You got tactics in my platformer!
I’ve always had a fondness for turn based strategy games. From Civilization games to Final Fantasy Tactics to Tabletop RPGs they have always found a way to draw me in. So I was very pleasantly surprised to find that this game was a turn based strategy game, though it looks like a 2D platformer. Throw in some Angry Birds or Worms Armageddon and you have Steamworld Heist.
Steamworld Heist takes place in a world where all the “lifeforms” are robots most of which are steam powered so they need water to keep going. The exception to this are the royalists, they run on oil and consider themselves superior to steambots. Wherever they go they take what they please and destroy anyone who says otherwise. This creates conditions that are difficult for our heroes who are just trying to make ends meet and keep themselves going.
The story is fairly simple, Piper is the captain of a ship looking for some crew, and along with the pilot, Wonky, they are gonna do just that. To do they they need to travel across space looting as much water as they can find and protecting themselves from pirates and royalists. It has a very Firefly vibe to it in this regard. Eventually the threat the royalists pose to the crew’s livelihoods requires the heroes to strike out against them and stop them from becoming even more powerful by preventing them from utilizing a mysterious new powersource found on an alien ship.
All of the characters are likeable and funny and bring something to the table. Each sporting their own speciality weapon types and personalities. Piper is your no nonsense captain, she leads the crew by giving allies near her bonuses to attack damage. Wonky is your pilot, considering he’s literally built into the ship he doesn’t do much else. Some of the crew who joins Piper is Seabrass, a veteran crewmate who favors a shotgun. Sally a rural girl who likes the SMG. Ivanski the heavy artillery weilding circus bodybuilder. Valentine the pun wielding sniper. There are more that join you and not all are mandatory, but all are entertaining. This is actually one downside of the game for me, too many playable characters made it so that I never really touched some of them. The earlier crewmates were just so much higher level I was less motivated to use new members. Nonetheless, I let them aboard and gave them a home!
Like stated earlier Steamworld Heist is a turn based strategy game in a 2D platformer presentation. Essentially each level determines your mission and how many characters to send. During your turn each character can move and perform a main action. This action is usually shooting, however items and abilities add other actions that can be performed like healing or extra shots. With your move action you select which position you’d like your character to move to, you can trade your primary action for moving further. Your character will automatically take cover if the space selected has it. The interesting spin on all this though is rather than performing combat actions automatically you have to actually aim your shot. By adjusting the firing angle on the character’s arm you determine whether or not you hit or miss. Shots can ricochet or arc depending on the weapon making shot possibilities endless. Certain weapons have a laser sight which gives you a better idea of where your shot will hit making it easier to hit from a long distance. Once you’ve completed the mission goals and gathered all the loot you want to pick up, you gather the party at the escape pod bay and end the level. After each level you see how much water you collected, which is currency, and other treasures you picked up. Each character that survived the mission will also receive experience towards leveling up. This adds some RPG elements to the already genre mash-up of a game. Each character learns new abilities every level and can be equipped with different weapons and items collected or bought throughout the game.
I am reviewing the 3DS version of this game which utilized the 3D effect by adding just a little bit of depth and separated the foreground from the background just a little bit, it was a nice touch. Every character is uniquely designed and creates quite the ensemble. I never lost anything in the background and was able to see every asset clearly. Nothing is jaw dropping amazing but it is all simple and solid and primarily works, which is what matters most in a strategy game. There is a little shield symbol that will appear over a spot that will provide cover, which is nice since it’s not always clear what provides cover and what doesn’t. Some cover are actual barricades that come out of the floor once you get into place. There is a nice overworld map where you travel to each location. The levels themselves look like something you’d find in a standard platformer and more of the map and what you can see is revealed as you travel through doors and hatches. Scattered around the map is loot represented by sacks and chests.
On top of the fun gameplay and humorous crew you can collect hats! The hats are collected by either getting it in a loot sack or shooting it off an enemy head and picking it up off the floor. Yup! You deliberately aim to shoot hats off so you can keep them. The hats range from standard caps, bowlers, bandit hats, etc. to the ridiculous like unicorn and robot head. It doesn’t really add anything to the combat but it helps you customize each character and adds a little fun to the overall experience.
Steamworld Heist has the pick up and play of a mobile game with the added depth of an rpg and the skill of a strategy game. The result is an addicting experience with a lot of different options in terms of play style. Different levels work better with different character groups and approaches. The enemy types, stage hazards, and the occasional boss keep things interesting and keep the game from getting stale. It’s a slight bummer that the soundtrack doesn’t have any standout tracks and that the huge cast means some characters get less playtime. Don’t let this deter you though from what will be a fantastic experience!