I know, I know – I’m late to this party. Sue me!
As Jason and Seth can both attest to, Steamworld Heist and I have needed some time to really explore our relationship. Having only just beaten a game that launched back in December of 2015, I realize that this game may be old news for many. I’ll admit, Heist isn’t what I had in mind when developer Image & Form announced the follow up to one of my favorite 3DS games of all-time, Steamworld Dig. Steamworld Dig brought an action based style of gameplay that was addictive & perfect for portable platforms. Many will argue that the Metroid-like formula for upgrading is the hook, but for me the hook was always the relaxing pursuit to travel further and further into the depths of the world. The ability to pull of expert jumps or build a path so perfect that you could escape without the need of fancy upgrades always provided some risk vs. reward. Heist really is a drastic departure from what I had grown so accustomed to with Dig and required some time on my behalf to accept. I’m glad I didn’t allow my dumb connections to the past make me give up on Heist.
As alluded to in my intro – For anyone that has played Steamworld Dig and not Heist, this is a very different game. Dig was an action based game with some platforming set around mining your way deeper and deeper into what lies beneath the surface. If you read any reviews for Steamworld Dig, you’ll undoubtedly see the word(s) – Metroid, Metroidvania, or Metroidvanian listed as a nod that there’s an upgrade progression needed to accomplish throughout the excavation to reach the bottom.
When you boot up Steamworld Heist – Throw those assumptions out the window. Steamworld HEIST is in fact a turn-based tactical/strategy game. As the player you control a party of team-members (as well as their load-outs) in and out of a series of missions connected by an over-world map. Inside of each turn, you have the option to move your respective party members, attack, guard, or use an ability. These tactics can be combined or altered by using objects to take cover or find an advantage – such as the use of a barrel that explodes upon being attacked. This formula is pretty much set in stone but some variety does come in the form of multiple enemy types. Some heavy opponents will need to be flanked, some have projectiles affecting your ability to find cover or move, and you will need to watch out for turrets popping up as well.
Overall the gameplay and mechanics remind me of the Worms series. Both basically use a characters weapon by aiming a target line or estimating it’s arc, that may or not be altered by the terrain in the environment, in multiple rounds attack and defense.
This gameplay loop of beating the mission in front of you is enhanced by acquiring new party-members as well as load-outs and some inventory management. The addition of new characters to the party is most enjoyable as each has their own personality and you can enjoy some friendly small-talk on your ship in between missions. Each character can also be leveled up by gaining experience earned on missions to increase their particular skill sets. Those that really fall in love with this game, will benefit from mixing and matching their party members to get the most out of abilities on the harder difficulty levels of which there are five (casual, regular, experienced, veteran, and elite). As for inventory management, you’ll begin the game with very little space and as you increase your party you’ll need to turn the loot you find into more space by purchasing item slots. During my 11 hours with Steamworld Heist, I had to sell off weapons and upgrades several times as I didn’t have space to carry all of my wares.
While these features do add some decisions to make along your journey, I honestly don’t think the journey would be so interrupted without them. Characters bring new abilities to explore, but I found them more to be a matter of preference than necessity and I would have preferred if each character had a skill tree where some more customization to special abilities were available.
Before I leave gameplay, I will admit that once I got into the groove with Heist I really enjoyed the formula. It’s probably best played on a handheld or mobile device in my opinion, as the ability to jump in and out, play one level here and there is really magnified. I can honestly say it maybe the primary reason I never just moved on to something else and kept playing Heist, it was always a breeze to invest another five minutes.
For me, the presentation is where Steamworld Heist truly shines. The game features a Western/Gritty appearance with clashing accents of neon colors that pop and draw your attention. Having played the game on the New 3DS and I can confirm that the 3D slider added depth to the game that also enhanced the overall presentation (esp that over-world map!). While I’m sure the higher resolution and sharper images on the console versions of Heist are gorgeous, Steamworld Heist on 3DS should not be dismissed due to visual quality.
The charm and style of the characters, environments, and the dialog that can be found within, are the cherry on top of a visual showcase. Captain Piper Faraday and his merry crew provide a pirate-like camaraderie out on the open seas of space. As your party grows, each new character provides a small compliment that makes them unique visually instead of looking like another random robot. This attention to detail provided a small piece of attachment to my party members and definitely influenced how I built out my rag-tag bunch.
I’d be an idiot to not mention the bars that will be encountered along your space-adventuring. Without question, these were the highlights of the game for me. Bars represent a hub to gain access to new missions, new party members, or increase your inventory by purchasing new item slots or the items themselves. But all of that pale in comparison to the classic-western movie feel and wonderful music each bar presents. Every time I opened up a new watering hole on the map I was immediately smiling as I raced to see what the next one had in store. These moments, while may not be instrumental to the gameplay itself, set Steamworld Heist apart from many similar games and always brought a smile.
People usually read reviews because they want to know if a product is worthy of investment. So I’ll save you some reading, Steamworld Heist is worth the purchase, period. You can grab Heist almost anywhere you can think of these days (PC, PS4, Vita, Xbox One, 3DS, Wii U, and iOS) between $10-$15 with it going on sale somewhat regularly. For those that want even more than that 10 or so hours the game provides, there’s also DLC available for the game, but I haven’t play them.
With regards to comparative value, I’d say Steamworld Heist lends itself most to portable play and is probably better on 3DS, Vita, or iOS devices. Immediate games that come to mind for comparison are Worms WMD and XCOM, both of which are more available on consoles than portables and charge twice as much. But even so, those games really aren’t similar once you get away from the core gameplay design.
Judging solely as a 3DS game, this one feels like a must-have due to the high amount of polish and game available for the price. There’s really nothing like it on the 3DS eShop and you’d be hard-pressed to find something as good.
I really wanted this review to just be a short, couple of paragraphs, summary as I know the review appeal for a Steamworld Heist review dried up long ago. Once I began to put each thought down, I kept finding the next one, and the next one, and ultimately felt like I’d be doing the game a disservice to summarize the game in just 2-3 paragraphs. Steamworld Heist simply has a lot more to offer than the first-pitch trailer will let on.
Steamworld Heist is just different. There’s nothing quite like it (especially on 3DS) and for that reason it was easy to keep coming back instead of moving on to the next release. In my time with the game, the affinity for Steamworld Heist grew larger with each mission passed. Whereas I originally felt the game wasn’t living up to Dig and wasn’t hitting that ‘gotta keep playing’ bell in my mind, I ended Steamworld Heist with a fond appreciation of the journey. My only real fault with the game is that I think it is too slow during movement and combat, even when I skipped animations and the game loop grew lightly-repetitive by the end. But even so, I finished the game and remain overly positive on the experience.