After the beauty that was and still is Steamworld Dig, I did hope to see more from Image & Form Games, as they had proven to be quite the solid studio already to me. I was incredibly excited to see that their next game would take on a totally different concept, by going from a Metroidvania mining-game, to a sidescrolling strategy-game with bullets that ricochet of walls. This was neat, and going from underground to outer space was a neat contrast as well. When I saw that Steam Powered Giraffe was also on board for this ride, I bought it and played through it the day it came out on my 3DS. Nowadays, I have it on every console I have, and let me explain to you why.
Taking place after Steamworld Dig, the earth has been shattered in multiple pieces and we follow Captain Piper and her crew of space-rebels traveling across the galaxy in order to gain what is left of the water and take on missions in order to survive. While there are still scrappers to fight (which are basically pirates made out of scrap), their adventure is not as simple at first. The plot overall is basically you playing as a freedom-fighter or rather a metallic version of Robin Hood, where you will fight of threads in order to save the galaxy.
However, Steamworld Heist makes it clear that it wants to take you on a simple adventure, where the plot is rather an excuse to get you further in the game. With that said, this is an incredibly charming game, with plenty of silly moments, showcasing it wants you to have fun. Every new area is introduced with an over the top narrator from the ’50s with the same quality canvas screen, and each are both over the top and adorably self-aware. The characters add to this by being charming and diverse with only traits being there for the extra spice, and all are wonderful. For example, Seabrass is an elder bot who misses sailing and yet has a troubled memory with the ocean as well, and Valentine Butterbolt lost everything he had, but tries to stay positive with terrible jokes.
Speaking of, that is something the game does magnificently. There are so many jokes, puns and even lore that is so clever, I could never stop smiling. For example, there are bots running on diesel and feel superior to the steambots, and then there are the names of the characters that has something to do with their build or backstory. This made me search out any banter whenever I was in the hub-room, as all opportunities to see the characters shine or crack some jokes were worth it. Lastly, the style of the entire game is engaging and entertaining. When you are a rebel space-pirate made out of metal and fighting against diverse creatures with clever lore, you can’t really be much cooler.
Story Score: 9/10
Turnbased 2D gunfights! And hats.
So, yeah! This is an odd genre-mix of 2D sidescroller and turn-based combat, with minor details that make this all not just work, but become an excellent concept. Before we get to the meat of the game, I want to establish its structure. The game provides different missions, with some being optional, and others were needed for progression. In each, you will get to know how many characters you can have with you, the amount of stars to be ranked in, and what special treasures to get. Each character is distinct in abilities, by having options to use normal handgun or a special type, like shotgun or guns with scope. However, they can also come with passive or active abilities, such as gaining one penetrating shot, or doing more damage if he/she gets hurt.
Outside of this, there is your hubroom to talk to your crew, travel to merchants to purchase helpful items, deadly weapons, hats for fashion, and gather new crewmembers. These can be gained through purchase (with the currency being water), or through showcasing your reputation through the number of stars you have gained from missions thus far. As you start a mission, you choose who to take with you, one gun each, two items for passive or active use, and a hat for the sake of looking dashing. This is important to consider for each character, as you are never sure what they should have and all are different from each other. Should, for example, the strongest character with a bazooka, have more defense as he might be dealing friendly fire to himself, focus more on close combat and give him a pair of knuckles, or rather make him a tank and instead trade it out for a healing item to use once. Questions like these are what makes Steamworld Heist provide an easy to grasp, but hard to choose planning-aspect. However, the combat is what makes this a triumphant title.
Within the combat, you can choose which character to control first, move him/her to either orange-spot for being able to do one action, or a blue spot to get further at the cost of not using any ability or firearm. If you choose to step on an orange tile or not move at all, you can either aim and shoot or use one of your abilities. Shooting is incredibly fun, as shots ricochet of walls and this provides good strategies, especially since only scopes show where your shots will go, and characters’ arms will slightly tilt up and down. It provides a good amount of challenge where you need to be accurate and skillful, but also tactical in case a shot would be slightly off. You need to be aware of where and who might be vulnerable, and where to hide in cover, which happens automatically as long as you are by any vertical construction. Just don’t do this near a flammable barrel.
Speaking of, while the mechanics are great, the levels work wonders around them to make this a fantastic setup. Not just with obstacles to take cover by and high and low altitudes with solid or hollow platforms, but also due to the locations’ design, such as straight or oblique sceneries to shoot from, giving the game a lot of options. The enemies are also diverse and start simple with brutes and sharpshooters, and then goes over to flamethrowers and aliens that teleport short distances. With details added, such as headshots giving 50% chance of a critical hit, or shooting in the knee making them not able to move, you get a lot of options. Not to mention, you can also shoot of their hats and steal them if you wish to.
Speaking of, treasures are all over the place and you need to stop at their location in order to take them with you, and while you can find solid weapons and items in the levels, you will also need to purchase them. Outside of this, the crew who joined in on the mission will gain experience points, which are shared among the members. Whenever one levels up, they will gain a new ability, which can be passive, active, or just a stat-upgrade. These are always valuable, but do not shun you in case you want to mix up characters and try another tactic, which is welcoming. It is interesting that this too works so well, as this game can be demanding and test your skills, but this is done gradually and with good difficulty-curve, with the first area being a fantastic tutorial, the second a good next step with more concepts introduced, and a third where you are challenged to the max. Failing a mission will give you some penalty, but nothing you can’t shrug off. Even if it is slightly unfortunate and the money you lost is sour, it will definitely be because of your fault.
After about 10 hours of play, Steamworld Heist starts, progresses and ends on perfect notes. The tension is always at a high, mistakes are punishing, but never unfair, and at no point was I bored or felt unchallenged. I am impressed that this idea worked as well as it did, but it pulled me in and I can definitely say, it lasted just long enough to make me wish for more, but still be satisfied when the credits rolled.
Gameplay Score: 10/10
Standing taller than a giraffe!
I want to first focus on the soundtrack, as it is fantastic and a bit of fanboy in me comes forth. The game consists of strings such as bass, violin, and guitars, giving it all a western feel, with a hint of metallic and abstract implementations, depending on whether you are fighting alien-ish creatures or the royal guard. It is a clever way of creating atmosphere, and I love how detailed it is. However, I would not expect any less from Steam Powered Giraffe, which is an excellent band consisting of animatronic human beings, with a sense of steampunk of course. Their genre goes far with western and other ambient tracks, and are also known for folk and vaudeville, all with a hint of comedy. I love how you will hear them play at bars, or even at the end of a grand mission, showcasing that you can take a break and let the peace and satisfaction sink in. Of course, the action itself is wonderful with each gun sounding satisfying to fire and diverse depending on the weapon-type, giving even the weapons a form of personality outside of their functionality and visuals. Speaking of, my God is this a gorgeous game.
All three areas are distinct, with ships representing who you are attacking and the backgrounds change depending on where in the world you are, giving a sense of scope and diversity. The same goes for the enemies you fight, such as the diesel-driven royalists, or the scrappers made out of metals. However, the star of this show is your crew, being so delightfully creative in their looks. Payroll being a rich bot and literally rolling around with his wheel, Valentine being an older model, and more give every character a distinct visual trait by being clever in their design, such as where the oven is placed. The action as well lends itself well. Since they are animatronics, the puppet-motions works perfectly with them, with every shot and attack being satisfying to witness, especially when it goes in slow-motion and someone is destroyed. Outside of this, lighting is fantastic, all characters have distinct scrambled voices, and I want to say this again: you are space-cowbots. Going all out with this creativity is just amazing.
Presentation Score: 10/10
Going for the perfect shot
There is a satisfying element to go for 100% completion as you will always be able to gain more out of missions, which is worthwhile and satisfying. You won’t get anything for gaining highest rank outside of a couple of hats or guns (which is odd when you are basically done with the game at this point), but it is engaging nonetheless. Besides this, there is a satisfying new game plus, where you start with every character you found in your first playthrough at level 0, giving you a lot of options for how to take on your second playthrough, especially when some missions have randomized layouts. You will also have all of your hats available that you gained, so looking for new ones or being fashionable from the start is always a great option. Oh, there are also 5 difficulty-levels with the harder difficulties providing more XP, so you will find the challenge right for you!.
Extra Score: 9/10
I am impressed. Going with a sort of opposite take compared to their previous game, really paid off and then some. Fantastic strategies that are simple to grasp, yet hard to master, fun detailed mechanics, brilliant and creative presentation, filled with charm, humor, and personalities. With this title, Image & Form Games is definitely reaching new heights.