Appearing on the Nintendo eShop, SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt comes from Image & Form and has kind of come out of nowhere for me. Having only owned the 3DS for less than a week at the time of writing this here sentence, I didn’t know what toexpect. It promised some form of a Metroid-vania style game with an emphasis on the subgenre’s staples of exploration and upgrades, set in a robot inhabited, wild west world. You know what I wouldn’t have expected? To have it currently set as my account’s ‘Favourite Game’.
You play as Rusty, who has taken it upon himself to discover what happened to his uncle after he’s found dead in the mine and to also try and work out what it was that his uncle kept going in there for. The story of the game is loose at best, with small tidbits coming up in short dialogue between the few townsfolk that inhabit this robot-filled-wild west, but what’s there is actually quite endearing and it makes me question why we couldn’t get anymore, as it starts to open up as it ends.
Though the lack of a story might put some off, it actually works to its advantage, as SteamWorld Dig is all about getting deeper down into the mine and upgrading Rusty to the absolute maximum. As you dig your way through the mine, you’ll gather rare ores to sell on the surface, to then buy upgrades for Rusty, which will then help you get even further into the dank, lonely mine. Although you might get stronger equipment and more health, there’s never a sense of being “powerful”. Anything can kill you at any time and that’s just dandy. It could be a nasty fall or even something falling on you, as well as the enemies that infest the mine itself. Regardless of what point you’re at, you’ll always have this sense of dread as you dig to another, unexplored location and discover the entire ceiling is made of acid dripping rocks and below on the floor, mushrooms that will bounce you around the place and leave you helpless.
Along with buying your upgrades, you’ll also find that there are several rooms in which to acquire passive upgrades or even new ways to dig (a drill or a steam-powered rocket fist). These rooms are actually small challenges that will try and push you to what limit you’re currently at and usually involve combining the different methods of getting around that you’ve already been doing. These rooms are actually split into two types, with one giving you the upgrades and then other type are puzzle like in their structure, which will usually lead to heavy amounts of rewards should you be successful. The rooms are actually quite the opposite to the mine itself, which requires you to be on your toes at all times, because you’re not put through any sort of structure or linearity, other than going downwards towards the next entrance. This kind of poses an issue and even ended up requiring me to restart the game just 15 minutes in, as if you dig and landscape the mine in such a fashion that you can’t actually get back up (mostly due to lack of equipment like ladders) or just not having the right upgrades that can let you move around far easier, could leave you stranded. For good. This issue vanishes as your progress and unlock particular jumping skills, but it quickly taught me that it’s imperative to keep an eye on where you’re digging.
Also, it was nice to learn from my mistake myself and not have the game give me any warnings about it. In fact, other than some button prompts and explanations from the townsfolk, there’s little to no hand holding. It doesn’t need it and you won’t need it. As brutal as the game can get, you never feel lost or thinking what to do. “Oh, I can’t get here? Let me just dig deeper.” A life lesson was learnt, in that digging deeper will always solve your problems.
SteamWorld Dig is an absolute pleasure to watch. Animations are smooth and complemented by a chunky art style that is blended with that western twinge. Everything just pops on the 3DS’s screen and as you start to unlock more areas, the style changes with it, never losing that charming atmosphere of the cowboy in a strange land. The music too, incredibly stereotypical of its setting, long whistles and horns, but it makes me want to become an Italian restaurant chef and kiss my fingers as I perfect the sauce for the day, crying out to my mother in excitement. It doesn’t help that I’m a huge sucker for Western music and styles, but also robots. Rusty looks the part, with his static face scowling under his hat and as that whistle blows through the dusty lands of SteamWorld, I got a little bit giddy.
SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt is a lovely little title to get stuck in with for the 3DS. Its ability to be pick up and play, as well as provide you with short little bursts of entertainment as you expect from a handheld title are great. Everything about it is just top notch and frustratingly addictive, as you head down and back up, upgrade and repeat the process until those credits roll. To boot, it keeps stats of the various things you might do in the game (like die) and I could see those that like themselves a huge challenge or those that just like to get absolutely everything finding way more to do. It’s a real fistful of gold.