The word “addicting” only begins to characterize the gameplay in Image & Form’s SteamWorld Dig. As a steambot (a steam-powered robot) with no prior mining experience in an Old West town named Tumbleton, Rusty sets out on an adventure to uncover the secrets of a mystery bestowed upon him by his rusted out and now dead uncle. Beginning his quest with only a basic pickax left to him by his uncle, Rusty must dig his way through an array of perils that await him, including dynamite-wielding skeletons, life-threatening falling rocks, and steambot-seeking lasers. Along the way, precious stones lay hidden and buried in the dirt.
Trading valuable stones and gems for cold hard cash in the town above allows items and power-ups to be purchased from the local merchants. But buying items from the shops is only one way for Rusty to bolster his arsenal of weapons and tools, as he must also traverse caves hidden within the large levels of the game, seeking electrical stations that instill him with new, often steam-powered abilities.
What makes Steamworld Dig so unique and engrossing is the way it employs those power-ups to engage players in new and ever more challenging levels and puzzles. The game achieves a near-perfect balance of level design, difficulty, incentive-based item acquisition, and plain old thrill-a-minute digging, that not only gives every other platformer out there a run for its money, but causes players to perpetually feel like they are just one pickax swing away from a game-altering discovery.
Steamworld Dig is also noteworthy for its utterly efficient narrative and gameplay. Rather than embroil gamers in dialogue or flashy graphics, the game moves along at a brisk pace, and somehow a gaming experience founded on an incredibly repetitive activity like digging, manages to remain fresh and never boring. With fun Western music, a quirky story, and surprises waiting under every speck of gravel, SteamWorld Dig may be the best indie platformer on Nintendo 3DS.