Not every videogame character has to work as hard as California Gold Rush’s Mandy to earn her keep. For Mario and Sonic, gold coins and rings are scattered across the sky, just within jumping reach. These established gaming icons can just pluck money from the air. Mandy has to get her hands dirty, though, chiseling gold from layers of solid rock. Fortunately for this newcomer, the extra effort pays off, because California Gold Rush is a thoroughly engaging game with a whole lot of depth.
California Gold Rush is a 2D digging game that plays unlike anything we’ve seen before. You might be tempted to compare this game to arcade titles like Dig Dug or Mr. Driller, but the focus in California Gold Rush is more about exploring the mines and discovering riches than fighting enemies or racing against the clock.
Whoops, there goes the canary.
Your miner, Mandy, is a cheerful girl with plenty of charm at her disposal, as well as the regular tools of the trade: a pickaxe, maps and dynamite. For each mine you explore, Mandy has a set amount of stamina that she can use to tunnel through different kinds of rock. The thicker the rocks, the more stamina it takes her to chisel through.
At first, you’ll blindly hack your way through, drawn to the glints of gold in the darkness. As more of the maps are revealed, and you’re deeper below ground, you’ll have to make tough decisions like whether to exert stamina to dig towards the gold, or use your scarce dynamite to just blast through.
The game constantly forces you to consider tradeoffs between gold, stamina and supplies in a very subtle way. Each of the 30 different mines are challenging and full of hidden rewards, and exploring them becomes a gradually more intense experience as you run low on stamina and supplies. Variables like treasure chests (which can bring curses or good luck), cave-ins, bats, gas and lava all help make this game the most unassumingly devious action-puzzler we’ve played in a long time.
The main game itself is fantastic, but a few of the rewards can be slightly disappointing. For example, the history textbook excerpts you unlock throughout the game are pretty dull. While we didn’t really care for the history lesson, there are also five golden idols buried in the mines that reveal the location of a legendary stash of gold, which is a much more interesting bonus to uncover.
California Gold Rush is original, addictive, and provides a ton of quality content. Like Mandy, sometimes game reviewers can feel like they’re mining for gold, trying to separate the few gems from a mountain of rocks. The excitement of finding a vein of pure gold is no less of a thrill for us, and that’s why California Gold Rush earns our site’s highest recommendation.