With its Western, 2D side-scrolling aesthetic and crisps visuals, this steam punk mining adventure shows no sign of its age as it debuts on the Xbox platform, and fortunately the tunnelling, treasure-seeking escapades of SteamWorld Dig’s robot protagonist, Rusty, is still as enjoyable and compelling as it was in 2013. However, it doesn’t last very long, and the procedurally generated structure only really provides replay for the most dedicated of excavators.
Mystery surrounds Rusty’s recently inherited mine, after his Uncle Joe disappears within its depths and is presumed deactivated. But you need to know for sure, so travel to this remote location below a tiny one mechanical horse town, to see for yourself what’s going on. With some encouragement from the town’s locals, you decide to prospect and mine for treasures, and as you delve deeper into the mine, discover unusual technology and underground structures that could reveal your uncle’s fate.
It’s all intriguing enough to keep you digging, but you can expect to solve all mysteries within three hours, with a fair chunk of that time committed to reacquiring treasures you’ve dropped from dying. Indeed, this mine is full of giant lice, crazed humans, mechanical turtles, and plenty of environmental hazards, all conspiring to dismantle your frail, metal body. You’ll die fairly often as you figure out the mechanics, delve deeper into the unknown, dangerous territories, and get impatient with reacquiring what you drop. It’s seldom unfair and largely the difficulty is well-balanced to offer a challenge without undue frustration, having your dropped loot stay behind despite multiple deaths is a forgiving feature for example, however, this balance is predicated on you steadily upgrading your tools.
As you stuff your pouch with treasures it soon fills up, forcing you to emerge from the mine and sell you gems, gold and precious stones in the town. With that money you can then purchase better equipment to improve the speed of mining or what materials you can mine through, to increase your health and pouch size, and to buy consumables like dynamite and ladders. Through keen equipment upgrading you can fight back against the increasing dangers of the mine, discover what lies at the very bottom and complete the short adventure.
The exploration and gathering of treasure is a compelling enough experience to make upgrading less a chore a more of a reward, and the procedurally generated mine means this experience is slightly different if you choose to replay it. However, once the story is concluded and you’ve seen all the mine and your upgrades have to offer, the urge to revisit is diminished considerable.
Certainly there are some standout moments that make the short tale of SteamWorld Dig interesting, with the ending proving especially well-balanced between challenging and rewarding, but the longevity this short experience needs isn’t really there. It’s initially fun and mostly avoids frustration, but ultimately shallow.
Thanks to Xbox for supporting TiX
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