The Beautiful Grind

Consider the grind. It is never a good thing. It serves only as a stopgap to an insurmountable boss. It’s boring and time consuming and halts both the flow of the game and any sort of fun. But there is a certain satisfaction in seeing your characters grow stronger and watching numbers go up.  This is the core of the RPG. The whole genre can be reduced to: get stronger to beat harder enemies to get stronger to beat harder enemies. When this happens naturally during the course of the game it’s not grinding, it’s gameplay. It’s only when the flow of the game stops does grinding turn sour.

But if you were to remove all the plot, characters, graphics, new settings, dialogue, enemies, and (most importantly) the numbers themselves could grinding be fun?

Could it be… the best game you ever played?

Available for only 200 Microsoft points (i.e. SoftClams™) on the XBN Indie Games service, Miner: Dig Deep is easy to overlook. It’s graphics certainly don’t inspire any confidence. They’re excessively simple and clean, lacking even a pixely quality that could give the game a retro feel. Instead they look more like something that was whipped up in Flash. All smooth vectors. However, spend even a few seconds with the game and all thoughts of its low budget aesthetic will disappear.

The game world consists of the miner, a store, and thousands of feet of earth. The store offers upgrades for the miner. The earth offers precious ore with which to sell to the store. The game can be summed up as: dig to get ore to sell for better equipment to dig deeper to get ore to sell for better equipment. The perfect grind.

The game is amazingly addictive. It’s one of those games where you sit down to play for five minutes and find that ten hours have gone by. There’s several reasons for this, the first being that oh-so-delicious grinding impulse. Though the upgrades are only better mining equipment they allow you to dig tunnels with more efficiency. There’s a very balanced curve at play here. The more expensive ore is located far down where the earth is densely packed. It takes stronger equipment to get to it, but when you do, it’s worth the perfect amount to afford the next level of upgrades. The game is constantly hitting that little reward center in your brain. Either with new equipment or with more valuable ore.

Secondly, the game suggests no “best way” to tackle the mine. You’re left up to your own devices on how you want to dig and where you want to go. What’s more, it makes you traverse all the way back up to the store, and all the way back down whenever you have a load to sell off. This may sound tedious, but by making you revisit all your tunnels-all the choices you’ve made so far -the game provides a real sense of ownership. This is your mine. You made it. These caverns and crawls are all your doing. It’s a feeling that games don’t often provide.

Lastly, there’s always something new to see. Your lamp in the game is represented by a circle of light that slowly shrinks as your oil runs out. Inside the circle you can see any boulders or ore that might be in the dirt. Bigger lamps provide bigger circles with which to plan your route. Though you know you’re only ever going to find ore or boulders, your limited sight adds a compelling reason to keep playing. You know that there’s something just beyond your lamp light. You just need to go and get it.

So… go out and get it! If you have a 360 there’s no reason to skip this game. Dig greedily. Dig deep. It’s the most fun you’ll have grinding since… well, ever.

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