Hailing from Sweden, Image & Form were a relative unknown developer prior to the release of SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt. Up until this point, they released SteamWorld: Tower Defense on Nintendo's DSiWare and an iOS game called Anthill. What they didn't know, but secretly hoped for, was that their next title, SteamWorld Dig, would be their breakout hit. And boy is this a case of dreams come true! When I spoke a few weeks ago with Brjann of Image & Form, for my interview with him on the GamersInBeta.com podcast, he told me the game was in development for eight months (October 2012 to May 2013). His team of 11 worked longer and harder on this title than any other previous title, even taking an extra month at the end to add some last minute polish. Certainly, their hard work and dedication paid off as SteamWorld Dig is a joy to play from beginning to end.
Like most great things, simplicity must be a key component. In this case, the story is pretty, well, simple. Rusty, an energetic steambot, landed in Tumbletown to inherit a mine left by his Uncle. Armed with a simple pick axe, Rusty makes his initial descent into the first of three mining areas. Immediately upon arrival in the mines, players start digging their way around to collect gems to trade in to purchase better axes, ladders, lighting, power ups and other odds and ends. The constant reward of loot along with power ups is a driving force behind why this title is so addictive to play. The more you explore, the more you find and the quicker Rusty becomes the most powerful steambot Tumbletown ever laid eyes (retina displays?) upon.
Welcome to Tumbletown
The first two mining areas feature a very linear approach. There are usually red arrows directing players where to dig next. This approach, while appreciated by the gamer who has very little time, can limit how much of the mine is explored. Just like the games it has been influenced by, Metroid and Dig Dug to name a few, there are secret areas to be found, which often contain health, water and light so you can progress to the next area. The last area isn’t as linear and requires the player to dig, navigate small rooms and essentially solve a puzzle to determine where they must go next to advance the story. Think of the levels as a difficulty meter. The first is easy while the last is hard. Nothing in life is free, so you should expect to work at the end to solve and ultimately beat this game.
The overall level design changes from area to area, requiring you to buy stronger pick axes along the way. The first mine is a warm up act for what follows. Expect to learn how to dig down so you can dig your way back up. If players are not equipped with ladders or can't find a transport beacon, then they should expect to self-destruct and start their quest over again. Usually, play resumes not far from where Rusty met his demise so committing suicide is not all that much of a setback. Power ups and in some cases, dynamite, are essential to move forward in this game. What powers steam? Yes, water is needed to power your Power Ups! Whether it is the Power Punch or the Power Jump, you need a little H2O to get from point A to point B. There are many areas throughout the mines to fill up on water. Don't forget to upgrade your backpack too as this allows you to carry more gems and water. Exploring, collecting, and upgrading make up the core of this game.
Expect to find a few enemies in the mines as well. Sprinkled throughout there are robotic three eyed bugs-some small and some very large. There are also zombies-some of whom are asleep and some of whom are large and like to throw nasty objects your way. While most are a slight nuisance, there are some who need to be dealt with or else you won't advance far. There are also objects, in the later areas, that can be moved. Dig carefully and you can use them to your advantage, don't dig carefully and you could end up on the wrong side of things.
The game is not free of criticism, as no developer is perfect. Gameplay is on the short side as it should roughly take you around five to six hours to complete. Also, once you beat the game there isn’t a “new game plus” feature, which I know many in the community have asked for, myself included. Also, without trying to give any spoilers away, the ending is rather abrupt and features gameplay that maybe was less prevalent in other areas of the game. Yes, the classic boss fight makes an appearance.
Overall, SteamWorld Dig
is a fun adventure puzzle platformer that should appeal to any gamer. It scratches the nostalgic itch of gaming from a simpler time yet puts a modern twist on it. Gameplay is smooth and responsive which is essential for a handheld game. This game is not a port, it was made for the 3DS from the ground up and it shows. Levels pop out at you and you quickly forget that you're holding a portable device. A few weeks ago, SteamWorld Dig
was number one on the Nintendo Download Charts in many countries. It is currently, number three on the US Charts, which means it is currently ahead of the wildly popular Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Quite the feat for a company of 11, who as I mentioned before, were relative unknowns prior to this release. Because of their recent success, Nintendo and Image & Form are happy to announce that a new SteamWorld
game will release on the 3DS next year. If it plays as well as SteamWorld Dig
, then they should have another hit on their hands.
SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt was developed by Image & Form. It was released August 8, 2013 for the Nintendo 3DS at a price of $8.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.