You may not recall Steamworld Dig, but it’s been out everywhere and was criminally underappreciated Metroidvania game that involved surviving out in a Western/Space world with robots. In case we didn’t get an idea of the talent at hand, Image & Form’s follow-up is entirely different, being more of a tactical RPG than a platformer, initially coming to the 3DS in the form of Steamworld Heist. Even though it’s completely different, it’s got a lot of the charm from the first title.
Steamworld Heist mixes the Wild West with Science Fiction, much like the first game. Each act begins with the setup of Piper’s crew coming to blows with one of three different factions. It’s not exactly the most mind-blowing over-arching narrative out there, but the writing for each character is top notch comedy that is endearing and definitely geared to make one chuckle a little. The overall style of the visuals and presentation is fitting for the franchise, with plenty of derelict ships to raid and Banjo-Kazooie-like grunts for voices of the fantastic looking characters.
The action takes place on a hub world where performance will reward you with stars. Battles aren’t usually all that long, averaging at around 10-20 minutes depending on how many crew members are required for the heist, turrets, and respawning enemies. Generally the tactic is to go in all guns blazing, but the more ambush tactics you can pull off the better. By not losing crew members, finding epic loot, and occasionally other conditions, you’ll get the stars you need to progress.
Controlling your band of mercenaries is relatively straight-forward, acting like a 2D platformer where you can only move a certain distance each turn. If you move anywhere within the orange range that designates the limits of your first action point, you can then shoot at the enemy once you’ve moved, should your gun allow you to do so. Moving within the blue area doubles down your character, making them unable to shoot. As the movement is done using the D-Pad rather than the Circle Pad, it’s relatively simple to aim and shoot, making sure to time your shot right to account for the gun’s gentle weaving.
Death in turn-based strategy games works differently between franchises, and while Steamworld Heist doesn’t go down the “perma-death” route, you do lose valuable ranks on missions should party members die. If you are wiped out, you’ll be deducted funds to rebuild your crew, which are in short supply as it is. You can’t even cheat by reloading in this one as the game auto-saves every turn, which increases the challenge.
The other big disadvantage for a character perishing in combat is that they suddenly fall behind in experience, making them significantly less effective. Levelling up brings new perks to characters, making them more effective teammates. For example, Piper gets the ability to rally those next to her, which can upgrade to expand the range of effect, while Seabrass can hit harder the turn after he is hit for damage. More mercenaries can be recruited with stars, all of which are unique.
None of this is particularly detrimental to the game, but the one thing that does detract is how the inventory and loot works. Sure, it makes sense to need to buy more slots to add more items to your ship, but I felt that during my entire playthrough I was using weapons I’d picked up rather than buying them from shops, as I’d run out of funds to buy more equipment slots. As such, the shops felt practically useless beyond expanding my cargo hold.
I also considered increasing the difficulty mode at the beginning of the game. Normally I will stick to the default difficulty when reviewing, but the entire first chapter of Heist felt like a walk in the park and it wasn’t until halfway through the second chapter that the game showed some teeth. Needless to say I persisted with the default difficulty and it certainly did ramp up as the game went on.
While I wasn’t completely sold on the limited inventory space available, the penalties for death, and the initial ease of the game, Steamworld Heist made for a great time. Tactical combat on a 2D plane is hard to make engaging and the occasional urgency of the short levels made for some badass moments where a sharp shot sealed the deal. A competent, if completely different second outing in the SteamWorld universe.
Version Tested: Nintendo 3DS