|I can't hear you over the sound of my STEAM DRILL.|
But then I downloaded SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt on a whim, partially because I still had ten dollars of eShop credit from the Fire Emblem/SMT promotion, and partially because I had heard some good things about it when it first came out. And then I had a boatload of fun.
-A game with so little dialogue and direction is only as good as its gameplay foundations, and much like Super Metroid, SteamWorld Dig succeeds in allowing the player more freedom as they progress further, with each enhancement to your arsenal drastically streamlining the experience into an addictive and exciting one.
-The characters and art style of SteamWorld Dig are charming and quirky, with steampunk robots and nasty critters peppering the entire experience. While it may seem a bit formulaic, it is pulled off with such finesse that its hard not to enjoy.
-While it may seem linear, SteamWorld Dig has absolutely incredible level design, continuously pushing the player forward whilst teasing them with later acquisitions that will send them back to comb previous areas. Its caves also have wonderful and unique designs that put each new upgrade to the test as well as the combination of different mechanics.
-It's almost as if SteamWorld Dig's developers crammed so much content and love into their game they didn't have the energy to make the game longer than it is. After one interesting boss fight, we're treated to credits and then... nothing. Even the characters hint at more content, but it sadly isn't there. Even an increase in the vertical segments of the game would have been appreciated.
I've been doing a very extended playthrough of Super Metroid for a while now, and I'm currently grinding for missiles and energy tanks before I go confront Ridley. But many of the game design elements that make Super Metroid an amazing experience are present in SteamWorld Dig. The story is light, and serves mostly as a framework for the adventure you will embark upon. Each new mechanic serves to make your mission- which is, essentially, to dig deeper- faster-paced and more exciting. You start as Rusty, a gruff Steambot who has come into the possession of his Uncle Joe's mine. You pick up your Uncle's old pickaxe and start digging- maybe for money, maybe for answers.
The level design is linear in that you must continue downward, but it is validated by context and filled with plenty of surprises. The joy of finding each new upgrade, especially those in the opening third of the game, is absolutely awesome, because each new upgrade gives you the option to obtain loot or dig deeper in more efficient ways. Coupled with the above-ground upgrades you can make to your health, inventory, and water tank (in addition to some other features), and you have a game that constantly feels like it is progressing. You unlock more upgrades above-ground every time you cash in loot. You only return to the surface to rekindle your lantern or to cash in, and if you aren't there, you're underground, either obtaining new abilities or loot with which to return to the surface and cash in, etc etc. All this creates an addictive, Minecraft-esque style of play that is much more immediately satisfying than the aforementioned title. Chipping away at blocks kind of always stays at a constant pace, even though you're continuously upgrading your pickaxe's power, but other additions like Dynamite and Steam Punches allow you to carve larger paths faster. And did I mention the game also has a slick teleporter function that pops up every now and then to reduce your climb back to the surface?
SteamWorld Dig is just pure fun. Its non-stop build towards a powerful player character is exciting, and yet the difficulty level is evident- enemies will always be an obstacle to be wary of, and more dangers appear as you delve deeper into the mine. Sure, the lack of real boss fights is an odd choice, but with a game so heavily reliant on its mining mechanic, to the point that even its final boss is essentially a mining challenge, it makes sense that the developers would want to keep the focus on that style of gameplay.
After the overwhelming positive response towards SteamWorld Dig on 3DS, the developer Image and Form has stated that the SteamWorld series will be staying on the system. I certainly can't wait for another installment in the series, as it has already proven the studio has great potential.
Final Verdict: Its gameplay is almost too addictive to put down, which may lead to some disappointment after seven or eight hours, but during that time, you'll be absolutely entranced with SteamWorld Dig. It's a rare game that does its job so well you want nothing more than to keep playing, for the secrets, for the loot, and for the ever-gnawing question- what lies a few more blocks beneath?