Westerns are often simple stories and the best ones star Clint Eastwood when he was still young and uninterested in talking to chairs to my befuddlement. There are not that many video games in the Western genre, as it seems to have all but left the public consciousness. Red Dead Redemption is, of course, the spectacular exception. SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt defies this fact of the new millennia and launched as a downloadable title for the 3DS. I mostly picked it up because the main character was carrying a pickaxe and the last game I played that had pickaxes and involved mining is an all-consuming, making-me-want-drop-important-projects-and-get-bac- to-mining-in-it sort of game. But, Dig does much to be its own thing despite Minecraft mania and the unconscious desires even hearing the word mine can rouse.
Rusty, an aptly-named Robot, inherits his late uncle’s mine and, seeing that he has nothing better to do, chooses to begin digging to discover why his uncle met an untimely end. That story, short as it is, is really all there is plot wise. There are a paltry few things to do on the surface, and its only real purpose is to offer Rusty a place to sell his minerals and buy more upgrade goodness. So, below the surface is where the magic happens. Armed with only a pickaxe to start with, Rusty explores the randomly generated dirt and minerals, digging ever-deeper in an ever-evolving mine. There are special upgrades to be retrieved in the mine that make Rusty more able to traverse the depths and, hopefully, find his way back to the surface a richer, more-improved robot. Perceiving how far down one is and how full of goodies one’s sack is creates the stress and thrill of each expedition into the mine. One must consider that perhaps one more level of dirt is too much and will reveal a pit too deep, a baddie too insurmountable, but could also hold a gem worthy of some serious cash. I found myself constantly trying to balance this dilemma, and it only made me crave more of the mine’s depths.
Unlike Minecraft, the game is not labyrinthine. Upward always leads to safety, so it is easy to return to the surface if you have created a pathway that is traversable. That said, the map on the bottom screen is still your greatest asset. Depending on Rusty’s upgrades, items, and caution at the time though, downward can become the only way upward, even if there is no more room for the stuff he finds en route. There are some simple puzzles guarding each of the buried upgrades, and each one gives the game a new feel that is welcome. While these upgrades give you some great new powers to make better use of one’s time in the mine, I wanted some more of the puzzle areas to test out those powers of traversal beyond the simple adventure of finding materials and digging deep. At the same time I always had this creeping feeling, “what lay at the bottom,” and this also propelled me forward.
This game is short in length, six hours at most. It is however, a perfect portable title. The descents are each a manageable length, but I think it is likely that players will just binge on excursions as they become more addictive. Animations are rich and vibrant and the music fits the western theme, and never felt repetitive, even though it is a short soundtrack. Random levels aside, I didn’t feel the need to go back to the game a second time after I completed it, but many will because of its addictive nature. SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt is a fantastic addition to the 3DS downloadable library, at the top with Pushmo and Mutant Mudds.
Vinny Orsillo | @VinnyOhGames