From the study halls of Digipen, whose alumni include parts of the teams behind Portal and Portal 2, comes an epic tale of digging, rigging, and more digging. Sounds as exciting as bathwater, right? But I'll bet you a load of rare minerals that once you get started in Dig-n-Rig, you'll lose your evening. Maybe more!
Dig-n-Rig's creators, a team of students at Digipen, describe this free game as "a 2D, futuristic, mining simulator that combines resource management with creative building mechanics." That is like calling Minecraft a "logistics and surveying management experience" or Canabalt a "look into the experience of an Olympic athlete." It's so much less and yet so much more.
There is no real simulation or management in Dig-n-Rig, not in the conventional sense, unless you count checking for bottlenecks and keeping out of the blast radius as management issues. You are Diggit 6400, a robot designed to reach the core of the Earth. Behind him is a sea of white coats — scientists who provide him with new technologies. That tech is not cheap, so Diggit has to transport minerals back to the surface where he can exchange them for more rigging equipment, upgrades and items. Not only do you scoop your way down and down, but you also get to build platforms and ladders (the "rig" part of the title) to help you make your way back up. Nifty!
As Diggit digs deeper down into the dirt, he encounters environmental hazards, giant caverns, and mole people. The journey isn't really that far, but it does take some time. Diggit needs to periodically upgrade his wireless signal, which determines how much further he can descend. Upgrading his three drill bits gets him through the dirt faster, while explosives are useful for some mass mining or taking care of the mole folk — somewhat antsy for you invading their world. Fortunately you are a cold, unfeeling robot. Soon enough you have a jetpack, which like all jetpacks opens the game up to a whole new level. Well, you stop using ladders, any way...
All this, as mentioned, comes at a cost and is paid for by minerals you mine. Unlike Minecraft, which hides its minerals with the zeal of a neurotic squirrel, Dig-n-Rig's walls literally explode with the stuff. Nearly every pixel you drill or blast apart seems to yield a bounty of the Earth's secrets. To get these upstairs, you have to construct a network of conveyor tracks and scoopers to do the carrying. These you also need to buy, but they are cheap. Diggit uses a lot of rigging equipment and visits to the Lab — the game's shop — are frequent. Fortunately you can call up the store menu no matter where you are.
Analysis: So far this review has referred twice to Minecraft, the indie hit of the past year. And it should probably reference Terraria, I Dig It, Mega Miner, and Motherload, as well. Dig-n-Rig is not Minecraft nor any of these other games, except that both involve obsessive amounts of digging. The Digipen team created a straight-forward platforming experience: you'll have your head wrapped around it in minutes, despite the busy tutorial area. In many ways it resembled the Robot Wants series of games and plays just about as well.
In all honesty you can rush to the bottom — the only restrictions are your WiFi range, drill upgrades and investing in a jetpack. There is no avoiding the mining and rigging, as you can't afford the upgrades otherwise, but Diggit can reach the core with a minimum of environmental disturbance. Yet the hypnotic lure of rigging systems and high explosives can be very strong — don't be surprised if you end up blasting and mining every inch of dirt between the surface and the core.
Sadly this is where the novelty ends. You might go back and play a few more times, but eventually Dig-n-Rig shows its limits. Being a student project, it lacks all the elements you require in a full title and more resembles a prototype or ambitious browser game. While mining and such is fun, there are only so many approaches to it. The journey to the core is not that long and once you rock some decent upgrades and technologies, no hazard or creature from the deep is much of a match for Diggit. The selection of tech is limited as well and the biggest portion of your riches will pay for rigging gear and items.
None of that is raised as negative points against Dig-n-Rig. It's simply to illustrate that this is still only 80 percent of a game — a fantastic idea and a great framework, but not a full experience yet. It also bears mentioning that there are a few bugs and interface design issues. But the core mechanics are nearly flawless. If Dig-n-Rig ever does take a turn towards or inspires a fuller game, it will be very, very popular!
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