SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt is a 2D platform mining adventure with strong Metroidvanian influences. Developed by Swedish team Image & Form it is the second installment in the SteamWorld franchise. With the announcement of SteamWorld Dig 2 it was good to see that the newest game in the series was instantly heading to Nintendo’s Switch on release (September 2017). Moving forward six months and it’s even better to see that A Fistful of Dirt has also made its way over to the new console. The game originally released for Nintendo 3DS in 2013 and quickly gained acclaim for its remarkable gameplay and mechanics helping to create an engrossing, atmospheric experience. It was subsequently released on all of the other major formats over the next couple of years.
The game’s opening cinematic is short and sweet but has a nice, distinctive art style which is used to help set up the story. You take on the role of Rusty, a lone steambot, attempting to find Tumbleton as he crashes through the floor into an old forgotten mine. The game begins by dropping you into the middle of the mine, which luckily is owned by uncle Joe. You are tasked with finding an alternative route out before the rest of Rusty’s light dwindles, these first few steps are used to form the game’s tutorial.
Our first encounter is with another steambot named Dorothy who questions what Rusty is doing in the mine and tells that such a dramatic entrance has caused the roof to cave in. Once formally introduced Dorothy mentions that Joe has been missing for some time but in sneaking around in the mine she has unfortunately located him. Rusty decides to follow her to see for himself, it is true and Joe is no more. Borrowing his pickaxe Rusty begins his quest to escape the mine by digging to the lever that has been buried in the cave in. Controls are pretty simple, using the directional pad or analogue stick for movement and the face buttons for various actions like jumping and digging. As you progress through the game you can acquire a number of power-ups and a larger move set which tend to combine a couple of button presses. Anything from running to wall climbing is added and all come in very handy. After escaping the mine you finally reach Tumbleton and Dorothy shows you around. The town is made up of various different shops where you can purchase upgrades or sell goods, it acts as the central hub for the game. With Joe sadly gone it’s now up to you to explore the mine and find its hidden treasure.
SteamWorld Dig reminds me very much of the amazing Mr Driller with the addition of platforming, simple puzzles and loot gathering which when combined make this a great gaming experience. The screen is set up with a minimalistic hud displaying key information essential to survival, life, light, depth and a minimap are the most helpful of these. Gameplay revolves around a simple loop, go into the mine to collect as many items as possible in the set time frame before returning them safely to the surface for sale. Any profits made can then be used to purchase new or upgraded equipment such as more health, better pickaxes, additional lanterns and ladders. All of the upgrades help to extend the time you can spend in the mine, allowing greater exploration and a better chance of finding coveted minerals and metals. It’s a fairly straightforward premise which is most enjoyable when playing. The difficulty curve is reasonable but it didn’t take me long to really get to grips with how best to play the game. It is easy to rack up a number of hours of playtime without even realising it, which is a sign of good concept and execution. It also works extremely well in handheld mode allowing for that quick pick up and play on the go experience, you can usually get through a couple of mine explorations in ten minutes or so.
The game lasts around 5 hours for a complete playthrough but depending on how adventurous you are will have an effect on the number of upgrades you can purchase. On my first attempt, there were a couple that I didn’t manage to obtain and instantly made me want to give it another shot. My second play took a lot longer as I really wanted to find every last hidden item. There’s plenty of reasons to come back to SteamWorld time and time again, with many ways to play it’s really up to you what you take from the experience.
SteamWorld Dig is brilliant, offering a rich world of steam-driven robots, inspired by Steampunk and Western themes. Gameplay is solid and highly addictive. It’s easy to see why it has been loved since its release back on the 3DS. It’s a shame that the Switch version doesn’t offer anything new or contain any additional content but that’s not really an issue. If playing for the first time or returning to SteamWorld Dig it comes highly recommended either way and should be a serious option for any Switch owner.
Beard Score: 9/10