Dust rises through the air. Tumbleweeds roll through the sandy abyss as the sun mercilessly beats down high in the sky above. This arid land of emptiness is an unforgiving place that offers little to all that traverse its landscape. Of course I am referring to the PlayStation Store on PS4. With the delay of several exclusive games and lack of soon to be released triple A titles many early adopters of the latest PlayStation are bemoaning the sparse games on offer. Frankly, these gamers are not looking far enough, because if you peer past the scattered wilderness of big-budget mainstream games there is a rich oasis of indie titles. That is where you will find SteamWorld Dig.
Steam World Dig is a 2D platform-adventure mining game set in an alternate-reality version of the wild west. Players take on the role of Rusty a steam robot that has come to the town of Tumbleton with the aim of taking over his deceased uncle’s mine. Upon arriving in Tumbleton Rusty meets the towns inhabitants who aid him on his journey. Having claimed the mine Rusty sets about mining and exploring and soon finds adventure and fortunes that will change his fate.
Set in a 2D world, gamers familiar with Super Mario Bros. and, more recently, this May’s PlayStation Plus instant game, Mercenary Kings, will feel right at home. Controls and movement are easy to learn at the beginning of the game with a certain amount of skill only required once further powers are unlocked. The major difference between SteamWorld Dig and other platform game is the mining mechanic. The player has to mine through square blocks to gain access to levels using only a mini-map with an occasional red marker to indicate the route. The player has the unique opportunity craft their own path and, in some sense, the level to their desires. It is a gameplay style that works effectively giving the player a certain level of freedom while retaining the need to access quest based caves. To overcome the repetitive nature of tearing into endless blocks of dirt with a pick-axe and drill, the environment contains dangerous critters and puzzles to solve. Digging also requires a certain amount of tact to make the most of collecting resources and finding the best routes to an objective. In the early stages of the game too often did I find myself awaking critters or missing resources by not planning ahead. To be honest I may as well have drilled through my own brain when I was heading towards three eyed, fanged creatures thinking “ooo what’s that?”. It clearly was not going to be a friendly being. I know that now.
The relatively neat HUD includes three bars indicating Rusty’s health, water, and light levels. Health is fairly self explanatory while water is used as fuel for powers and light is drained while mining to light the area around Rusty, growing dimmer as the levels drop. Replenishing these attributes can be done by buying health packs, dropping into pools of water (which will drain the pool and will not refill until the player levels the area), returning to the surface to restore light levels, and collecting pick-ups awarded by defeating enemies or found scattered around the map. While the total levels can be increased through upgrades there is still an amount of tactical awareness required from players to manage their levels. For example, rather than re-surface to replenish my light levels I kept digging deeper and by the time I got to a cave I could not see the breakable blocks around me. All three levels are balanced nicely which helps the game achieve an accessible difficulty that never runs the risk of being too easy. As players progress further there is an apparent difficulty curve with new challenging enemies types to contend with alongside the new perils found in the mines. Rather than a fixed number of lives SteamWorld Dig adopts a different mechanic and it is wise to be careful as the cost of resurrection is a share of your loot.
Resource collection is a focal point of the game, required to level up and unlock new items to purchase. By selling collected resources, such as minerals, the player receives gold. Once a certain level of gold has been attained the player levels up and by levelling up the player is able to buy items that will help with progressing through the game. Other than minerals the player collects orbs that are used as currency alongside gold to buy higher level items. For the most part collecting resources is fairly simplistic and while lacking in innovation the experience is made rewarding through the offering of unlockables and game progression.
Similar to most platform games, SteamWorld Dig has little in the way of a strong narrative. For the most part players could easily ignore any of the plot points and charge on ahead straight into the action. Without a heavy narrative to deal with the game keeps good pacing enabling the player to enjoy actually playing the game, which is where SteamWorld Dig’s strength lies. Despite the abcence of story-driven gameplay Tumbelton has some wonderfully eccentric characters that would give Doc from Back To The Future a run for his money. Each character is based on their own version of a wild-west stereotype full of clichés and humour. These characters help breathe life into the game by restoring a sense of light-hearted entertainment that can be forgotten when your struggling to over come obstacles in the caverns below.
In total a normal playthrough of SteamWorld Dig will take around four hours to complete. However, like most PlayStation titles theses days, it does support trophies giving the player cause to go back and undertake new tasks such as completing the game in two and a half hours. Personally I have not yet revisited the game to obtain these trophies, but you can be sure that when I do there will be more swearing than Tony Montana trying his hand at D.I.Y.
Music and Sounds
Undoubtedly, one of the most recognisable music genres is the folk music of the wild-west. The theme music is a brilliant melody that invokes that spirit of all the spaghetti westerns that came before. It inspires the player and genuinely feels like a song that would accompany the story of a man on an adventure. The piece of music is so enjoyable that I have even found myself delaying the start of the game in order to listen a little longer. The rest of the music is similarly successful, driving home the aesthetic feel of the environment, creating a more exciting atmosphere than can be done by the lone sounds of mining rocks.
The sounds of each area are well thought through with no two enemies sounding too alike, helping the playing distinguish different enemy types as well as avoiding tedious repetition. The same goes for the rock types, which aid the player in differentiating between them and how far the player has broken through the block. Overall the other sounds within the game have been designed with a refreshingly simple style that is gentle on the eardrums. The sound of acid drops was even quite calming to me, but then again I am ‘special’ as my mum always told me.
From the start of SteamWorld Dig it is noticeable this is a world full of vivid colours. The colours perfectly set the jovial mood of the game and bring the memories of other colourful worlds, such as Mario and Sonic, flooding back. There is also a brilliant pallet cleverly used to bring life to the different zones, which would be stale, monotonous environments without it. From a personal note it is the perfect indie title to come in and bring me away from the more serious, grey tone, titles that currently occupy my PS4.
The characters have a certain charm that endears their robotic nature to the player while capitalising on the opportunity to design mechanical individuals. Likewise enemies have been thoughtfully designed to provide enough diversity with humanoid zombies, foul creatures, and robotic beings coming into the fray. All the above characters have enough about them to be recognisable on first site and likeable which is a credit to the work done by the team at Image&Form. Simply put Steam World Dig proves you don’t need cutting edge HD graphics to make a game look good.
Move over Minecraft, there is a new mining adventure game in town. SteamWorld Dig revitalises the platform genre with truly enjoyable gameplay mechanics that are supported by fantastic sounds and beautiful sights. The use of a unique mining mechanic in a platform game is implemented so well it will feel almost natural to the average gamer. More importantly, the game is fun from start to finish, even when your frustrated by the puzzles, the game never ceases to be enjoyable. For less than £8 (€9, $13) you get more than four hours of fantastic gameplay which is a hard deal to beat on the PS4. This is what great indie games are all about. Buy it, love it, mine it.