Game Review – SteamWorld Dig

SteamWorld Dig claims to be a roguelike digging adventure. I’d call it a digging platformer which takes Terraria‘s side-on destructible terrain and elements from Spelunky in general.

Though their website only mentions Steam and the Nintendo ports, it’s available DRM-free and cross-platform from both GOG.com and the Humble Store. I highly recommend getting it from the latter since the GOG extras are nothing special while the Humble Store will include the Linux version and a Steam key.

The plot is simple. In a world where everyone is a steam-powered robot, your uncle dies and leaves you his old west mine. You mine and use the earnings to upgrade yourself and a fairly simple story unfolds as you dig down. (On that note, I like the game’s choice of subtitle. “A Fistful of Dirt“)

The game’s graphics are nice. They sprites are crisp and high-resolution and the animation cycles are fluid and react well to the snappy controls. More importantly, the art style didn’t annoy me while I was playing. I’ve seen a lot of games where “art sharper than the SNES had” carries an ill-defined but unsatisfying air of “cheap smartphone-ness” to it.

The game’s music is nothing to write home about, being so forgettable that I can’t even remember what it sounded like, but I remembers that it did set the tone and it didn’t wear out its welcome while playing.

That’s not a bad thing, but it’s also not a good thing like the music from these games:

The gameplay is also engaging.  The controls are responsive and the spread of abilities (wall-jump, running, run-jump, high-jump, double-jump, etc.)  make moving around very satisfying. Almost all terrain is destructible with the right upgrade and you can upgrade the speed at which you break blocks, and the “steam punch” upgrade means that, unlike Minecraft, getting treasure in a ceiling isn’t a hassle.

It also has “caves” within the mine which have a puzzle platforming element to them. However, I can’t imagine they’d be different on subsequent play-throughs since randomized puzzles would have a very low return-on-investment compared to other things they could have done.

That’s actually my biggest problem with it: For something that claims to be roguelike, it has low replayability because it feels like I can do everything interesting in one play-through. (Trying for gold stars on speed and number of deaths is not interesting.)

I’m not a big roguelike player but I replayed FTL obsessively because, even as a skilled player, there’s a certain aspect of luck to surviving to the end and it’s impossible to unlock every ship on a single play-through. I continue to play Brogue off and on because every time I start a new level, things which matter are randomized.

In SteamWorld Dig’s case, the things that feel like they matter are character upgrades and the minimal discovery-based plot. I bought every upgrade and beat the boss on my first play-through… so why would I care if the positions of the minerals, monsters, and unbreakable rocks are different the next time?

Diablo remedied that by having multiple character classes, so you got different play styles to explore. Dungeons of Dredmor took it even further by having a lot (I believe crap-ton is the technical term) of character customization and big levels such that, even if you disable permanent death, it will take forever to exhaust all the different abilities and play styles you get… and then there are expansion packs too. (Plus, it’s hilarious)

As far as replay value goes, SteamWorld Dig is in an uncomfortable spot:

  • You get too invested in your progress for the FTL/Brogue-style “die, die again” play style that true roguelikes use and they acknowledged that by not having permadeath.
  • The levels aren’t as variable as in Minecraft, so I can’t replay for exploration value.
  • The game doesn’t force me to choose from one of several play styles or tech tree maturations.
  • The levels may be random, but the game is still too short and the single ending doesn’t help.

My verdict? I beat it the same weekend that I bought it, so I’d have waited for a bigger discount, but I like it.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Game Review – SteamWorld Dig by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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