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SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt (Wii U) review

Katharine Byrne
26 Sep 2014
SteamWorld Dig header
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
7
inc VAT

A highly enjoyable, if slightly simple, mining adventure, but the 3DS version of SteamWorld Dig remains the definitive edition

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Specifications

Available formats: Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PC, PS4, PS Vita

After releasing to great fanfare on the Nintendo 3DS last year, it's almost surprising it's taken this long for SteamWorld Dig to sink its trusty pickaxe back into Nintendo soil. Instead, Swedish developer Image & Form has been using the intervening months to bring its smash-hit procedural mining adventure to PC, PS4 and the PS Vita, but out of all SteamWorld Dig's additional ports, it's arguably the Wii U where this indie gem shines brightest.

By moving the map and inventory to the Wii U's GamePad, this leaves more room on the TV for SteamWorld Dig's titular premise – plundering the depths of the Wild West for more money and unknown treasures than your backwater town of Tumbleton knows what to do with. The more ore and jewels you discover and take back to the surface, the quicker the town grows and blossoms, offering you even more upgrades and abilities to help you dig further for longer periods of time.

SteamWorld Dig screenshot

^ In Off-TV Play mode, the map and inventory return to the main screen so you can play while others use the TV

Each expedition is limited by the light of your lamp, and the hazy halo of light around you gradually grows smaller and smaller as your candle nears the end of its wick. This limits how much you can see of your immediate surroundings, so you might miss out on some vital gems and ore hidden away in the nearby bedrock if you stay down too long. There's no real penalty for burning the candle at both ends, so to speak, but the game's surprisingly spacious and roomy set of underworlds soon begin to feel rather maze-like if you don't make a habit of returning to the surface to replenish your supplies. Still, the slow fading of light looks stunning on the Wii U, and we particularly like how striking your pickaxe against the rock still sends out a brief glimmer of light when your lamp has completely run out.  

Without any kind of imposed time limit, this gives SteamWorld Dig the same kind of relaxed, serene atmosphere as games like Minecraft. With the freedom to explore at your own pace and hack away at whatever takes your fancy, it lets you enjoy the simple act of digging much more effectively than if you were constantly worrying about how much time you had left in the darkness. If anything, you'll more often be forced to return topside in order to empty your initially miserly number of pockets, as once your tiny knapsack is stuffed to the brim with certain kinds of rocks, you won't be able to pick up any more goodies.

SteamWorld Dig screenshot01

^ In later stages, enemies will actively track you down if you get in their way

It's not all about digging to your heart's content, though, as there are various types of nasty bogeymen lurking in the shadows, ranging from raging drunks with sticks of dynamite and toxic liquor bottles to armoured mechanical beetles and frantic homing bots that explode on contact. You'll also encounter your fair share of environmental hazards, such as loose boulders that fall when you dig directly underneath them and magnetic spikes that slide out of place if you accidentally free them from their stony prisons.

This adds a welcome sense of danger to the fray, and later caverns can get particularly heated. While most enemies and traps can be defeated with a few taps of your pickaxe, choosing to attack is often enemies en masse is often unwise when you've got an army of laser sentries and exploding scorpions on your tail. This quickly turns planning your route to the next piece of treasure into its own kind of puzzle, although we're sure plenty of players will be tempted into confrontation when extra hearts, water cannisters and lamp oil potentially wait at the end of every fight.

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^ The lighting in SteamWorld Dig looks fantastic on the Wii U, and you can supplement your lamp light with additional torches

All in all, it's a pretty dangerous place underground, but we wish the rest of the game made better use of Rusty's various upgrades, such as his dash and double jump. This is one of the problems of creating randomly generated play spaces with every new save file, as it leaves precious little room for any kind of structured level design. Instead, most of the upgrades focus on increasing your pick axe's efficiency and speeding up your rate of exploration, which is great when you're travelling back and forth between different areas but not particularly challenging.

One thing that does remain constant between each playthrough are the special sets of caves that litter each cavern. Nearly all of these contain important new abilities to help you progress further through the game and they also act as your main wayposts between each successive dig. These small, self-contained rooms really let the game's platforming sections come to the fore, and they bring a welcome sense of variety to the long bouts of tunnelling.

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^ Upgrade caves require you to use your extra abilities, but it's a shame they're not more challenging

Sadly, their simple challenges rarely take much effort to overcome, and the ease with which each upgrade is handed out never makes you feel like you've really earned it. This leaves SteamWorld Dig's platforming sections feeling a little undercooked, particularly when the game already has a fairly lean running time of 4-5 hours, and it's a shame it doesn't demand more from its players.

In this sense, the console version of SteamWorld Dig lacks the special something that made the 3DS version such a breakout success. Instead, we think it's much more suited to shorter bursts of play on the go rather than long sit-down sessions at home, but we still had a great time with it regardless of its easy difficulty. It's a beautifully presented game, and at £7 is an absolute steal.

Availability
Available formatsNintendo Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PC, PS4, PS Vita
PC requirements
OS SupportWindows XP, OS 10.7, Ubuntu 12.04
Minimum CPU2GHz processor
Minimum GPUOpenGL 2.1-compatible, 256MB VRAM
Minimum RAM256MB
Hard disk space193MB
System requirements
Price including VAT£7
SupplierNintendo Wii U eShop, Nintendo 3DS eShop, Steam, PlayStation Store
Detailswww.imageform.se
Product codeN/A