While the debate rages on as to whether porting old games to the Switch is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing, one thing is for certain – at the very least these games won’t be lost in the annals of time and discarded systems. And now SteamWorld Dig has arrived for Nintendo’s powerhouse to round out Image & Form’s cowbot saga for Switch fans.
Taking place in the ghost town of Tumbleton, our hero Rusty inherits an old mine from his deceased uncle that the townsfolk hope he reopens to keep the place alive. Not one to dally with plot exposition, Rusty promptly falls through an opening, pries a pick axe from his dead relative’s corpse and gets to work excavating ore and unearthing his uncle’s secrets.
The gameplay loop of SteamWorld Dig is infectious: you continually dig deeper into the recesses of the mine, take your loot up to town and sell it, then invest your earnings into stronger and sturdier equipment to take back down with you on your next run. You can feel every upgrade immediately; newer pick axes crush earth or foes faster, you have a longer span of light to work with and your various pouches, health meters and water tanks hold more and more. The further down you get, the richer you become; and the longer you stay underground, the more expensive the upgrades become.
Occasionally you’ll stumble into small alcoves with challenges that dole out rare ore, but mostly you’ll discover curiously placed platforms left by your uncle that give Rusty new powers. Useful tools like dash boots, a boost-jumping water tank and a drill are yours for the taking. Plot-wise, this confounds and slightly scares the denizens of Tumbleton, as they’ve never seen such technology and are rightly wary of it. This leads into the mystery of what exactly your uncle was up to, which is eventually revealed at the very bottom of the mineshaft. There isn’t a lot in the way of story, but it does a good job of feeding your imagination, to the point where you have to see where it goes. The shocking finale left me wanting for more – a lust that can be conveniently satiated with the sequel, also available on Switch.
SteamWorld Dig is brilliantly paced in a way that makes it feel like you are constantly accomplishing something, even if it’s minute. While it has elements of Metroid, the game is somewhat open-ended in that your path down is determined by you. The alcoves are predetermined, but how you get there is another story. This path-making design helps build the solitude you’ll feel miles underneath the ground as you work your way to your uncle’s secret. There are three distinct areas that make you question where you’re going in ways I’d rather not spoil, and they’re all highly intriguing enough from a visual standpoint.
As a port on Switch, SteamWorld Dig doesn’t necessarily add anything new, other than taking the HD rendition found on the Wii U and making it portable. I was curious as to how the U.I. would feel without a second screen – and the answer is it feels natural. Your pouch is displayed neatly at the bottom, and the map is small enough to fit in a corner – but still detailed enough that you can track your progress. I know saying this game takes advantage of the best of both worlds is a cliché, but seriously, it’s a sexy and portable version of SteamWorld Dig, which perhaps makes it the best one to own.
Whether you’re yet to discover the joys of Image & Form or you’re a SteamWorld devotee who’s coveting what may be the best version of this game so far, you can’t go wrong with SteamWorld Dig on Switch.
SteamWorld Dig is available for Steam, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Switch, Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. We reviewed the Switch version
Disclosure statement: Review code for SteamWorld Dig was provided by Image & Form Games. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.