SteamWorld Dig (Wii U eShop) Review
SteamWorld Dig created quite a stir within the community when it released on 3DS earlier this year. The team at Vooks all loved the game, although I never really got a chance to get my feet dirty digging with the game due to time constraints. I also didn’t know much about Swedish developer of the game, Image & Form, but it looks like they’ve got a rather good grasp of the genres they’re borrowing gameplay mechanics from, which is a good thing. Now, almost a whole year after the original game hit the 3DS eShop, we have a nice and crisp high definition version on the Wii U. Which begs the question – is it worth another dig? Well, a lot of my assessments are shared with Steven, who reviewed the 3DS version last year.
In SteamWorld Dig, you play as Rust. He is a steam powered robot who arrives in the small mining tow of Tumbleton to inherit a mine from his uncle. In the game, the town serves as the main hub for all commercial activities. There are robots running around, who can be spoken to, in order to gather hints about the town and the area. There are stores that will buy and trade your wares, and there is even upgrades to be purchased to assist you in your adventures. So it’s like Kalgoorlie (Western Australian reference, I apologise) but much cooler. As you’d expect in a game about digging, most of the game takes place in the mines below Tumbleton.
In the mines, you’ll be doing most of the exploration and discovering. Rusty can use his various tools to dig deeper and deeper into the mine, unnerving precious materials which can be exchanged for better equipment back at Tumbleton. The game almost forces players to return to the surface periodically by limiting Rusty’s inventory space – so similar to roguelike dungeon crawlers like Etrian Odyssey – there’s an almost addiction to how often you’ll be heading back to the surface and back into the mines. There were many times throughout the game where I’d say “just one more trip” and then find myself playing until the early hours of the morning. It’s incredibly addictive. To make matters even better, the mine itself is procedurally-generated, meaning that no two mines will be the same and on a larger scale, no two playthroughs will be either. I am usually one to scoff at the idea of procedurally generated content in games, but SteamWorld Dig balances its gameplay mechanics, puzzle design and players desire to explore more to make the experience interesting and rewarding as time goes by.
The games pacing is fairly well thought out too. As you’d expect, from the beginning, Rusty himself cannot do much besides swing his bog standard pickaxe to dig. Much like with games like Castlevania and Metroid, the newer gameplay elements are introduced slowly so you’ll be able to get well acquainted with a feature of sorts before a new one is introduced. That is, SteamWorld Dig is not particularly overwhelming. There is definitely a feeling of limited resources, however, and some players might get a little bit annoyed at having to constantly return to the surface against their own will.
For example, the lantern that Rusty carries around is limited, as is Rusty’s abilities (which are powered with water). These two elements are somewhat important in helping players explore the mines, but it provides more of a limitation on the exploration. To be fair, there are “quick travel” methods that allow Rusty to return to the surface a bit more conveniently, but there were times when I’d just get close to a self imposed goal and then have to return. This is more of a personal preference for me, so your own mileage may vary.
Thankfully, Image & Form appear to understand the Wii U a lot more than other developers and their choice of control schemes for the Wii U rendition don’t feel gimmicky or tacked on. Having a second screen on the GamePad provides players with a less cluttered main screen – where all the user interface elements appear on the GamePad rather than on the television. While some might hate the idea of “looking down” at their GamePad every few seconds, it is honestly not detrimental to the experience at all. It honestly feels like a game that could’ve been made for the Wii U, rather than something quickly ported over that mirrors itself on the GamePad. Players who prefer a more “traditional” experience can play with the Pro Controller too, which works just as well. Of course, as with most Wii U titles, there is off-screen support.
As with the 3DS version, SteamWorld Dig is over pretty quickly. Most players will probably plow through the game in roughly four hours, but this is also probably because the game is rather forgiving whenever the player makes a mistake. It balances punishment with freedom so that if you do make a mistake and Rusty is killed, the result isn’t too devastating to the player. But most players who develop a keen taste for exploration will enjoy exploring every nook and cranny of the game’s three major mining areas and will probably be able to squeeze more time out of SteamWorld Dig. And plus, for a game of this caliber, the price is definitely right.
Being on a high definition console, SteamWorld Dig’s presentation has been amped up a couple of notches. The game looks much better than it did on the 3DS, with higher resolution visuals that really have a strong presence on any good television set. Character portraits are now animated, and the lighting has been revamped to include bloom elements to add a little bit more realism. Thankfully, the team hasn’t gone overboard with the improvements to the point where it just looks like any other game with bloom, but the tweaks and polish that game has received for it’s Wii U outing is admirable. Everything about the world of SteamWorld Dig looks fantastic – it looks like it fits right into the world it’s going for. Image & Form have managed to successfully create a steampunk game that fuses elements of old school spaghetti westerns that doesn’t look as generic as some other titles on the market.
The soundtrack is pretty decent too, although I’ll admit that nothing really stuck with me beyond the play sessions. Ambient music that is played while you’re digging reminds me of the works of Ennio Morricone, but notably more melancholy and much more electronic. In general, the soundtrack does a good job at getting you into the mood and world of SteamWorld Dig but it certainly doesn’t stay with the player beyond the initial playthrough. Sound effects and design are great, giving an appropriate weight and feeling to each of Rusty’s actions.
While I’m tempted to call SteamWorld Dig a Frankenstein’s monster of borrowed gameplay elements, it manages to carve out its own identity for itself enough that it eclipses many other titles in the genre. Its combination of elements from games like Metroid, Castlevania, Dig Dug and even games like Etrian Odyssey and Diablo make it an addictive and fun romp. It’s part puzzler, part platformer, part dungeon-crawler but it manages to balance all these elements to provide a really engaging experience. If you’ve already played SteamWorld Dig on the 3DS, there’s probably little reason to pick up the Wii U version besides experiencing its fresh lick of paint. But considering it’s cheaper when you own the 3DS version, it’s a hard deal to turn down. A true indie gem.