Review: SteamWorld Heist (3DS)

A steamy good time!

By Anthony Pershkin. Posted 12/21/2015 09:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Straight to the point design; excellent gameplay; imaginative cast of characters; slick presentation
Poison Mushroom for...
Limited visible area on 3DS might make some shots especially tricky

Nintendo 3DS is no stranger to quality turn-based strategy games, with some exceptional titles like Fire Emblem Awakening and Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. draining away countless hours from our lives. Can a small indie game compete with the best in the same genre? The answer, surprisingly enough, is yes.

SteamWorld Heist is another entry in Image & Form’s Steam series, each new installment of which takes on a completely different genre. The new game steps away from SteamWorld Dig’s Metroidvania-style gameplay in favor of some turn-based strategy goodness. Despite such a sudden change, the charm and unique nature of SteamWorld remains the same. The story of SteamWorld Heist takes us far away into space where a gang of bounty-hunting Steambots is trying to make a living after the Earth was shattered into pieces. Captain Piper and her ever-expanding team of colorful characters dive right into the trouble, saving the world, dooming it, and then saving it again in the process. This type of “unlikely heroes” tale is nothing new in video games, but Heist does it with a lot of heart and a lot of funny jokes.

The gameplay is drastically different not only from SteamWorld Dig, but also from other games in the turn-based genre. SteamWorld Heist functions as a 2D sidescroller, unlike even similar games in the Fire Emblem franchise. You and the enemy take turns, in which every character gets a visible radius of where he can move and do a certain action. The game helps a lot with visual cues by differentiating zones; those where characters can shoot are orange, and zones where character can only move are blue. The second most essential element of successfully getting through the game is getting yourself a cover to create some needed distance between you and the enemies’ bullets. Once you’re in position, it’s time to take aim and shoot. SteamWorld Heist uses a system similar to the Worms series, making you manually aim your gun, while keeping in mind things like distance, spread, and ricochet. The aiming adds a lot of skill to the mix and ends up giving you a very challenging and rewarding experience.

The game’s structure consists of an overworld, a map on which you select the destination of your ship, battle stages, and friendly bars, shops, and secret-filled stranded ships. Every time you select a new location, your ship connects to the chosen place in real time, creating a really satisfying and snappy feeling. The meat of the game, of course, lies in the heart of battle. Every stage is mostly procedurally generated with lots of secret pathways. There is a lot of verticality to the stages, so battles do get really tricky right off the bat. Every mission follows the same path of boarding the ship, doing your objective, and evacuating. The objective could involve looting the place, killing all enemies, or destroying power generators. There is just enough variety for missions to stay interesting and fresh through 15-20 hours right until the end credits. While the bosses are very few, they are some of the most creative encounters I’ve seen in the turn-based strategy genre. And if you find the game too challenging or not challenging enough, there are enough difficulty types to satisfy you. While the leveling up helps a lot, the secret to success in the wild world of SteamWorld Heist lies in smart planning and use of each character’s unique abilities.

In-between boarding ships and fighting through hordes of enemies of three available factions (Scrappers, Royalists, and Vectron), you get to visit shops for a variety of different weaponry and items. The game holds a pretty good selection of weapons, so you will find something that suits your tastes and skill level. Besides weapons, you can also buy different hats to customize your crew. If buying hats is a hassle, you can also shoot the hats off of enemies and steal them. There are a ton of hats in the game, so if you’re into that sort of thing, you’ve got a pretty good collect-a-thon quest on your hands.

On a different note, the shops and bars also excel at giving you a great taste of SteamWorld Heist’s unique feel. In every bar there’s a band of performers singing songs by the real-life band Steam Powered Giraffe. The songs sometimes were so good that I found myself just standing there and listening. The overall presentation of the game feels similarly charming, yet with a great sense of style.

SteamWorld Heist might be small, yet it can compete with heavy weights like Fire Emblem in terms of overall quality. SteamWorld Heist is one of the most well thought-out and fully realized gaming experiences I’ve had throughout this year. If you’re itching for a fantastic turn-based space adventure, look no further.

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