When I first clapped eyes on this game I honestly wasn’t expecting much of the title in any way shape or form. Trailers and screenshots simply make the game look utterly uninspiring, and lacklustre. Boulderdash 😉 A word to the wise – don’t judge it on these things and I hope the publishers get a demo out for people to try as that’s the only way the games sales performance will be to the levels it should be.
As you have probably already realised this game, described as a platform mining adventure has a rather retro feel to it – specifically due to the games ancestors in the form of Boulderdash (multi-format), Diggers (Amiga) to a certain degree but more obviously, Emerald Mines (Amiga).
In an alternate reality mankind has been all but destroyed and a rebuilt world has steam power becoming prevalent across the globe. With survivors of humanity in hiding, something akin to the Wild West is now populated by steam driven robots – one of which you play. In control of a robot called Rusty you arrive at your uncle’s mine, meeting the local trading ‘bot, Dorothy. Further exploration reveals that Rusty’s uncle has passed on to steam-driven robot heaven (I’m assuming there’s no silicon involved in Steampunk robots…).
The game mechanic is pretty simple in that you dig through the ground ever deeper in whatever pattern you like (ensuring you can get yourself out again) to discover various precious ores from trashium(!) and copper to ironium and so on. However as a spiritual descendant of Emerald Mines if you excavate under rock that is heavier than it’s surroundings it will drop on you! The ores are then traded on the surface with Dorothy for cash. The cash fills up a level meter as well as being available to purchase upgrades and equipment for mining (like a harder pickaxe, ladders, lamps, and transporter pads(!)) Other special upgrades are found in underground caves that enhance Rusty’s steam powered abilities, with his water reserve topped up with underwater pools (larger water tanks are also available as upgrades, thankfully.)
Of course it would be all too easy if there were not, what looks like, angry giant woodlice dotted around the mining area, and the occasional discovery of something more nasty like armoured turtles that fire explosive projectiles (which actually mine for you if you let them.) Actually I assume they are turtles, simply because when I despatched one in a pool of water I unlocked the trophy “Turtle Soup”. Later on you find barrels of TNT you don’t want to set off, what I assume are Morlocks and the boon that is a steam powered drill! Oh and hidden motion detecting spikes are littered all over the place.
Oh and don’t fall too far, it doesn’t do you any good. Mind you there are a couple of nice features in place from the very beginning in that you can jump up the wall of a sheer drop as well as scrape down slowing your descent to avoid damage. Rusty will go to pieces, literally, if there is too much damage. The “game over” statement is a little confusing though, as it isn’t actually game over at all and you simply get brought back to the surface and rebuilt, but at the cost of half your current currency holding. This, however simply gets you coming back for more, frankly and with 3 separate save spaces available you can share with a couple of family members quite happily while coming back for more digging on a regular basis.
As you can probably work out from the number of potential hazards in the game, and their nature that a natural puzzle element becomes part of the gameplay – in fact everything about the gameplay come very naturally as there are no enforced tutorials and the game just lays itself out in front of you as you naturally learn how to complete each directed task. Having said that the directed tasks are more suggestions than anything as there’s nothing stopping you from just digging off in your own direction until you hit a bit of rock your current digging equipment can’t deal with, naturally (and there’s that word again) deflecting your path without you having a second thought about whether that rock was placed there on purpose.
The easy narrative of the game encourages you to go in the footsteps of your uncle (Joe), with you finding multiple underground locations including “The Old World” which is where the zombie human Morlock things turn up (some of them rather worryingly running around with sticks of dynamite) along with backgrounds with nuclear weapons in. This further exploration opens up further technological discoveries which appear to have been adapted to work with steam power, so that topping up of your water supply becomes ever more important.
As with all of the truly great classic games, the game is incredibly easy to get into and though it may seem a little slow to start with, once you have a better pickaxe (let alone getting the drill) you just keep on digging finding new minerals and upgrades as well as bits of storyline. However one thing you will find is that the game is generated as you go, so different digging directions or using a different strategy will result in the world being generated differently – creating different puzzle-like layout in some parts, at the very least. It’s very clear as well that as you dig in any direction – none of it can be a waste of time, unless you have forgotten were you have been or you are not paying attention to the map as every creature found and defeated gives you items of use and every mineral deposit gets turned into money when you next return to the surface (you’ll find yourself buying pouches to carry more mined ore rather rapidly).
Luckily each trip back to the surface includes an automatic save and if you are destroyed underground, where you fell a bag of your belongings is left behind for the rebuilt you to find.
It’s amazing how a game that can be described in such a boring term as a “platform dig ’em up” can be quite so compelling, and it’s presentation enriches the experience with very atmospheric sounds and music. The graphics, though not exactly stretching the Vita, are exactly what is needed for the title and overflow with retro charm, with a modern day veneer.
It is, however, a very straight port from the other formats it has been on with just the basic button/stick controls supported with no rear touch pad, camera or six axis support that I have found, which is kind of a shame as directing the drill with the touch screen and scraping against walls as you fall using the six axis control may have been intuitive additions. At least the touch screen is used a little bit on things like purchase screens.
However with a sub £8 price point and the fact it’s being released on PS4 with cross buy available, it’s certainly a bargain – though don’t expect cross-save as with the PS4 having some enhanced features on top of the “procedural world generation” (that’s the posh term for the way the world generates differently each time you play differently), it would possibly not make much sense.
I do hope a demo that allows you to get to the point with a better pickaxe is made available to give people a taster as screenshots and videos don’t do the gameplay justice and it’s simply well worth the money. Okay it doesn’t do anything particularly new, nor takes full advantage of the PS Vita, however what it does do is done brilliantly well. What it is worth also noting is that after a couple of hours of play I was thinking 7/10… a few hours later it was an 8 and, well, look where it’s ended up!
At A Glance
- Title: SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful Of Dirt
- Publisher: Image and Form International AB
- System: PlayStation Vita
- Format: PSN Download
- Cross Buy: Yes
- Online Multiplayer: No
- Local Multiplayer: No
- PlayStation TV Compatible: Yes
- Memory Card Space Needed: 80Mb