Despite their considerably small output, Image & Form is perhaps one of the most prolific independent developers on the Nintendo eShop. That’s all thanks to SteamWorld Dig, a small game that combined many ideas into one ambitious package, which found its audience on Nintendo 3DS. SteamWorld Tower Defense was the developer’s humble beginning on DSiWare, but Dig cemented Image & Form’s credibility as a producer of great video games.
The story follows Piper and her rag-tag bunch of renegade Cowbots as they venture through Deep Space to defeat the force that managed to split earth into three pieces years after the events of SteamWorld Dig. Rather than presenting a linear and vertical world, Heist breaks the gameplay up into missions. Each takes place on a different spaceship and plays out like a micro-Metroidvania affair with the map opening up as you explore and further exploration is rewarded with more swag.
Aesthetically, SteamWorld Heist looks largely the same as Dig – extremely impressive given the ageing handheld’s constraints. The environments are colorful and bursting with life, and each character is beautifully animated. Image & Form said it was a struggle to get Dig running on 3DS at a consistent 60 frames per second; Heist packs in so much more depth, and there’s no compromise in terms of performance.
Despite the aesthetic similarities and the obvious steampunk subject matter present in the SteamWorld series, Heist is nothing like either of its predecessors. It’s certainly a side-scroller, but definitely not a platformer. It’s a turn-based strategy game, with each of your characters’ turns played out in real time. Each turn presents you with a number of options: walk a limited number of spaces to gain a vantage point over your adversaries or forfeit the ability to fire an attack by sprinting. The latter offers the benefit of running further away from enemies while on the defensive. The core mechanics are similar to those found in other strategy games, but it’s accommodating to even the least strategic of players.
In a typical real-time strategy game, you select an enemy to aim for and you’re given a percentage with regards to how likely you are to hit your target. Should you decide to take the shot, a virtual dice is rolled and luck determines whether it’s successful. Heist’s combat is entirely skill-based. After pressing “R” to draw your character’s primary weapon, you’ll need to line up your shot perfectly before pulling the trigger.
Of course, how you aim – and what you aim for – will depend on your current character and your weapon of choice. Captain Piper is a sharpshooter, for example, and her default weapon features a laser sight. It allows for pinpoint precision and makes it easy to pull off trick shots that ricochet between platforms, over barrels, off the wall and right into the back of an enemy Cowbot to deal a critical hit. Shotguns are naturally more powerful than pistols with shorter range, while grenade launchers can prove unforgiving should you miss your target — with the explosive round bouncing back and obliterating one of your own party members. Perhaps the most exciting part is that you must master each weapon type to succeed. Most missions require a trio of party members, and you’re in full control of all three. Plus, you’re free to use either of your character’s equipped side-arms, which vary from grenades to repair toolboxes.
SteamWorld Heist is one of the most engaging games you’ll play on 3DS and, despite its depth, never feels overwhelming. Each mission hides “swag” (more commonly known as loot) within its corridors, which rewards you with increasingly more powerful weapons and equipment as you progress. Heist eases you into the game wonderfully, and every so often a new item will introduce a new mechanic – right up until the closing levels.
There’s also a huge selection of hats on offer, which can be bought from interstellar stores or skilfully shot from the head of an enemy robot. These are a great showcase of the game’s witty writing, as each hat has its own unique description which’ll be sure to make you grin.
Aboard the Déja Vu – the spaceship of which Piper is captain – you’ll have the opportunity to take a break and catch up with your fellow crew members. As you progress through the game, the characters will continue to speak out about their history and interact with each other through small snippets of dialogue. I wouldn’t call it an emotional affair, but it’s certainly an entertaining diversion that offers a little insight into the events that have occurred between SteamWorld Dig and Heist.
The main story, while well-rounded, left me longing for more SteamWorld! By the time “The End” popped up on-screen and the credits rolled, the first word that sprung to mind was “Sequel!” – but I’m sure the same reaction happened with SteamWorld Dig over two years ago. Thankfully, Image & Form seem confident that we’ll be seeing more of the series in the future, with a few small loose ends left unravelled at the end. There’s also enough of a gap between the events of the two recent SteamWorld titles that a potential prequel to Heist won’t feel out of place in the timeline.
SteamWorld Heist (Nintendo 3DS) Verdict
SteamWorld Heist proves that Image & Form is more than competent as a developer. The independent studio has already proved that it’s not afraid to go against convention to shake up its series, and now it’s masterfully rebooted an entire genre. There’s nothing else like it on the market right now, and I can’t recommend the game enough. Newcomers will enjoy its gentle difficulty curve and accessible difficulty options, while I’m sure even strategy veterans will struggle with the Elite difficulty setting. Regardless of skill level, SteamWorld Heist is a wholly entertaining package and offers a great amount of content for your money. I often run at any mention of the the word “strategy,” yet I’ve had more fun with SteamWorld Heist than any other game this year.
SteamWorld Heist is another huge leap forward for Image & Form. It’s more than just a worthy successor: it’s a magnificent showcase for an entire genre.
Originally published on NintendoNews.com