and use the money you earned to upgrade equipment. (By the way, the non-playable robot who you sell to is Dorothy, who goes on to star in SteamWorld Dig 2.) Stronger tools allow you to dig deeper, unlocking more sections of the world in a creative spin on the Metroidvania gameplay loop. Continuing to advance, you will discover caves featuring puzzles that have a predetermined design.
This pattern of digging, mining, spending, upgrading, and repeating is the core of SteamWorld Dig. And it’s a strong core. Few games rival it in instantly hooking the player. The soundtrack is solid (even eliciting memories of Metroid Prime at times), controls and interface are extremely user friendly, and everything periphery melts away as you focus on your goal. However, one aspect of the game sticks out like a sore thumb—and that is combat, which is neither compelling nor rewarding. Rudimentary enemy patterns and limited offensive options leave you feeling lucky when you succeed, but more often, just wishing you could avoid enemies altogether. On that note, with the right tools you can hurry and strike some baddies before they hatch, preventing a cumbersome encounter.
Combat is a mere distraction and not an essential part of the experience, which continues to be a weakness in the series. That’s just about the lone complaint there is to find in this game. Although, I have to wonder if Image & Form could have spent longer to make this a more enticing package. The developers have come a long way and learned many lessons since this game was released. Originally, SteamWorld Dig was finalized at the point just before their team went bankrupt. They’ve gone on record saying that it wasn’t wholly completed to their liking. This port was an opportunity to enhance or add value, but the devs instead opted to do a quick and dirty port.
Okay—the port isn’t dirty at all, but how could I resist that pun with a game about digging? To be clear, the game runs and looks great on Switch. And with no additional bells or whistles, they’ve created an affordable entryway into the wonderful SteamWorld lineup of games. This is worth picking up if you’ve somehow skipped the series, or if you’ve been missing Rusty, his original adventure, and the grassroots origin of one of the best developers on Nintendo eShop. You’d be hard-pressed to play this game without a grin on your face.
SteamWorld Dig gets an 8/10.