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XBLIG inspection: Miner Dig Deep

An ongoing look at some of the titles available on XBLIG, with an emphasis on both excellence and originality...

Jamie Mann, Blogger

November 16, 2010

7 Min Read

Note: the following is loosely based on the review which originally appeared on http://www.xboxindiegames.co.uk/

Miner Dig Deep is a game I've spent tens (if not hundreds) of hours on.  In essence, it's a cross between Dig Dug and Boulderdash - though it could be argued that there's perhaps a hint of Mr Driller as well[*]. You control a super-deformed miner who is on a mission to make his fortune by extracting precious resources from a virgin mine. Grabbing his pick-axe, he enters the mine and begins to carve his way though the soil...


Viewed via the traditional side-on platformer perspective, there's two halves to the game. Topside is a tranquil, natural paradise with blue skies, rolling green hills and gently swaying trees, in stark contrast to the dark environs of the underground mine. However, there's really only three items of interest topside for the ardent miner: a shop to buy equipment and sell ore, a tent where you can save the game and the entrance to the mine.


Initially, things are quite simple: the mine is filled with "tiled" soil: a few blows from your trusty pick-axe and the tile you're targetting falls away - the spoil magically vanishes, so you don't have to worry about carting it back up to the surface.  Thankfully, you don't just dig blindly in the hope of stumbling across valuable ores: your miner-hat lamp casts a bright circle of light which reveals nearby objects buried in the soil.  However, life is never quite that simple, as there's a number of factors to consider when digging - and it's dealing with the combination of these factors which elevate the gameplay of Miner Dig Deep from monotonous drudgery to an entertaining grind-fest...


First and foremost is the need to carefully plan your digging.  There isn't just ore underground: there's also large numbers of indestructible boulders scattered throughout the soil: not only can these tumble down and block access to a nice seam of valuable ore, but if they land on your head, then you'll be "rescued" and sent back to the surface without the ore you collected on that run.  Similarly, while your miner has a limited ability to climb and jump - he can't get over anything more than two tiles tall and if he falls down a deep shaft, he'll be knocked out and rescued in the same way as for a rock-fall.  Also, you have to avoid digging out too much soil, as this can lead to an earthquake which will send soil and rocks tumbling, potentially blocking your access back to the surface (assuming you're not knocked out during the collapse!).  Finally, there's often natural voids within the soil - chambers and chimneys.  Unfortunately, these are only visible in your lamp-light, so it's easy to stumble into these if you're not paying attention...

Fortunately, the game does provide several tools to help with your navigation woes, ranging from stackable ladders to lifts (which auto-deploy their own shaft, straight down) and a batarang-style rope which can be used to get out of sticky situations, or just for drilling out hard-to-reach ore.

Then there's the need to manage your underground "consumables".  Some of your equipment needs fuel (which can be purchased at the store), including your lamp - and keeping this topped up is vital, as the circle of light it casts diminishes as the fuel drains away.  You can still see the tunnels you've previously dug out, but digging any new tunnels is highly risky, as it's all too easy to dislodge a boulder or fall into a void.  Also, your little miner can only carry a limited number of items, and anything dug out when your bag is full is automatically discarded!


The other gameplay elements are probably best summed up as RPG-lite, as the only way to progress deeper into the mine is to "level up" your equipment: the soil (and ore) gets denser and harder to dig out as you descend, and the mine is divided into distinct 100m-thick layers, with a thin line of ice inbetween the layers which can only be broken through with upgraded equipment.  However, the upgrades can only be purchased once you've found the blueprints which (for some unknown reason) are buried in the mine.  Fortunately, the blueprints cast a circle of light in the same way as your lamp, so it's fairly easy to locate them.  Unfortunately, the upgrades aren't cheap, so the only way to afford them is to head back into the mine and dig out more ore...

All told, that's Miner Dig Deep in a nutshell: the simple arcade-style gameplay (dig out tunnels, avoid rockfalls) is supplemented by a number of conflicting elements which must be carefully balanced.  There's the real-time decisions which must be made while digging: do you risk digging without lamp-light?  Do you ignore low-grade ore in the hope of finding higher-value resources?  Can you navigate around a group of boulders?  Then there's the long-term decisons: which do you upgrade first, your pickaxe, bag or lamp?  They're all vital, but which one comes first?

It's easy to lose hours finding answers to these questions.  However, it's important to note that this is all Miner Dig Deep offers - you grind, grind and grind some more.  Note that there's nothing particularly wrong with grinding - it can be relaxing and achieving the upgrades can be seen as a form of achievement in and of itself.  Miner Dig Deep does have an issue with it's "grind" implementation though: travel time.  Put simply, as your quest delves deeper into Moria, it can literally take several minutes to get back to where you left off.  The lifts do help a little, but it still takes roughly 15 seconds to descend through a level: by the time you get down to the mine's lowest level, the travel time is over two minutes - and during this time, your lamp's fuel is steadily draining!

(The developers did throw some teleport booths into the lower depths of the mine, which give the player a way to instantly return to the surface.  However, these are only one-way, so you still have to use the lifts to return!)


Then too, for all that grinding can be fun, it does eventually pall.  It would have been nice to have some additional challenges or objectives thrown in - for instance, a jigsaw of dinosaur bones which can be dug out and assembled, pit props to repair weakened areas, water which can flood areas of the mine if released, etc. Maybe even a cooperative mode: have one guy dig while the other takes trips back to the surface and deals with problems.  Admittedly, there is a grand finale for those willing to dig deep enough but the reward for reaching it is (perhaps ironically) the ability to start again from scratch armed with your upgraded equipment and money. Which is nice, but is somewhat akin to nuking fish in a barrel: there's no real challenge and the ore you collect is virtually worthless until you get back down to around the 700m mark.

Still, if you're looking for something to plough some serious downtime into, Miner Dig Deep is pretty much perfect.  Though when it comes to coffee-break time, Fishing Girl offers a more tightly focused experience... 

[*] After playing Miner Dig Deep and writing the original review, I actually found an impressively similar game on the humble ZX Spectrum - Gold Mine, released in 1983 (and then re-released as a covergame on a magazine in 1991). It's highly unlikely that this ancient game was an inspiration for Miner Dig Deep - I only stumbled across it when looking for details on another game on WOS - but it's interesting to note the similarities between the two...

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