Being that it’s such a great piece of hardware in the hands of so many, it’s unfortunate that a lot of the downloadable games on the 3DS eShop tends to resemble the infamous shovelware on the Wii. But every now and then, we see a truly great little game pop up on the downloadable space for the handheld that offers a sweeping amount of content for its small price. Such is with SteamWorld Dig, a game that uses ideas we’ve already seen in a way that is both novel and interesting.
Playing as a robot named Rusty, you’ll stumble into a small town and inherit your deceased uncle’s mine loaded with treasure and secrets to find. It’s not a complex premise in any way, and it doesn’t need to be. SteamWorld Dig is not a narrative-based adventure, after all; it’s a fun and inventive platformer that builds on basic concepts in smart ways.
One of the most basic of which being mining. Mining is not a new gameplay convention in any way, but it is the backbone upon which Dig is built. During your time with the game, you’ll be venturing into the mine time and time again, digging tunnels with your upgradable pickaxe and collecting all the gems you could possibly fit into your bag. Once you’ve managed to max out your carrying load, you’ll return to the surface to sell everything off and buy new upgrades using the money you’ve earned. Upgrades include everything from health and stronger pickaxes to useful tools such as lanterns and ladders, and the game’s economy model is steep enough that you’ll have a tough time affording everything you want at once, leaving you with more incentive to jump back into the mine at the end of each run.
The mining is fun and fluid, and does a great job of pacing things out well to give you a little bit more of a challenge and reward every time you dig a little bit deeper. New abilities such as sprinting and a higher jump are awarded to you along the way as you dig your way through the mine as well, tempting you to dig a little deeper on each run. It’s a brilliant loop that kept things interesting and made every mining run feel different from the last. It should be noted, however, that this game is ideally suited for short bursts rather than marathon sessions on the couch, simply because you can burn out pretty quickly thanks to its somewhat repetitive nature.
Another downside to the game is the fact that, until you earn the ability to teleport back to the beginning, you’ll find yourself doing a lot of tedious backtracking in the beginning in order to both reach the bottom and the surface of your mine on every run you make. It gets old very, very quickly, and was by far one of the biggest complaints I had.
Despite the fact that it can feel a bit tedious at times, however, SteamWorld Dig gets so many of its other elements right that it’s easy to forgive it for its faults. It’s not a broad, sweeping game, but it has a great sense of style and captures a western-like feel using twangy music and interesting art design. There’s an impending sense of mystery the game utilizes in order to keep you digging deeper and deeper to uncover the secrets of the mine, and I was particularly stricken with the game’s knack of keeping me guessing on a grander level while also keeping me occupied with searching for the more valuable gems to sell after the end of my run. It’s a fun and interesting little game that uses big concepts successfully and ultimately cements itself as one of the best eShop releases we’ve seen in a while.