Image & Form have made a name for themselves in the Nintendo community, seeming to come out of nowhere to deliver SteamWorld Dig a few years ago. The game released to praise from critics and players and cemented the developer among the Nindie Elite. This in fact wasn’t their first outing nor even the first SteamWorld game, that honour goes to SteamWorld Tower Defense which while enjoyed by those who played it was mostly unknown thanks to being exclusive to the ill-fated DSi store. With every new SteamWorld game, Image & Form use their universe of steam powered robots in a post-human future to explore a completely new genre. Tower Defense was well, it was Tower Defense. Dig was an exploration platforming game, and now we have Heist which throws spacefaring automatons into turn-based strategy action. I don’t want to give away the entire review but suffice to say, Heist keeps the SteamWorld streak going with another fantastic entry.
Heist is a turn-based strategy game, played from a 2D side-on perspective. Each turn you can perform a number of actions per character, dependent on their abilities and equipment. Generally you have the option to move, shoot, defend, or forgo your second action to move a greater distance by sprinting. You can change up your options and in some cases gain an extra action through the use of items and gear. The formula will feel familiar to people with general turn-based strategy experience but at the same time the perspective makes the game play differently to your typical isometric or overhead strategy game.
Moving around a world map, you can choose to visit planets for story events and missions, or bolster your inventory at stores. While exploring you can also recruit new team members, as long as you meet their requirements which range from completing certain missions to having enough reputation points from good performance. Each character has their own unique style and these open up further as you level them up. Our main character, Piper, is a captain, inspiring characters around her to perform better, while the ranged explosives expert, Beatrix, gains extra shots when she fires if she didn’t move during the previous turn. Combat is chiefly through gunplay. Finding cover, shooting at enemies and strategically using your limited items will be the formula for success here. The gunplay feels particularly satisfying. Unlike many strategy games your success isn’t determined by a random number generator but purely on your aim. Some weapons will have laser sights to assist with aiming, some won’t, but pulling off beautiful shots full of ricochets to score a critical hit on an enemy is exhilarating. Between the different weapon types, gear and character-specific abilities there’s a huge amount of freedom in how you choose to approach missions.
Missions are generally fairly quick. Whether you succeed or fail, you can totally see how level length was optimised for the quick pick up and play style of the handheld it was originally released on. With that said, the mission length works well on a home console too. Quick mission turnaround allows you to quickly try your hand at a new mission, and gives you a chance to easily iterate or adjust your strategy if you are defeated. Difficulty is adjustable too, with different levels of difficulty offering greater challenge and bonuses to character experience if successful. I found that on Experienced I was often failing missions the first time, before coming back with a revamped strategy and rolling on through. At one point I did change down to standard difficulty and personally found it offered a reasonable challenge but how you find the difficulty will depend on your experience with the genre.
Playing Heist on the Wii U brings with it some fairly significant changes to ease of play, with a bunch of interface niceties related to the GamePad and generally larger screen. For example, on 3DS with its smaller and lower resolution screen, you had a limited window through which to view the play area. You could pan the camera about to get your bearings and aim shots but having a huge 1080p canvas to see the game area makes a huge difference. The resolution also allows Image & Form’s artwork to truly shine. The same character artwork and animation was used on the 3DS but the difference is night and day when compared to the detail you can see in characters and environments thanks to an HD display. The GamePad also shows a map of the play area which is a nice convenience, albeit one I didn’t find myself using much given how easy it was to pan across the environment on the main screen.
All in, SteamWorld Heist is a fantastic entry in the turn based strategy genre. The visual style is trademark SteamWorld and shines on the Wii U, while the gameplay feels more direct and impactful thanks to its reliance on player aiming rather than chance. The way the game encourages creativity in missions by having short missions with easy retries and seemingly endless character and gear combinations means you never feel like you’re out of options when trying to approach a mission. Image & Form are on a roll with the SteamWorld series, with Heist being a fantastic steamy interpretation of the turn-based strategy game.