SteamWorld Dig 2 released late last year to both critical and commercial success on the Nintendo Switch, its 2D exploratory adventure a constant joy to play from start to finish. With that and the recent popularity of moving ports over to the new system, it was only a matter of time before developer Image & Form would too reach into their back catalogue releasing its predecessor on the system too. With the sequel having already improved the series in so many ways though, is it really worth going back and revisiting this original venture?
You play as Rusty a mining steambot who visits the town of Tumbleton after learning he is to inherit his uncle’s mine. Unfortunately his uncle Joe met his end deep in the depths of the very mine he owned searching for its many secrets. Picking up where he left off, Rusty must now dig deep and explore the unexplored.
SteamWorld Dig takes the basic premise of the much-loved classic Dig-Dug and expands it into a Metroid-esque adventure. Much like the former you’re constantly digging away at the earth in order to create paths and delve deeper underground. With every square of soil or rock you shift not only are you one step closer to your next goal but also potentially uncovering precious ores or gems (the game’s main currency). Of course, there’s more to the game than just chipping away at dirt, the uncharted depths littered with plenty of obstacles such as enemies both big and small, giant unbreakable rocks that will fall should you break away it’s supporting blocks beneath and even pools of acid. As you might expect, the deeper you explore, the tougher these roadblocks become but so too do the rewards improve.
Money earned can then be used to upgrade your gear whether its health, pickaxe strength or your water supply that acts as the fuel that is required to use your special tools. You can also purchase usable items such as dynamite or teleporters but it’s worth bearing in mind doing so means you’ll have less to spend on permanent upgrades a problem since gems and ores aren’t easily farmed over and over.
The way SteamWorld Dig handles progression is likely going to divide players. Not only is light a constantly dwindling resource but the number of gems and ores you can carry with you is limited also. This means you’ll be constantly returning to Tumbleton back up on the surface in order to refill your lantern and sell your treasure. Sure you can upgrade these over time meaning you can carry more or venture for longer, but the constant threat of having to retrace your steps is enough to really break the flow of the game. You lose that momentum to carry you forward. This general idea was present in the sequel too but thanks to handily placed transport tubes, you could effortlessly return to the town and be back underground in less than a minute.
Yet despite this restrictive mechanic, SteamWorld Dig’s core still remains both rewarding and fun. The rate at which new tools are thrown your way feels just right, always improving Rusty as a digger and explorer but not so much so that you feel overpowered. The development of the character feels natural and makes your life easier in a number of areas, whether it’s a more powerful drill to speed up the digging process or fall dampeners that mean fall damage is no longer a concern. Just when you might feel a little weary of digging, the game will throw you a new toy to help keep things feeling fresh that bit longer.
Rusty’s adventure is a relatively short one though clocking in at around four or so hours. Once you’ve reached the end credits you’re able to return and search for secret rooms you may have missed, a task that sadly loses its appeal with no mainline goal to guide you along.
Aesthetically the game holds up very well whether playing in docked or handheld mode. The sprite work is among some of the strongest out there today and environments mix both steampunk and western styles together creating a wonderfully atmospheric result. It might lack some of the variety seen in its sequel but that doesn’t stop it from being a world you want to explore. The music is decent, offering a mix of forgettable mechanic beats with some brilliant powerful western melodies.
SteamWorld Dig’s biggest problem is that it follows in the footsteps of its bigger, better sequel – a game that has only been on the eShop for a few months now. Still, the core of what makes SteamWorld Dig so much fun as a series still shines bright enough in the original despite its scuffs and scratches.