Having never played Steamworld Dig or Steamworld Tower Defense, I didn’t know what to expect with Steamworld Heist. While it may seem like a sour note to start the review on, it’s worth pointing out all 3 games in the Steamworld Franchise are completely different genres set in the same universe. Steamworld Tower Defense is quite self explanatory, Steamworld Dig was a very critically acclaimed Metroidvania Platformer, and now here comes Image & Forms latest game, Steamworld Heist, a 2D Turn Based Strategy game.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward, you can use an ability on each turn, along with moving and shooting, or sprinting a much further distance but ending your turn immediately doing so. For such a simple mechanic the game relies on strategy a lot. Each shot you take, you control. This is 100% important when you take into consideration the ricochet mechanic with bullets that bounce off walls and can hit enemies from behind, along with the numerous amounts of weapons available. This is great to practice your 1337 no-scoping skills on enemies, but due to the smaller 3DS screen, they zoomed in on the action quite considerably compared to the console versions that will release in the not so distant future. Having the enemy and your character (namely their gun) on the same screen is a luxury that you don’t often have. You can always pan around the map with the circle pad, as all movement is done via the D-pad, but when weapons don’t have a laser sight it can be very easy to miss a shot by a couple of pixels due to you physically not being able to see on screen where you are aiming.
Sure, simple option is to get up and close to your enemy, easier to aim, better chance of making some scrap out of your enemy, but this also exposes you to the enemy from probably multiple angles. This game isn’t easy, even on Regular, the baseline of the 4 difficulty options, even early on I struggled to complete some missions, and this is intentionally designed by the developers.
They have stated in interviews that they are trying to make a game that is fairly difficult on the highest difficulty that not even the entire dev team could beat. While this might be fantastic for some players, me personally whenever I see a game with difficulty that’s just +Enemy Units +Enemy Damage +Enemy Health and leaving your stats basics, It’s hard for me to get behind something so artificial like that. Thankfully I found the Regular difficulty a good balance between too easy and too hard, where I needed a good enough strategy to get through the level, without steamrolling through the missions.
Story Wise, it’s fairly simple but does have some build up and unique and memorable characters. To sum up shortly, the Steamworld has exploded off into many chunks where Space Cowbots such as Piper Faraday fight Space Robot Pirates for control in the sector, collecting essential water as these steam driven robots use as currency. It’s a pretty awesome setup, and this is only helped supported by the gorgeous art style, along with superb music and atmosphere in the various bars and outposts you’ll find around as you fly from ship to ship. It’s in these outposts where you can hire new Mercenaries that can join you in missions while also having their own perks with weapon type, speed/damage & personality traits.
Most missions allow you to have 3 Cowbots of any configuration to tackle the mission on hand, whether it be Kill all the enemies, Collect all the swag, escape within a given time limit etc. Some missions limit you to a single character, while others allow up to 4 in total. Most missions in Steamworld Heist are randomly generated aside from pre-defined set pieces depending on the level. While this is great to make replaying levels if you happened to miss out on the 3 or 4 star ranking to gain reputation, sometimes it does make one attempt a lot easier or harder than the other due to enemy placement, room layout, and protection. There’s even a few bosses in this game, which changes the way you have to think about the level being confined with usually 1 giant target opposed to sprawling areas with multiple targets.
The game has enough variety that it shouldn’t get stale, but as this is quite a lengthy game & relies on characters leveling up to gain new abilities and each gun being fairly varied to sustain your interest, There was parts of this game where I did crave for something new mechanic wise. Even though the combat system works fine (aside from the screen issue mentioned prior) and is very solid, it doesn’t really change much, and instead left me with about 5 hours of doing the same thing more-or-less in a row, making it much better to play in small chunks rather than days at a time. The game autosaves every turn, and will penalise you for abandoning /failing a mission, or take away a star (used for reputation) if an ally doesn’t make it through the battle. Depending on your difficulty level this will be either nonexistent, or very penalising.
Review concludes below, review code was given to us by developer.