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Steamworld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt Review

Steamworld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt Review

Steamworld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt Review

A fun, rewarding platformer that has an addicting “one more time” element that drives games like Spelunky.


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Steamworld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt is a fun, sometimes frustrating platformer that thrives on the thrill of exploration. The game provides an interesting blend of Metroid-style adventuring and Minecraft-style mining that manages to excite with a great risk-reward system. However, dull combat and repetitive gameplay keeps the game from going beyond its boundaries.

Created by Image & Form Games, Steamworld Dig is the second game in the Steamworld series. Originally released on Nintendo 3DS, Steamworld Dig is now available on Wii U, PC, PS4, and PS Vita. I played the game on the Vita and the PC, and I would highly recommend picking up Steamworld Dig on either 3DS or Vita as the game naturally lends itself to the pick-up-and-play nature of handhelds. For example, I was able to make a quick run into the mines and escape back to the surface in the time it took one of my classes to start. It felt much more natural for me to be playing Steamworld Dig on the go rather than sitting down to play it. That being said, the game is just as playable on other platforms, so it’s all up to personal preference.

The Story

The player controls Rusty, a robot who has returned to the ramshackle town of Tumbleton after receiving the deed to his uncle’s cavernous mine. Rusty sets off to explore his inheritance and as he progresses deeper into the mine, strange new artifacts lead him closer and closer to a dangerous truth, and that’s basically it for the story in Steamworld Dig. The bulk of the story is delivered at the beginning of the game when Rusty first arrives at Tumbleton. Then the story takes a backseat to gameplay for a few hours until Rusty uncovers a new area of the mine. Upon returning to Tumbleton, the villagers will say a few remarks about the new area, and then it’s right back into the mine.

Steamworld Dig 1a

This actually works pretty well as the gameplay is the primary motivator for exploring the mine rather than the story. Steamworld Dig does a great job presenting the setting and plot then wisely gets out of the way, allowing players to discover the mine on their own.

The Mine

The mine is the primary setting of Steamworld Dig, and once players find the pickaxe, they’re allowed to mine through layers of dirt and stone in any way they like. Plucky players can dig straight down, creating deep shafts that they can use to quickly ascend and descend when returning to Tumbleton. More adventurous players will expand horizontally, creating a complex labyrinth of tunnels in which to search for gems and treasure.

Gemstones and ores can be found scattered throughout the mine for players to harvest. The harvested ores can then be brought back to the surface and sold for cash which can be used to upgrade equipment, making it possible to carry more gemstones, mine faster, etc. With upgrades, Rusty can venture deeper into the mine, potentially discovering even more treasures. It’s in the player’s best interest to fill Rusty’s pockets before returning to the surface. Rusty’s lantern oil is limited and staying in the mine too long will leave players in the dark, no longer able to see the gemstones and ores in the walls. All they can do is try to escape without falling prey to one of the many enemies roaming the mine.

Steamworld Dig 2a

Mining is the core gameplay mechanic in Steamworld Dig, and it holds up pretty well. Digging feels similar to games like Minecraft, and knocking treasure loose is satisfying. However, the mining loses some of its charm near the end of the game, as the act of mining starts to feel repetitive. Luckily, Steamworld Dig isn’t long enough to overstay its welcome, and the obstacles do get more varied in later levels.

Faulty Fighting

Combat is where Steamworld Dig stumbles. Rusty has little to no combat skills, so players must attack using their pickaxe. This proves to be easier said than done, as the pickaxe has a short range, does little damage and sports an uneven attack speed. Oftentimes I would land a hit on an enemy, but the next hit would miss due to the lengthy time between swings. This is eventually improved midway through the game with the essential swing speed upgrade for Rusty, but as it stands, it makes early portions of the game less fun to explore.

When Rusty is killed, he drops all of the loot he’s carrying and respawns at the surface with only half his cash. Dropped loot can be reclaimed if you can make it back down to where he died, so the punishment for death isn’t too severe. This unfortunately led me to my preferred combat strategy, which amounted to standing next to the enemy and spamming the attack button until either Rusty or the enemy fell.

There are items you can acquire midway through the game that do change combat a bit, but I carried this strategy throughout the entire game. The final boss was the only enemy that I genuinely enjoyed fighting. Without going into spoilers, the final boss scene feels more like a fast-paced mining puzzle rather than a combat scenario.

Steamworld Dig 3a

The Upgrades

Cash earned from selling ore can be used for upgrades, and I applaud the developers for making every upgrade feel important. Additional health becomes essential late in the game, but upgrading inventory capacity is the first thing that should be done. Some upgrades and weapons can only be found in the mines, oftentimes in areas hidden behind doors. These were my favorite sections of the game as they rely on puzzle-solving and inventive platforming rather than simple digging. These areas are found scattered throughout the mine in order to break up the gameplay and offer the player a chance to acquire a new upgrade or ability.

Two of these upgrades, both found late in the game, are simply incredible and make navigation and treasure hunting a breeze. These upgrades are the Static Jump and the Mineral Tracker. The Static Jump acts as a double jump, allowing players to ascend through the mine much faster. This upgrade is a godsend for players who accidentally dig themselves into a pit and can’t get out. It also changes the pace of the game. Climbing out of the mine becomes no challenge at all. Another excellent upgrade is the fall dampening boots, which negates all fall damage. Combining the Static Jump with the boots makes traversing the mines a breeze.

Steamworld Dig 4a

The Mineral Tracker is another essential upgrade. The tracker reveals the location of every mineral and ore in the mines and highlights them on the minimap. Initially, I found this to be distressing, as it takes away a lot of the mystery of the mineshafts. But the more I played, the more I found that I was still struggling to get to these minerals. The tracker makes finding the treasures simple, but getting to them is still a challenge.

Steamworld Dig 5a



Steamworld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt is a fun, rewarding platformer that is held back by boring and repetitive combat. The game feels perfect on handheld devices and features the addicting “one more time” element that drives games like Spelunky. While the game is short, clocking in at around 5 hours, the randomly generated mines and great loot system are enough to keep eager players happy. For fans of platforming adventure games, Steamworld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt is easy to recommend.


Grade: B


Excellent risk-reward system
+ Satisfying upgrades
+ High replay value
– Poor Combat Mechanics
– Reptetitve gameplay




Kyle Brown

Kyle Brown

Kyle enjoys all things games. From video games to pen and paper games, his interests span the mecca of gaming. When he isn't playing games, he can often be found making them. Kyle is currently in the Game Development specialization at Michigan State University, and he hopes to turn it into a career in the games industry. Â Kyle's favorite adventure games are The Walking Dead Season 1, Danganronpa, Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, Tales from the Borderlands, and Machinarium. His gaming interests aren't focused exclusively on adventure games, however. Some of his favorite non-adventure games are Final Fantasy VI, VII, and XII, Mass Effect, Dark Souls, Shadow of the Colossus, The Last of Us, and The Unfinished Swan. Â When not gaming, Kyle loves to watch movies and read in his spare time. His favorite movie is currently not known, as he cannot pick from his growing list of favorites. His favorite book is Ender's Game, with Ready Player One as a close second. Kyle is currently trying to bring back the word 'radical', and his friends wish that he would stop.

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