SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt

SteamWorld Dig delivers a great mixture of platforming and mining at a low price

By c_rake, Posted 07 Nov 2013

It’s fair to say that expectations for Nintendo’s eShop have been low. The company’s past attempts at digital store fronts haven’t been especially inspiring, a lack of publicity and few worthwhile games making the WiiWare and DSiWare services mostly moot. But SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt is one of those exceptional games that makes the NintendoeShop seem viable, delivering solid platforming and a fun take on mining.

SteamWorld Dig, A Fistful of Dirt, Review, 3DS, Nintendo eShop, Platformer, Rusty, Robots

From developer Image & Form, SteamWorld Dig sees you exploring the depths of an old mineshaft seeking out minerals to help bring the small town its attached to, Tumbleton, prosper. You play as Rusty, the newly-named owner of the aforementioned settlement. He comes at the request of his uncle, who wishes to pass the place onto Rusty. Only, he’s passed away, leaving ol’ Rusty to tend to the town himself.

A 19th century backdrop where humankind blew itself up serves at the setting. Robots now rule the surface, what few remnants of humanity that remain left to rot deep underground. Though it sounds grim, SteamWorld is anything but. Its vibrant, colorful aesthetic depicts the wild west splendidly, splendidly smooth animation complimenting the crisp visuals nicely.

Kooky characters populate the barely-hanging-on town of Tumbleton, each dispensing bits and pieces of a greater story involving the settlement’s former owner. Rusty serves as a predominantly silent protagonist, rare instances of speech just barely hinting at the sort of individual he is. Disappointing that his character isn’t explored any, but the story is so light that it hardly matters.

SteamWorld Dig, A Fistful of Dirt, Review, 3DS, Nintendo eShop, Platformer, Rusty, Robots

As the new landlord, it’s your job to bring the place back up to snuff. You do this by mining for valuable metals. Copper, gold, diamond, and a host of other minerals are dispersed throughout the mineshaft. Each has a certain value per unit (anywhere from a single coin to nearly a thousand), the money earned both helping the town get on its feet again while also allowing you to buy items (torches, ladders, dynamite, etc.) and various upgrades for your pickaxe and armor from merchants.

But you can only carry so much ore at a time. At first, you can only hold up to three types, your bag eventually able to carry a maximum of nine kinds of minerals after a few enhancements. As such, you have to do a fair amount of backtracking between the town and the underground. A bit tedious at first since the trips occur frequently, but as you delve deeper and can hold more ore, it becomes less of an issue. The only hard part, then, is staying alive.

Creatures lurk throughout the shaft. Between robotic wildlife like armadillos to vaguely zombified humans, you run into a fair amount of resistance whilst scavenging for riches. Each can be dispatched reasonably fast with your trusty pickaxe, though it does take a while. They’re a resilient bunch, you see.Environmental hazards keep you on your toes as well, rocks, vats of acid, and lasers all forcing you to be extremely conscious of how you dig around lest you be crushed, dissolved, or vaporized.

SteamWorld Dig, A Fistful of Dirt, Review, 3DS, Nintendo eShop, Platformer, Rusty, Robots

The mine begins untouched. It’s all one big wall of earth between you and what riches lie below, so it’s up to you to decide how best to mold it. It’s important that you build straightforward pathways to make backtracking less of a hassle. Too often I dug without much consideration and nearly left myself unable to ascend. Ladders always ensured I had a way out of the corners I had dug myself into, but even without those, I could have kept going deeper in search of a teleporter.

Your pickaxe smashes through the ground with relative ease,tools such as a drill and rocket punch helping make the process faster, the latter especially useful for slaying foes. These use up water, however (you’re steam-powered, after all), so they’re best used sparingly.New abilities like these are introduced regularly, double- and high-jumps andfall damage mitigation among them. Each are hidden in small caverns marked on the map, all aiding you greatly in streamlining the mining process.

The caverns are slightly puzzle oriented, level design more directed than the freeform nature of the mineshaft proper. Large deposits of ore usually lurk within these areas, foes and obstacles alike trying to stop you. Vats of acid rest under unstable blocks of earth, turrets surrounding the room vaporizing them instantly while robotic animals bombard you with firepower. A welcome challenge and change of pace, though perhaps a bit too far and few between.

SteamWorld Dig, A Fistful of Dirt, Review, 3DS, Nintendo eShop, Platformer, Rusty, Robots

SteamWorld Dig’s one problem is monotony. Though the act of mining remains engaging for the majority of the game, there are times when it gets a bit dull. Particularly in long stretches of pure digging. Enemies and occasional hazards keep traversal interesting, but they can also be easily avoided with some finesse, all but rendering them moot in most cases.The last of the three sectors of the mineshaft evades that issue by making the entire environment more treacherous as well as very long, which definitely makes up for the few cases of boredom that set in occasionally.

I was able to finish SteamWorld Dig in just under 7 hours, only a single upgrade missing. A reasonable length for the price of $9.There’s some good fun to be had with SteamWorld, its flaws but minor bumps in the road. Image & Form’s latest is a great addition to the 3DS’ downloadable catalog, and a worthy purchase for anyone seeking out a solid platformer on the cheap.

Callum Rakestraw, NoobFeed (@c_rakestraw)

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General Information

Platform(s): 3DS
Publisher(s): Image & Form
Developer(s): Image & Form
Genres: Platformer
Themes: Action, Adventure
Release Date: 2013-08-08

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