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Review: SteamWorld Dig (Nintendo Switch)By Adam Riley At 03.02.2018 11:59

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Welcome to Tumbleton! There may only be a few people remaining there (literally the sign at the entrance says "Population: 3"!), but Rusty heads there nonetheless as he has received a deed for the mine there from his long-lost - and now deceased - uncle, Joe. What happened to Joe? What lies in the depths of the mine under Tumbleton? Grabbing his uncle's pickaxe, the cowboy-esque, steam-powered robot heads on down to delve into the mystery, unearthing more than he could have ever imagined in the process.

SteamWorld Dig's motto is A Fistful of Dirt, and indeed there is a lot of dirt to dig through as Rusty must work his way deeper and deeper underground. Whereas the sequel saw Dorothy take the reins, she plays a supporting role here, exchanging any ore or jewels Rusty collects for money he can use to buy new equipment or upgrade existing tools. She is actually first met when Rusty falls through the ground on his way to Tumbleton, where she then shares with him the sad news of Joe's passing, and that is when he loots the Old Pickaxe from the remains, in the hope of escaping the cavernous area he fell into, before moving onto attempting to get to the root of the mysterious goings-on.

There are plenty of dimly-lit lanterns dotted around so you can just about see the surroundings, and then Rusty acquires his own pretty soon after, meaning he has no issues heading off into realms unknown where there is less man-made light present. No issues, until the dark consumes the world once more, that is. The aim is to progress via digging through the various types of material beneath his feet, all the while having to deal with strange creatures eager to eat away at his precious life bar, and needing to be swift or else face being stuck where even shadows cannot survive, as Rusty's lantern only lasts for a limited time before the flame goes out. Certain material also cannot be broken through with just the basic pickaxe, either, so upgrades are required on that front, as well, but they cost coinage, and plenty of it. Thus begins the back-and-forth process of trekking down as far as possible, gathering as much booty as his current bag can carry, and then returning up top to exchange, upgrade, and purchase all manner of other wares.

At first it can feel a little bit mundane because of the lack of abilities Rusty has. Dig, dig, dig, use the ladders he comes across, avoid falling boulders loosened by the shifting of soil, grab as much as possible, and start heading back upwards again. However, just as the novelty of collecting, returning, collecting more, and returning again starts to wear off, a new layer of depth is discovered to the underworld, followed by a few different side-rooms filled with special challenges that make use of any newly acquired skills in a different way than before, and the goal markers constantly update on the handy in-game map to keep players abreast of what to do next. It is extremely cleverly designed, bringing the simple digging concept to a new level, mixing it smoothly with the now extremely familiar Metroid / Castlevania progressive exploration style.

As Rusty opens up new areas, the residents of Tumbleton become more intrigued as to what lies beneath, and whilst initially wary for Rusty to explore further - in case he goes the way of Uncle Joe - eventually their inquisitive side gets the better of them, possibly also fuelled by their love of the treasure Rusty keeps supplying… Whatever the case, as Rusty's pickaxe grows stronger and easier to use (extra power and speed are a godsend later on), and he adds water-powered equipment, such as a drill and power-punch, to his repertoire, along with portable transporters to make for a hasty exit to the surface, the depths completely open themselves up for his adventuring pleasure. Of course, it would be too easy if not faced with tougher critters along the way, along with some unusual human characters that seem to have lost their minds after living in the dark too long…

SteamWorld Dig thrives not only on its smart design, though, being backed up by high production levels on all fronts. Okay, the characters are nowhere near as detailed as in the sequel because of its 3DS origins compared to Dig 2, which was made for consoles, but the rendering of them is still fantastic in HD, and it is amazing to see how well the 3DS visuals have been spruced up from the original port across to consoles and now here onto Nintendo Switch, looking stunning both in handheld and docked modes. Augmenting the overall atmosphere of the adventure, as well, the main music theme evokes memories of Super Metroid's eerie soundtrack, and then, after that, the compositions take on more of an Old Western vibe, bringing in harmonicas, whistling, and a sense of the wind chill you find in long-forgotten locations, as well as themes that add to the ambience of underground isolation and the dread of the unknown. It really is remarkable how much the score adds to the package that already excels in so many ways.

All these years later, whilst well and truly surpassed by the inimitable success that is SteamWorld Dig 2 that introduced a wider world to explore, extra specials inclusions for lead character Dorothy to make use of, and more boss encounters, amongst many other things (seriously, read how much love Cubed3 has for it right here), this original still has so much to offer.

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Final Score
[i]SteamWorld Dig[/i] holds up tremendously well considering it originated on 3DS back in 2013. All these years later, despite its sequel surpassing it, this original has so much to offer that it should not be overlooked. If having never tried it before, Nintendo Switch fans owe it themselves to dig deep, unearth their hard-earned coin, explore Image & Form's treasure, and definitely make this gem of a game their own.

8

/10

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