The definitive Nintendo 3DS game of 2015 is here. No joke.
As months progressed, there were reasons to be worried with SteamWorld Heist. The original concept, where you would travel through space to do sidescrolling strategy missions, was abandoned in favor of a mission map. Next to that, Image & Form promised a meatier experience and how could it keep being fun throughout a lengthy campaign? Ultimately, all these worries didn't matter. None of it mattered. It disappeared when I started playing SteamWorld Heist, which will be remembered as one fantastic game.
Let's cut to the chase. Why should you be playing SteamWorld Heist? Well, the game is incredibly novel. Heist is a sidescrolling strategy game, in which you travel from the left to the right. You will move your characters with the D-Pad and take it all step by step to reach your goal. Regardless of the difficulty setting that you pick, mistakes are very easy to make. Sprinting ahead means that you will be ganged up on by one or more enemies, which will take you down incredibly fast. While some competitors have to resort to cheap tactics to provide challenge, SteamWorld Heist's AI will quite frankly think: ''You didn’t think this one through, huh?''
The turn-based strategy gameplay isn't the only thing that keeps things fun. Most of the weapons that you will be usings are guns, which come in different varieties and stats. You are responsible for aiming said gun at the enemy, and that is more nerve-wracking than you think. The steam-driven robots, which the SteamWorld series is known for, will wobble with their guns a bit and it takes time to learn all the ins and outs well. Another fact that you will quickly learn is that all the maps are randomized and they will change each time you play them. Outside of perfecting the missions, I just found it fun to enter them again and approach them in a new way.
Leveling up your characters has a purpose, and this will unlock various abilities to make them stronger. You can decrease the amount of turns that are needed to use your special attack, regain 1HP during every turn or learn moves that will boost the morale of your troops. I found that the skill trees were extremely linear, which means that there aren't exactly unique stories to tell. As you complete missions and visit new places, you get the chance to add new crew members to your team. With each having their own attributes, it is entertaining to mix and match until you have a team that works. You can give them utility items to give them safety nets or change up their stats, or give them a different weapon or hat for good measure. All of these items can be bought, but there is a better chance that you find them as you pick up loot during missions.
Talking about the mission-based structure, there are actually many redeeming qualities to it. You are free to select the difficulty before entering one, so you can adjust the experience in the way you see fit. Harder missions will grant you more fun stuff, but clearing the extra objectives is harsher if you decide to go for it. Each difficulty gives you experience differently, so more experienced players may want to crank it up more. Another thing is that the missions have little in the way of backtracking, which is great in my book. Instead of traveling all the way back, you will find your way to an escape pod and get the heck out of there.
This is what makes SteamWorld Heist so elegant for on the go. The missions are snappy. You can play one, close your Nintendo 3DS and simply be satisfied. It is a gigantic departure from Dig, but the risk was well worth taking. The game is brutal when it comes to saving though. It will save after every move you take, so if you think that you can shut your system down and simply restart the mission, you are dead wrong. There are consequences that you will have to face, like losing a bunch of currency (water) in the process. This makes getting everything right so fun, because you have to work for it. Even on the lowest difficulty, there is no way to escape without giving something up.
One thing that I should touch upon is the setting and story, which I adore. This epic adventure is set in space, and your ship (called Deva Ju) will attach itself to other ships to interact or fight with the robots there. They have personality to them and the banter between the crew in particular made me smile. Every time that ship attaches to something, it feels like a simple step away from something brand new. It is simplistic, even a bit more so than SteamWorld Dig in some regards, but it does the trick so well. The colors are bright, the atmosphere is moody and the 3D is very nicely layered. Add to that the sound effects and music, which are nothing short of great, and you have something that just plain works.
SteamWorld Heist is another excellent game from the folks at Image & Form. While I wish that the skill trees were less linear, I honestly have nothing else to complain about. I loved the gameplay at every step, which is very well thought out and requires patience from the player. Players are also firmly challenged to try out the difficultly settings and see the constant changes to maps they already visited. There is a display of confidence here that I missed in some other titles this year and that is where the heart of the developer lies. I am ready to play this now all over again!