I remember once, as a child, heading into the back garden and starting on a project. For a time, it was the most important thing in my life. I achieved little of worth, but it was time well spent; I was digging a hole. Who knows what you’ll find in the deep? In a British garden you’ll uncover stones, dirt, worms and if you’re lucky, a bit of old crisp packet. But elsewhere? Gems, gold, ancient artifacts, and… a Balrog?
My love of digging holes has faded over the years, yet I still remember the pang of jealousy I felt when I went around to a friend’s house for tea and he proudly showed me a hole he’d dug. The hole was a good three times bigger than my own. He’d even uncovered a root from a nearby tree, the arrogant jerk…but I digress. The reason I’m telling you this is because recently my love of digging has been rekindled by Gem Miner 2, the sequel to one of my favourite phone games so far. Does it fulfil the high expectations left after my first foray into the depths? Read on to find out.
Games like Minecraft appeal to the hole digger in me, the part that thinks that there might be something amazing behind the next rock. But what if you take everything else out of the game, no buildings, no monsters, no plot, just you and a pickaxe. What are you left with?
A few years ago I played a web-based flash game called Motherload. This was followed by a number of similar games on both iOS and Android devices. For iOS users, try iDigIt, a similar game with significantly improved graphics. For android users, we have Gem Miner.
When placing the dynamite, he didn’t notice the cloud of explosive gas…
The premise of these games is simple; you have layer upon layer of rock and a small craft with which you can dig. Ore and other valuables are scattered around the underground, with more valuable ores found deeper down. You’ll encounter hazards as you dig, such as gas pockets, rocks and small chasms that will damage you as you fall.
Gem Miner 1 and 2 distinguish themselves from the other series by doing away with your craft. The vehicles in iDigIt and Motherload are equipped with thrusters that will power you back to the surface once you’re finished mining. Your concern is simply the level of fuel in your tank, if you have the fuel, you can get out. In Gem Miner, you can’t climb back out, you rely on placing ladders that you carry around with you. These ladders, purchased from the shop, are a valuable and highly limited commodity. You’re constantly trying to decide if you have enough ladders to dig just a little bit further and still make it back. Getting stuck means calling for help, and calling for help will cost you all the minerals you’re carrying.
You missed a bit, over there.
Consider this scenario. You’ve dug down, and have just enough ladders to escape. Your bag is bulging with minerals, but there’s one last chunk of gold below you. You have to have it! Sure, you could get it on the return trip, equipped with a fresh batch of ladders, but people don’t become mining legends that way! You survey the map, and notice that earlier you dug down to about this level and already placed ladders, just further to the right. You have an idea, what if you grab the gold, and then dig sideways to the other shaft? It’s almost too easy! Except that you don’t notice the small ravine while digging, and fall in. You’re now two levels deeper than you wanted, and start desperately digging in all directions hoping you’ll find a way out. It slowly dawns on you though, there is no escape. You’re going to have to call for help; you’re going to lose not only all of your minerals, but that very piece of gold you’d worked so hard for. This is Gem Miner’s greatest strength; it’ll punish you for risk taking, but never too much. You’ll lose a bag’s worth of minerals, but you’ll be back in the mine the next day, trying it over again. Who knows, maybe next time your risk will pay off.
Gem Miner 2 expands upon the original in almost every way. The traditional “freeplay” mode, which pits you against one giant mine, has been extended to include museum artifacts and character levelling. While the character levelling is only a minor addition, it’s a welcome one. Dig enough, and you’ll be rewarded by the ability to increase your stats, which let you dig faster, fall further, etc. The challenges from Gem Miner 1, smaller games with specific tasks, have been expanded in the form of Expeditions. Split into three difficulties, these new challenges have much more varied and interesting tasks. One sees you defrosting miners who’ve been caught in the ice, while another grants you a limited supply of food and ladders, and tasks you with escaping back to the surface. It’s clear that a lot of attention has gone into the development of this area of the game in particular. The developers also hint that more of these will appear in updates.
This chap looks a little chilly, 4 minutes in the microwave should do it.
Perhaps the most significant step up from the previous outing is the graphics. The original game was clearly designed to be function over form, a great game where the visuals weren’t really a concern. For Gem Miner 2, you get both. The textures are higher resolution, and better looking. The character animations are great, and there’s a new lighting engine that has rocks cast shadows. This means that you can’t see for large areas, and need to make careful use of your tools to work out where to dig next. The characters themselves have been given proper dialog too, each expedition has a small plotline, and the characters in freeplay mode will talk to you. You might uncover other miners down below, who will warn you of upcoming danger or thank you if you’ve helped them in some way.
Overall, I have no problem recommending this game. There are plenty of new things for veteran players to do, and none of the original game’s charm has been lost. Newcomers will find a challenging but fair game which keeps you coming back to go that little bit deeper.