SteamWorld Dig (Wii U)

October 13, 2014, Author: Neil Hickton

I’m sure it will be of no surprise that SteamWorld Dig’s gameplay is based on digging. So within minutes of loading the game up, your avatar can be seen returning to a prospecting village, asking about the whereabouts of his father, finding him (spoiler alert) dead and taking up his fabled rusty and frankly knackered pickaxe. There’s very little time spent with your dead Dad, because in all honesty it is seemingly not in SteamWorld Dig‘s interest to.

SteamWorld Dig, simply put, is an explorative digging puzzle platformer, and it does it really well. It’s easy to pick up and play with its simple and familiar control scheme, and rewarding thanks to loads of upgrades and equipment, plus sneaky (but not mean) puzzles to solve…

SteamWorld Dig is colourful with immediate appeal, complete with simple but fun animations and effects; a nod to how our minds-eye views retro games from our childhood, but with the feel and sophistication of a modern era game.

SteamWorld Dig looks beautiful on the big screen powered by the Wii U, but not obviously that different from other versions I’ve played. The Wii U controller screen, however, replaces the on-screen inventory so it’s visible at all times. While this may be useful, it can feel a bit of a waste of electricity to be honest, but does keep the main screen clear and void of clutter. It is possible to play SteamWorld Dig on the Wii U controller, enabling you to play when your main TV is in use. I will point out – as I hadn’t a clue when I played it for hours, being a bit of a Wii U novice – nothing obviously mentions how to bring it onto the screen Wii U controller. I will help you avoid blushes and let you know that all you have to do it press the ‘-‘ button. Bring back the humble game manual, even if its in electronic form only I say!

SteamWorld Dig looks better on the Playstation Vita screen than it does on the Wii U controller screen in my opinion. This is caused by the tendency of the Wii U controller screen to look fuzzy and lower resolution when compared to the Playstation Vita’s wonderful screen or indeed, the Wii U’s 1080p TV output.

Story-wise, I found SteamWorld Dig surprisingly engaging; talking to the different characters above ground gives you more story to sink your pickaxe into and more options to upgrade. The ending came quite out of the blue though and to be honest, I didn’t see it coming, even though in hindsight it should have been obvious. It’s not a terribly long game – I completed it in six hours initially – but there is a degree of replayability; you can attempt to complete it more quickly, with fewer deaths or perhaps dig everything up there is to find.

There are no (pick) axes to grind with this story...

There are no (pick) axes to grind with this story…

For most of the part, the core mechanic of gameplay unsurprisingly relates to destroying different types of earth with increasingly better equipment. The blocks of earth are sometimes laced with metals or minerals of varying worth and these you can sell to fund your inner perfectionist, as you strive to improve your axe, equipment and lamp.

The lamp is more important than you first think, as it really does get hard to know which direction to go in when you can’t see. Though as you become more adept at navigating you soon realise you can manage without. The problem is, without the lamp, you are covered in a shroud of darkness. As you might expect, the lamp is upgradeable and is recharged when you reach the surface.

Be warned that you’re not alone in the depths of the mine as there are monsters buried in the ground waiting for you, although fighting these rarely feels satisfying early on. Given you are only armed with a pickaxe to swing at them, it takes time and many swings to destroy them and I didn’t really feel connected to it. Soon, you can upgrade your equipment and it is through selling the many treasures you can pull from the earth, where the fun choices are to be made.

Being a mining game, you have a choice in how you approach the obstacles and how you go about digging and collecting treasures. Dig the wrong way and you will find you need to use ladders. Use too much dynamite and you might unleash heavy boulders that crush the metals and precious stones.

Death isn’t really a problem; you’re a robot, you just appear back on the surface and down you go again, back to the underground to find your original lost bag of special rocks. If you’ve got money, a percentage is taken and that is really all the cost is for allowing yourself to die. Yes, you have to go back through all the tunnels and this may waste your time a little, but on the way, you might decide to go somewhere else and complete a different area.

Chop, chop, dig, dig...

Chop, chop, dig, dig…

SteamWorld Dig does the whole upgrade thing very well; however, I didn’t really notice much cosmetic difference to the character on the way to perfection. Your robot is quite small on the screen and subtleties of slightly better armour or stronger pick-axe are only really appreciated when you physically use them.

The mining of gems, metals and other precious metals also leads to the discovery of orbs. The orbs are mesmerising and anyone familiar with the Xbox 360 game Crackdown may well be filled with an immediate warm, fuzzy feeling, like I was. Digging up orbs rewards the player with such great sound and visual delight, that you can’t help but feel special when you do so.

The mine features routes to different areas and these act as either doorways to a mine deeper underground or puzzles. You have the choice to avoid a puzzle, but the reward for completing them will be to receive riches, new upgrades and, if you’re lucky, the beloved orbs. Secret areas can be found in these puzzle mines too, giving you the chance to further increase your haul or release yet more orbs.

The only bugbear I have about any version of SteamWorld Dig I’ve played is that the “up” direction, used to enter other areas, doorways or interact with the above-ground-dwelling robots of the apparent Wild West, felt too sensitive at times. I managed to activate it accidentally so many times; a headache when you’re moving around or using your pickaxe, drill or other equipment above your head.

From the Depths

An odd side effect of playing is that I found myself falling asleep, not because SteamWorld Dig didn’t engage me, or that I didn’t find it fun to play; it was because the digging was seemingly therapeutic, the pickaxe noise and animation I’d liken to counting sheep. I’d love to know if anyone else has the snoozy problem when playing SteamWorld Dig.

It is really hard to be picky about SteamWorld Dig. Okay. It is really hard to find faults with SteamWorld Dig. Oh my… umm… Other than the two paragraphs above. SteamWorld Dig is simply fantastic on each platform I’ve played it on, both engaging and fun. The outward simplicity enables it to really boil your favourite gameplay elements into a sweet and succulent syrup of adventurous goodness. I loved it, my family love it and I think you will too.


How We Review Games