Also On: 3DS, PC
Publisher: Image & Form
Developer: Image & Form
In video games — as in life, really — it's not about the ideas, it's about the execution. Need proof? Just compare Steamworld Dig to PS4 launch title Super Motherload. In both, after all, you're playing as a character transported to some mysterious world, forced to dig and dig and dig for reasons that aren't entirely clear at first. While there are obviously differences between the two (which I'll get to in a moment), in the broadest of terms, they're practically identical.
On the surface, at least. When you dig down (pun not intended), you see what I mean about ideas versus execution. Super Motherload was, to be blunt, horribly boring, a Flash game with a slightly creepy feel to it but not much else. You dig down for hours on end, until — SPOILER — you finally reach the game's big bad, at which point you reverse course and go up as quickly as you can.
Steamworld Dig, by contrast, is amazing. As anyone who played the 3DS version of the game is already aware, it's a vibrant game set in a world that's brimming with life. True, like Super Motherload, the ultimate goal is to dig down until you uncover the threats lurking beneath the surface, but there's key differences that set Steamworld Dig apart.
For one thing, the world beneath the ground actually seems threatening. Whereas Super Motherload basically just relied on a vague sense of unease transmitted via vaguely creepy radio transmissions, in Steamworld Dig you confront the threats almost immediately, and they only get more dangerous the deeper you get. Not only that, the game has a fantastic way of dealing with lighting: unless you get fire pick-ups, the area around you gradually gets more and more dim. I have to say, I'm not claustrophobic at all, but there's still something truly suffocating about having your field of vision get more and more constricted as you mine deeper and deeper into the ground.
While the atmosphere and the enemies may be the crucial ingredients in Steamworld Dig's success, however, they're not the only things that make it worth playing. The core concepts of digging and exploration, for example, are implemented quite well — even if you're just digging down into the earth, it still feels like you could go anywhere and find all kinds of hidden secrets and treasures. This feeling is helped by the fact that the game controls really well, and offers a surprising amount of variation in how you can dig down; you wouldn't think there's much room to expand on the basic idea of "dig and dig and dig", but Steamworld Dig is proof of otherwise.
What's more, it's proof that all those people who loved Steamworld Dig the first time around last year on the 3DS were totally justified in their raves. This is a very, very fun game, and if you missed out on it the first time around, don't make that mistake twice.