Console: Nintendo 3DS
Start Date: March 20, 2014
End Date: April 17, 2016
When I first started playing SteamWorld Dig way back in early 2014, I wanted to like it more than I actually liked it. I could tell, objectively, that this was a really cool game, but something about it just wasn’t clicking for me. I never quite felt like I had a clear sense of what my goals were, and the gameplay mechanics often seemed to clash with my intuitions. Every few months, I’d give the game another try – sometimes attempting to continue from where I last left off, and sometimes starting over again from the beginning – but every time I’d end up giving up after a half hour or so.
Then, earlier this year I made yet another attempt, and for some reason everything fell into place this time. I finally got into the groove of the game, and ended up plowing through it in just a few short hours.
SteamWorld Dig is obviously about a robot cowboy who has to tunnel into the mines and caverns underneath an Old West town, for reasons I don’t remember. It’s basically a Metroidvania game, except the hook is that as you excavate paths through the underground, you are essentially creating your own map.
You collect precious minerals while digging around and must periodically return to the surface to trade your findings for upgraded shovels, lanterns and other items, which in turn allow you to explore new areas.
The underground world is, for the most part, randomly generated. Combined with the “forge your own path” style, this can often leave the player feeling disoriented or aimless. That was the case for me at least, and is the reason I had such trouble warming up to the game. When I finally put some real time into it, however, some patterns eventually emerged, and the game’s true structure presented itself to me.
Hidden within that huge blank slate of a gameworld, there are a handful of key areas which you must discover and conquer in order to progress. These areas are designed more like traditional game levels, and usually lead to the discovery of an important new item, the acquisition of a new skillset, or a boss battle.
I’m not sure exactly why I struggled with this structure for so long but I really started loving the game once I figured it out. Digging around is a ton of fun, and it’s really satisfying to track your progress as you incrementally inch deeper and deeper beneath the surface. It took a while to find the hook of SteamWorld Dig, but once I did, I powered through it in about six hours.
My major complaint, and probably a contributing factor to my initial confusion, is how “samey” the entire game looks and feels. Nothing but caves and mines, and screen after screen of dirt and rocks. I wish the developers had been a little more creative with what might be discovered underground. Why not insert a subway system for the player to stumble across? Or ancient ruins? What if there was a building on the surface that you didn’t have access to until you tunneled into its basement? If there’s ever a direct sequel to SteamWorld Dig, I hope it offers a little more variety.
I played the game on 3DS, but it’s available on pretty much every device that plays games, so check it out. You’ll dig it. Get it??
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