SteamWorld Dig (Switch) Review

The Good, the Bad, and the Rusty

Hot off the releases of SteamWorld Dig 2 and SteamWorld Heist: Ultimate Edition, Image & Form Games is one step closer to its SteamWorld takeover with the Nintendo Switch port of SteamWorld Dig. It’s a straight no-frills HD rerelease of the original 2013 title, but I still dig the mining adventure’s gameplay.

Here’s my Video Version of the review for your viewing pleasure!

The story takes place in the SteamWorld universe, in which uniquely designed steampunk robots known as Steambots inhabit a stylized Wild West setting, complete with an ambient Western soundtrack. One Steambot Rusty arrives in the town of Tumbleton after receiving his uncle’s deed to the local mine. Upon learning of his uncle’s death, he decides to take his pickaxe and explore the mine for himself. Though SteamWorld Dig is light on story and dialogue, the revelations are exciting to discover. The deeper you dig, the more you uncover about the world below, providing a good motivator to see this journey to the end.

SteamWorld Dig Nintendo Switch Review Digging.png
Dig and dig and dig and diggety.

The bulk of gameplay involves digging down a long, vertical mine. It’s akin to Dig Dug but with a bigger focus on survival adventure and Metroidvania elements. You start out with a relatively weak pickaxe that can only break through soft dirt. As you collect gems embedded within the crust, you take them back up to town to sell for gold, which goes toward upgrades like stronger pickaxes and health. More power helps you travel deeper and collect more loot, which you again bring up top for more upgrades. Rinse. Repeat. It’s admittedly repetitive, but the constant rewards kept me coming for more. It’s a continuously gratifying stream that showcases your progression effectively. And Rusty controls smoothly, mostly thanks to his wall-jump ability, well-suited to climbing the vertical tunnels.

SteamWorld Dig Nintendo Switch Review Town.png
Dorothy the shopkeep may look familiar if you’ve played other SteamWorld games.

Regardless, the pacing can feel slow at times. Gameplay rarely deviates from this central, simple mechanic, and the constant backtracking loop only grows more tedious the longer you play. Plus, since your item pouch starts out small, it doesn’t take long before you are unable to carry more gems and must halt progress just to carry your spoils back up. While there are teleporters that can instantly take you above and below ground, they are few and far between or may cost you hard-earned resources. Additionally, there are other important factors to keep track of, like diminishing light and water. The latter fuels your stronger abilities but can only be refilled at a spring. I like the sense of resource management, but having to prematurely end an excavation just to replenish my light was tiring.

SteamWorld Dig Nintendo Switch Review Acid.png
This is your mine on acid.

Yet the game manages to escape tedium by nestling interesting hazards throughout the mine. Bouncy mushrooms, acid, and lasers keep the journey from growing stale. In addition, there are caves that house platformer-focused challenges, often revolving around newly obtained abilities. Aside from breaking up the repetitious backtracking, these miniature dungeons also expand Rusty’s robust moveset, adding new tools like the hard-hitting drill and special abilities like the high jump.

SteamWorld Dig also reinforces the gameplay loop with a well-implemented risk/reward system. Yes, you receive numerous upgrades…if you can make it back to town alive. The mine is perilous, and a wrong move can easily lead to unfortunate accidents, be they falling rocks or explosions. When you die, you immediately return to town at the cost of half of your money and loot, effectively adding a survival component that gives weight to every action: Do you risk your life to get that last gem or do you rush back up to town to avoid losing it all? Luckily, you have a chance at reobtaining that lost loot where your old corpse laid, like in Shovel Knight or dare I say it, Dark Souls.

SteamWorld Dig Nintendo Switch Review Enemy.png
The enemies are…colorful.

However, there are some frustrations with the level design that keep this system from reaching its potential. The mine is procedurally generated, which is a fancy way of saying random. Each playthrough grants a different arrangement of dirt, rocks, and other hazards. I admit I like the personal nature of exploring a brand new mine your own way; it’s a sense that is lost in the sequel. But the randomness occasionally results in unintentionally poor level design. Enemies and dangerous rocks can feel haphazardly placed and difficult to maneuver around. Not to mention I would often get hurt while attempting to hit an enemy, simply because I had to be very close to attack. Worst of all, the unpredictable level design can leave you trapped without a way back up, forcing you to manually self-destruct.

The game is fairly short, clocking it at about four to five hours, though you can increase that time by collecting every upgrade or playing the game again with a new random layout. What’s most disappointing is that the game caps off with Rusty revisiting entire portions of the mine again, as if the backtracking weren’t excessive enough. Also, the story ends just when it begins to get more compelling, so I’m especially thankful that SteamWorld Dig 2 now exists to continue the series.

SteamWorld Dig Nintendo Switch Review Powerup.jpg
It’s mine, mine, mine for the taking!

Conclusion

Although SteamWorld Dig was a hit when it premiered on the Nintendo 3DS, its mechanics and design have grown a bit rusty. The constant back-and-forth is tiresome, and the randomly generated mine layouts potentially lead to troublesome areas. Nevertheless, the game sports a gratifying feedback loop and enjoyable challenge caves. The Switch version adds nothing new aside from that crisp portable tablet screen, so there’s little reason to double dip. It’s not a bad a game at all, but better ones now exist from the same developers. If you haven’t yet played any SteamWorld game, I would first recommend the sequel SteamWorld Dig 2 as the ideal entry point and overall superior title.

Score: 7/10

Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher for this article.

What are your thoughts on SteamWorld Dig or any other game in the series? Have you played other games like this? Share any thoughts or questions in the comments section below! Thank you so much for reading and watching!

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21 thoughts on “SteamWorld Dig (Switch) Review

  1. Great review as always! I dig it, partner! It’s funny that the sequel–and apparently superior game–came out first for the Switch. It’s like a prequel, LOL. Also, I like the art style and the concept of steambots in the Wild Wild West. I’m not a fan of procedurally generated levels. I prefer consistency and knowing what to expect without the risk of getting trapped or stuck because of bad RNG. I think I’ll check out SteamWorld Dig 2 as you so thoughtfully suggest. SHUCKS HOWDY!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much as always! I’m glad you dig dug it! 😀 Also, love the Cowboy Bebop reference hahaha!! Yes, try SteamWorld Dig 2 first. It leaves a better first impression. I liked the original SteamWorld Dig back when I played it on Nintendo 3DS, but the sequel outdoes it so much. And then we can try SteamWorld Heist! And watch Steam Powered Giraffe! So much steam.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely agree that the sequel is far better! I like the original, and I had fun with it when I first played it on 3DS. But yeah, I found the pacing slow at times. I like the sense of progression and survival, but just digging down and going back up got tiresome for me. I love that the sequel had a better sense of incorporating multiple challenges and puzzle dungeons with its more robust level design. It’s so good!! I hope for a SteamWorld Dig 3 someday!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oooh yeah! I liked SteamWorld Heist a lot, and I wasn’t even expecting to like it so much given the genre. I would so play a sequel. In fact, I’d be up for whatever SteamWorld spinoff they’re up for making. SteamWorld Kart? SteamWorld Puzzle? SteamWorld 3D? I’m sure Image & Form could pull any of these off!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot my friend! I am digging (pardon my puns) the SteamWorld series and wouldn’t mind them branching out to other genres like Kart Racing and RPGs. Maybe even SteamWorld Tennis? Then we can have steampunk robot Waluigi!

      Like

  2. Ack I can’t keep up with what I’ve watched on YT and what I’ve read on here anymore lol. When I see a video review, I put it on a playlist to watch later, but then I usually like the original post, but I didn’t do that here. I THINK I watched this on YT already, liked, commented, and possibly even added the game to my backlog. It looks like it would be a fun, little adventure, and I’m always up for turn based attacks that give me time to think, plan, and strategize 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha! I didn’t see a YouTube comment from you for this one, and I only remember because your comments are always so lovely! You might have been thinking of SteamWorld Heist, which is the turn-based adventure set in the same universe. This one is more of a Metroidvania platformer.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hahaha, no worries at all! The developers have already put three SteamWorld games on Switch, so it’s easy to mix them up. Even more confusing, they put out the newer SteamWorld Dig 2 out on Switch before the original SteamWorld Dig. This is an HD version of the original 3DS game, whereas the sequel was a new game made for the system. Then there’s SteamWorld Heist, which is the game you were thinking of, which is more of a turn-based strategy spinoff to the platforming adventures. I swear, the SteamWorld’s inevitable takeover is upon us hahaha!

        Liked by 1 person

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