In a wild-west themed post-apocalyptic world ridden of humans and only inhabited by robots, Rusty, the hero, just received a claim to an old mine from his uncle Joe. The latter apparently disappeared while digging ever deeper for traces of an old civilisation that existed long before their time. The folks around the town of Tumbleton knew old Joe as a bit of an odd one, always bringing back to the surface weird objects he found, as well as heaps of precious minerals. Some would probably say that his engine's running but there's nobody behind the wheel. Nevertheless, Rusty arrives to see why he got the claim only to find out that his uncle's dead already. However, since he's there, he might as well just start mining himself, since there seems to be some pretty valuable stones still down there for him to find and sell at a good price.
This serves as the premise for the action happening in the game. Players, controlling Rusty the robot, will have to dig their way ever deeper down into Joe's mine, exploring caves as they go and taking back to the surface any minerals they find to convert them to dollars, which in turn can be spent on purchasing upgrades and tools expanding Rusty's capabilities and making exploration easier. It's really an exploration game at core, which is what leads it to be compared to Metroid.
The comparison comes across as a bit of stretch, though. Indeed, Rusty will need to acquire new powers through upgrades in order to reach every possible area in the game, but there's no real areas that players come across as being inaccessible that haven't already been visited at least once to reach the end of the game.
In that sense, there's not exactly a time when progression through the story will need to be stopped in order to go back and explore what was missed before because of not having the right tools. Rather, these times will always be compulsory in the progression towards the end and not optional, unlike in Metroid games.
Digging deeper and deeper, the trip back to the surface becomes longer as well. Those trips are compulsory too since the robot can't hold an infinite amount of minerals, so in order to make room for more, the inventory has to be cleaned from time to time. Thankfully, teleporters are sometimes found along the way, saving the hassle of having to climb all the way back up. These, however, are not found very often, and portable ones must be purchased using the rarer currency or pearls. These don't seem to come in an infinite number either and are required to purchase the best upgrades in the game as well, so the player may found themselves hesitant to spend those hard to find pearls on what becomes quickly a basic necessity. That being said, by the end of this review play-through, there seemed to be a quite large amount of them left unused even after clearing the game, so it is definitely safe to purchase a fair amount of them without risking running low on pearls at the end for the most interesting robot upgrades sold in shops. Exploration for more upgrades and minerals, as silly as it may sound, proves incredibly addictive. It really has to be experienced to be believed!
On top of all this, it turns out that a new hub mine is generated every time the game is played, meaning no two play-throughs will feel the same! Also, in a Minecraft fashion, all changes made to the big vertical mine are permanently saved, too, as more ore is dug out. Apparently, only the side "puzzle" and "platform" caves - the ones that do not retain the modifications made - are those that are not randomly generated. How cool is that?!
It's not an endless game, though - make no mistake. There is indeed a bottom to it, and down there resides the thing that apparently brought the destruction of the ancient civilisation, which has to be destroyed. It's not a very long game and, according to its creators, it can be played both at a leisurely pace, or speed-run through! Judging from the ending achieved after an approximately nine-hour play to collect absolutely all the minerals and pearls in the game and beat the final boss, it's also quite possible that there could be multiple endings based on the overall playtime (kind of like how Samus undresses in Super Metroid).
SteamWorld Dig from Image & Form has a fairly simple concept at core, and yet it feels incredibly addictive. Digging for ore, permanently shaping the world from the digging and carving exploits, killing the enemies unearthed along the way and watching out for the massive boulders that threaten to fall on heads and result in deadly squashing feels unbelievably rewarding; more so than would have initially been believed, anyway. It feels ultimately like an interesting cross between Minecraft (minus the creative factor), with the likes of classic games such as Boulder Dash and Mr. Driller, which are some of the most addictive games ever made, so it's not a comparison lightly made!