Sawbuck Gamer

Utopian Mining

Tunnel Vision

Utopian Mining makes a good argument for a desk job.

By Noah Cruickshank • May 21, 2012

Many browser games can be saved from monotony by a clever story or engaging side characters. A player may perform a simple task over and over again for hours on end, happy all the while because the plot progresses. Some sort of reward is needed to turn the drudgery into entertainment, and in a easy game that usually is a new event or a power-up that changes the play.

Utopian Mining has no such saving grace. The game skates along with the most threadbare of plots, characters with no personality, and play that is immediately boring. Players control a robot that burrows underground to dig for ore. Collecting material isn’t tricky—the robot just needs to walk over a piece lying in wait—so the game requires neither skill nor persistence. After you fill your coffer up with ore, you sell it, and then go back to work, ad nauseam. Ore can be sold for money, but that merely buys the machine equipment so it can do its tedious work faster.

With an interesting main character, or a compelling reason for why the robot acts the way it does, Utopian Mining might have been able to mask its dullness, at least up to a point. Instead the robot digs simply because that’s what it’s meant to do. Apparently the player is supposed to find that riveting. Manual labor is usually repetitive, long, and requiring little brain-work, and Utopian Mining seems designed solely to remind us of those facts.

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647 Responses to “Tunnel Vision”

  1. Arlo says:

    Oddly enough this seems like the game I would want to play to shut my brain off for a while. Sometimes I like mundane objectives, etc. 

    • Effigy_Power says:

       I found it to be exactly that, but I understand the criticism too.
      Why bother with a semblance of a story if this game would have worked without one just as well? Mind you, without any reason to go down there (saving the city really quickly gets discarded for scientific gain storywise) would only be interesting if there was some sort of risk beyond running out of gas… some roaming enemies might have been a good idea.
      It’s fun enough for a few moments, but really doesn’t make me want to go back and finish it.

  2. Marozeph says:

    Wasn’t there a game named “Motherload” that did pretty much the same thing years ago?

    • ultramattman says:

      Motherload is an example of this genre working.  The gameplay is nuanced and surprisingly difficult, the powerups feel significant, and the plot takes some… unorthodox turns.  The most important twist was that you couldn’t drill up, only down or side to side, so maneuvering to a certain gem or treasure could be tricky.  Utopian Miner you just move around.  Slowly.  It’s an ultra-ultra dull version of Motherload.

      • Mr_Upthrust says:

        I think the key difference between Motherload and Utopian Mining was that you have free movement in Motherload, even though mining is still grid-based. “You just move around. Slowly” perfectly captured the difference here. Moving and mining feel exactly the same in Utopian Mining, while in Motherload they couldn’t feel any more differently. Motherload has this great feeling where you are trudging through dirt one block at a time. Then you begin to run out of fuel. At that point, you frantically try to find your way back up and — because you’re probably hitting the ‘up’ key way too hard — triumphantly burst out of the mines. You don’t get that sort of feeling out of Utopian Mining because everything is either ‘move above ground’ or ‘move slightly slower below ground’.

  3. HobbesMkii says:

    Does it seem to anyone else like a lot of the Sawbuck Gamer reviews are about bad games?

    • Enkidum says:

      There’s probably a higher proportion of good games reviewed than are actually out there. I give them props for actually revealing some of the dreck – there’s often a good reason why cheap games are cheap.

      • HobbesMkii says:

        Well, I guess that’s my issue, really. There’s so much trash to choose from it seems arbitrary to review any of it at all, minus those with some sort of brand-name hype or something. I just feel like this space would be better used for highlighting games that are good, even at low price points.

        • John Teti says:

          Reasons we always have and will continue to feature negative reviews in Sawbuck Gamer:

          1. Maybe you’ll find something cool in the game where the critic didn’t. Opinions differ.
          2. Lousy games can be interesting fodder for discussion, too.
          3. Too many outlets treat indie and browser games with kid gloves — an “if you can’t say anything nice…” philosophy. I think that’s condescending and ultimately does a disservice to the less prominent game makers. Better to apply the same editorial standards to games big and small.
          4. “Recommendation of the day”-type features often drift into a “hooray for everything!” editorial tone over time as editors become desperate for content and writers grasp the reality that the only way to get published is to heartily approve of the game in question. So…
          5. The best way to assure you that our perspectives are driven by the games themselves and not by other motivations is to abide by an editorial philosophy where a wide range of opinions is acceptable.

          We don’t go out of our way to look for disappointing games, of course. Writers pitch games that pique their interest, and we confer to choose the ones with potential. The reality is that potential doesn’t always translate to greatness in practice, and the reviews reflect that fact. I think we end up with a more honest take on the state of the small-games art as a result.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          @JohnTeti:disqus I feel like this is the third time in the past few days you’ve had to give me a lecture on the Gameological Society’s editorial policy.

          That said, I guess it’s just felt (to me) like there’s been a spate of underwhelming Sawbuck Gamer selections (at least, the comments sections have not been kind). Perhaps it’s just a bad run. Obviously the masses are not clamoring for reform, so I’ll shut my yap.

        • John Teti says:

          Please don’t shut your yap. It’s nice to have readers like you who care about things like editorial policies. I apologize for coming off as lecture-y! Your fair point deserved a thorough explanation. We had the “recommendations or reviews?” debate internally before we started Sawbuck Gamer on The A.V. Club a few years ago, too, so it’s not like you were crazy to raise it.

  4. Predator Handshake says:

    The game is pretty tedious, but it deserves at least a hint of praise for not having Satan or Pandora’s Box at the bottom of the minable area, or reaching the bottom causing time to loop back on itself or something.

    • caspiancomic says:

       Out of curiosity, what is at the bottom? I played this game for about three minutes before going into a boredom coma.

      • Predator Handshake says:

        It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished it, but once you get all the upgrades or complete all the “missions” somebody tells you something like “great job, you’re ready to get the core!”  

        So you go to the bottom of the game area and drill out the core, which is some green thing, and you win.

  5. Merve says:

    I played this a few weeks ago for about five minutes. Then I punched myself in the face.

  6. Djur says:

    Sounds like a boring game, but I have to admit to being baffled by the repeated suggestions that the game would be better with a more detailed plot or characters. Wouldn’t it be better for it to have, you know, interesting gameplay?

    • Effigy_Power says:

       That’s what I thought. Nobody played DigDug for the riveting character development.
      As I said, this game could have used an actual sense of risk. It doesn’t, and that makes it boring.

    • You’re right, the boring gameplay is definitely it’s worst problem. But I was hoping the game would do something to alleviate that – give me a goal, or a powerup that actually does something! My point was not to say that a plot is necessary, but that when a game is super tedious, like this was, it can help.

  7. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    I played another game almost identical to this one a couple months ago. 
    It was also pretty boring, but killed a couple of hours where I had
    nothing better to do. 

  8. caspiancomic says:

    Schullles Presents: Simon From Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann’s Life Before Anything Interesting Happened To Him: The Game.

    • Shain Eighmey says:

      “Just who the hell do you think I am?!”
      “No one. Get back to digging!”
      “Oh okay.”

  9. memaxar says:

    Another example of this genre done better is I Dig It for iPhone and iPod Touch:

    As far as this game goes, what really killed it wasn’t really the lack of story, but the totally miscalibrated difficulty curve. As soon as you can purchase the highest level of cooling, the game is over. You can dig all the way to the bottom, load up on diamonds, and suddenly you have way more money than there are things to purchase. The developer didn’t try too hard, and doesn’t expect players to either.

    • MesotheleonaHelmsley says:

      I’ve been *pun deleted* Gem Miner 2 for my android. I thought this review was for it based on the picture. Repetitive, but addictive. It’s getting pretty hard to tell what is original and what is the clone with some genres these days.

  10. JosephLillo says:

    Two problems for me, besides those already mentioned:

    1) You MUST have a sufficiently large capacity to finish quests. No giving 10 at a time, though I guess this does introduce the idea of buying upgrades.
    2) It’s extremely easy to finish the game staying solely on the left side of the map (except for the sand quest).

    I pretty much agree with all the complaints on here, and only played this (twice, as it turned out) for the Kongregate points. At least it’s quick.