Review: SteamWorld Heist (Switch)

Return to steam-powered space with this creative re-imagining of the turn-based strategy genre.

By Andy Hoover. Posted 01/21/2018 19:30 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Unique strategic gameplay; interesting story with charming characters and dialogue; gorgeous 2D visuals and perfect soundtrack; plenty of content and replayability; new touch controls.
Poison Mushroom for...
Pacing occasionally hurt by some long animations; progression system discourages experimenting with new characters.

It’s only been a few months since Image & Form made their Nintendo Switch debut with the impressive SteamWorld Dig 2, but the developer isn’t taking a break from supporting Nintendo’s new console. To keep their momentum going, they have ported over their previous game, SteamWorld Heist, which originally released on 3DS to near universal acclaim before eventually finding its way to Wii U as well. Even two years later, those familiar with Heist won’t be surprised to hear the game remains a unique, beautifully polished gem that translates incredibly well to Switch.

SteamWorld Heist jumps into the franchise’s future and takes the action to space, a change in setting that was surprising when first revealed back in 2015 but now makes perfect sense thanks to the events of SteamWorld Dig 2. This time around, we follow Piper, a ship captain traversing the ruins of a shattered Earth as she builds up a crew to fight off scavengers, government troops, and other threats to the innocent Steambots struggling to survive in this chaotic frontier. The plot is surprisingly interesting, and while it might not be the most ambitious tale ever told by a video game, it is written with a lot of charm and paced exceptionally well considering the emphasis remains firmly placed on the gameplay.

While the SteamWorld Dig titles featured a unique take on side-scrolling action and platforming, Heist is actually a side-scrolling, turn-based strategy game quite unlike anything else. Every time you select a stage from the world map, you are presented with a randomly generated level that unveils itself as you explore it turn-by-turn. The number of characters you can take into combat varies from one to four depending on the level, and you guide each through movement and combat phases of their turns as you hunt down swag or take on enemy forces. Your crew comes in a variety of classes with different weapons to choose from and unique skills to utilize, thus making your character selection for each stage vital as some work better than others in particular layouts or against certain enemy types.

Combat generally involves moving into range of your foe, preferably while sticking to the cover frequently provided, and then taking aim to hit them with a gun or special ability, something that can either be done with the joystick or, if you’re playing in portable mode, by using the touchscreen to press where on your foe you want to shoot. Touch aiming might make some shots much easier than in previous iterations of the game, but it can also help speed-up the pace of things. Positioning your crew and shooting down baddies is made more strategic thanks to the evolving array of cover and hazards that litter each map throughout the game. Explosive barrels show up early on, but they are eventually joined by oil slicks that can be ignited or durable barriers that can be used by friend or foe alike. The big bosses that pop up throughout the game also come with unique mechanics and abilities so they never just feel like more powerful bullet sponges.

These gameplay mechanics unfortunately do result in one slight issue. There are times where the process of navigating your party across the levels can become a little tedious as the animations for getting from point A to point B can sometimes feel rather long. When you are first exploring new areas, or are in the heat of battle, this is never an issue, but waiting for large groups of enemies to move or making your way back through a stage to reach its exit can be a drag on the pace. While this isn’t a consistent issue, it does pop up enough to be noticeable.

Heist’s progression system also presents a slight problem. While it doesn’t take long for you to start building up a crew filled with likeable personalities and unique abilities, I frequently felt like I was discouraged from using most of them. Weapons and items found throughout levels and shops are vital for powering up your characters, but so is leveling them up. Since the game only dishes out experience points for beating a stage to the participating crew members, it’s really easy to find yourself relying on only a small portion of them as you progress. Yes, you can technically work around this by grinding already completed stages with different crew members, but that hurts the pacing. At least there is a New Game Plus mode to make experimentation a little easier should you choose to replay the adventure after your first 15 hour or so playthrough.

While the game’s mechanics have a few small faults, the presentation is pretty much faultless. Each character is made of beautifully detailed sprites that are animated very well and even though the stages are randomly generated, the game does a great job of introducing new looks as our heroes enter new parts of space. While the visuals do a great job of capturing the steampunk, space cowboy aesthetic, the sound design is just as effective in creating the corresponding soundscape. Each character has a unique voice made from a charming sort of mechanized gibberish and the music mixes country twang, industrial beats, and even spacey synths for a fantastic and often times atmospheric soundtrack. It’s also worth noting that the game includes some tracks with lyrics from Steam Powered Giraffe, a steampunk inspired band that fits into the game perfectly.

SteamWorld Heist has always been a great game and the Switch version might just be the best way to experience it. Since it was originally designed on 3DS, the game is perfectly suited for portable play and the touch controls are replicated perfectly, here. Of course, it also helps that the core gameplay remains just as good thanks to great design and a unique take on the strategy genre that has yet to really be challenged by other developers. Thanks to these strengths and the incredibly charming and polished audio/visual design, SteamWorld Heist’s minor flaws are easy to overlook, thus making this version well worth experiencing for newcomers and for those who played previous versions.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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