Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Release Date: 1 February 2018
Price: $9.99 / £8.99
Reviewed by Josh Brant
Chances are, you probably had no clue who Swedish developer Image & Form were before their first foray into the 3DS eShop with the original SteamWorld Dig. Believe it or not, they’ve been around since about 1997 releasing a few iOS games and even a tower defence SteamWorld type of title.
It’s quite a challenge to make it in the over-saturated mobile gaming market. Thankfully they abandoned that black hole and found greater success releasing quality titles for consoles and handhelds. Fast-forward to 2017 with the great reception received by the Nintendo Switch, and Image & Form released the stellar SteamWorld Dig 2 on the Switch's eShop. Now they're releasing the game that put them on the map with SteamWorld Dig, and it has never looked better.
Can you dig it?
Taking on the role of Rusty, a lone mining steambot, you are tasked with digging your way through the cavernous earth in search of hearty minerals, in order to help a little mining town in great need. In doing so, you uncover an ancient threat below the surface that could spell doom for not only the town, but the whole Earth. It is a platforming action title, but mining is what really is at the centre of it all, as you descend further into the undiscovered expanse of the Earth’s core.
Rusty wields his trusty pickaxe, taken from the clutches of his dead father’s hands, to dig further into the earth in order to find new minerals to sell back to the villagers on the Earth’s surface to earn some cash. This seems like a gameplay concept that would become extremely boring and repetitive. Fortunately, if you were lucky enough to have already played SteamWorld Dig 2, you know that’s not the case. Earning money grants you the ability to purchase a plethora of upgrades for Rusty’s gear, including a stronger pickaxe, sturdier armor, an increased water tank, and even a longer lasting lamp so you can further explore the darkness without worrying about the light going out.
Looking for and mining gems never gets old, as Image & Form managed to make the task fun and addictive. The sense of discovery is enough to compel you to continue digging further down and see for yourself what other mysteries there are to uncover. I was worried it would become tedious to continually climb back to the surface, but you can purchase portals to strategically place further into the tunnels to take you back up to town instantaneously. Teleporters are few and far between, so this is the best method to quickly go between the surface and the mines.
Image & Platforming
In Metroidvania-esque fashion, throughout your journey, you will find special areas that grant Rusty unique abilities. They include a drill to plow through bedrocks, speedy boots to sprint over loose soil, a double jump, and more, which you can use to access new areas that further the adventure. It’s really a nice way to keep things fresh as you make progress through the game, while also giving you more flexibility in how you carve your way through the Earth or manoeuver within its labyrinthine design.
On top of this, I’d be remiss not to mention how great the wall jumping is in SteamWorld Dig, and the world is also procedurally generated so if you decide to take another run once you have beaten the game, it won’t be the same experience. The only thing that stays the same are the caves where you solve predetermined puzzles and put your platforming skills to the test in order to unlock new abilities for Rusty. They are similar to small, concentrated platforming levels and are all around enjoyable to conquer.
One thing that SteamWorld Dig could have used more of are boss fights, as you are only going to encounter one big boss at the climax. This was a great encounter, but unlike SteamWorld Dig 2’s great use of multiple boss battles, it was disappointing only having the one. I appreciated the changing aesthetic, split between three distinctive sections, with each new area bringing new challenges, enemies, and areas to explore. It would have been nice to have some type of creature-specific boss battle between each section, but there was enough differentiation to not make it much of an issue.
Visually, SteamWorld Dig looks phenomenal with bright visuals and small details in the environments. The HD really makes the visuals pop with clean-cut artwork, vibrant colors, a snazzy backdrop, and a steady framerate whether docked or in handheld mode. Accompanying the graphics is a soundtrack that is atmospheric in nature and helped keep the mood ominous yet mysterious as you explore the dimly lit corridors infested with bugs, robots, and zombie-like humans.
I’ve already played SteamWorld Dig twice on the PS4 and PS Vita respectively, and interestingly enough, I still had a great time playing. Since the mines are randomly generated each time you start a new save file, your journey will never be the same twice. This gives the title a measure of freshness if you decide to take another 4 or 5 hour dig into the earth.
Overall, SteamWorld Dig is still a great title, showcasing just how far Image & Form have come from the mobile beginnings. It holds up wonderfully, even after five years, and if anything the Switch version is the definitive one, thanks to being able to play in full HD on the TV or on a big handheld screen. I’m not really a person who double-dips when games get released on multiple platforms, and if you have already played SteamWorld Dig on another platform, it’s harder to recommend. But, if you have never had the chance to play this title before, please, do yourself a favour, and play it now.
Pros & Cons
+ Beautiful visuals
+ Addictive and fun gameplay
+ Great progression system
- Could use more boss battles
- Although older, doesn't match SteamWorld Dig 2 in execution