SteamWorld Heist is the latest entry into the SteamWorld series by Swedish developers Image & Form, following on from the 2013 release of SteamWorld Dig. In this entry, you play as Piper Faraday and her crew, a group of Steambots who are looking to repair Earth after it has been destroyed by an explosion.
The structure of the game is a simple one, and will be familiar to those who have played a turn-based strategy game before. Each mission in the game sees Piper and her fellow Steambots trying to retrieve loot from a group of enemies known as Scrappers, basically space pirates, so that they are able to rebuild Earth and put an end to the Scrappers’ tyranny. Each turn in the levels is split into two parts, Steambots and enemies, with the option to move closer and attack as part of that turn. However, some equipment obtained will have an effect upon this – for example, some weapons won’t allow you to attack after moving, or extra perks might reduce your moving distance whilst offering a stat increase elsewhere. The turns can be a little long in terms of real time length due to the fact that characters move quite slowly, however this is easily resolved by selecting the “Enable skip move” option that is found in the options menu, and will save you a lot of time within each level with a simple press of the ‘X’ face button. The mission ends after Piper and the crew have completed the objective(s) given and grabbed the epic loot, which is usually some kind of powerful weapon, and activated the escape pod to return to the Steambot’s ship.
Even if, like me, you’re a novice when it comes to this genre of game, the game is easy to pick up and play. The gameplay keeps itself simple throughout the game, without including any gimmicks being added to it – just keeping it as a plain shooter at its base. It will keep you playing with that ‘just one more level’ feel that soon turns into a whole world before you know it thanks to how simple yet addictive the gameplay is.
The main loot that Piper and her crew are attempting to obtain is water, a resource once abundant on Earth that has now become scarce in supply thanks to the aforementioned explosion. Water in this game is used as more than just a collectible – it’s the main source of currency. You’ll be able to use the water that you have obtained in the game to buy new equipment for your Steambots, such as new weapons to help you with that mission you’re stuck on or just to bolster your offence otherwise. It also serves as a way of recruiting some Steambots into your crew, each of which has a different ability to help you progress. Be warned, however, because if you die or abort a mission within the game on anything above casual difficulty, you’ll lose water you have earned on the mission which can lead to some severe consequences. Oh, and there are plenty of hats to collect within stages that you can then use as a visual prop for your Steambots, because who doesn’t love a game with collectible hats?
At the end of each mission, dependent upon how many objectives you meet or how many Steambots you survive with, you’ll be awarded with reputation stars. These serve as a way to progress on the main over-world map, with certain areas being blocked off unless you have gained a certain amount of reputation points, which is mostly designed to ensure that you are fully prepared for that area. Reputation points also serve as another way to recruit Steambots into your crew, with some only being available to recruit by obtaining a certain amount of reputation, as well as allowing you to buy weapons from shops.
The shops are mostly found in the SteamWorld’s space bars, with one of these being available on each world, as well as spaceships which are also found on the world map. These bars serve as a vital information point, just like they would in real life, with patrons in them often offering information and clues about the whereabouts and secrets of the Scrappers that Piper is currently seeking. Each of these bars just oozes charm out of every pixel of the 3DS’s screen possible, with each bar offering its own unique atmosphere, made by the fact that there is a live band that is playing a completely original song in each of them. It really feels that the Steambots share human qualities and enjoy the same past-times, only that they have had to be relocated due to the explosion.
The Steambot’s ship is one of my favourite places in the games, which is a good thing as it’s an area where you spend a lot of time. It’s obvious that Image & Form have taken extreme care in designing this area, and it shows as it feels that a small community of Steambots, all of which you end up caring for. Talking to any Steambots that you have recruited on your journey usually activates a small conversation between Piper and that Steambot, giving details on its life before the explosion of the Earth, and will sometimes be interrupted by another Steamboat on the ship – giving the illusion that it’s almost like these Steambots have all formed a friendship and are replicating how humans speak to each other within their community when a new neighbour moves in. Some Steambots will also make reference to the mission from which the player has just returned, for example if all went to plan then they will congratulate Piper, but if the Steambot died then they will make reference to that. It’s a small detail so easily missed, but it adds a ton of charm to the game.
Whilst the whole of SteamWorld Heist looks visually stunning, to say otherwise would be doing a disservice to the game as each of the Steambots and the levels themselves are so well designed, the world map’s design stands out to me as one of the best designed places in the game. Each of the icons representing the levels looks great, with the size of the icon representing how important that stage is to the story (the boss levels are about 3 times the size of a normal level, just to give an idea) but that isn’t even my favourite part of it. Behind the entire map design is an incredibly stunning background, showing the galaxy and planets which the game is set in, giving you the illusion that you really are travelling and fighting through space. Honestly, given the quality of the design, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if it were based on an actual photograph taken, which has then been drawn to reflect the style of the game itself.
It goes to show something for SteamWorld Heist, when the only drawback I can find for the game is that there is no way to change the equipment that your Steambots are wearing outside of levels, instead if you want to change it then you have to change it before going into a level and complete that level for it to actually save what you’re wearing. However, this is such a minor detail it doesn’t affect the game that much at all, it can just be a minor pain when it comes to selling unused equipment for more water.
In SteamWorld Heist, Image & Form have made an amazing game with plenty of substance to keep you coming back, and have somehow managed to top their great work on SteamWorld Dig, which is charmingly referenced to multiple times throughout the game. It oozes charm from every corner of the game’s design and has that “just one more stage” feel to it. I honestly can’t recommend SteamWorld Heist enough, even if you are a novice to the genre.
Review copy provided by Image & Form
Review originally posted on NintendoFeed – http://archive.nintendofeed.com/2015/12/review-steamworld-heist-3ds-eshop.html