Review: SteamWorld Heist for Nintendo 3DS

Water you waiting for?

I missed out on SteamWorld Dig when it was first released on Nintendo 3DS, but the word of mouth about it was enough for me to be first in line when it eventually came to the Wii U. Since then, word came of another game in development called SteamWorld Heist, and while it promised to keep a lot of what made SteamWorld Dig great, it also promised to do something new as well.

Which stands to reason — the original game in the series was not SteamWorld Dig, but SteamWorld Tower Defense for Nintendo DSi. If the name didn’t make it obvious, Dig was as different from that as Heist was from either.

I was once again among the first to want to check this title out upon its release, but due to some malfunctioning of my Nintendo 3DS and a snowballing of other obligations, I’m only now able to review it.

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Like I indicated above, SteamWorld Heist is not a sequel to SteamWorld Dig. Perhaps “pseudo-sequel” might be fitting, but not much more than calling Mega Man X a sequel to Mega Man 6. That is, there is some familiarity because they take place in the same universe, but that’s about it, as the timeframe seems to be years later, following the destruction of Earth.

As such, you won’t see much in the way of familiar faces here (though Rusty gets a brief reference). Instead, a new crew of steam-powered robotic space pirates/smugglers led by Captain Piper Faraday are the protagonists for this adventure. Piper’s crew is decimated in short order after the start of the game, but you’ll regrow her ranks over the course of the game as you go about various missions and performing good deeds for the unfortunate folks dwelling on the outskirts of the galaxy. Not only must they contend with a rogue faction of undead Scrappers, but delve further into the machinations of the Royal Empire — and whether these two are linked.

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Gameplay takes the form of turn-based strategy across various randomly-generated 2D ships throughout space. As you board each with a given number of crew mates (who you’ll equip before each mission), you’ll have a number of goals to take care of before escaping, with destroying turrets or certain targets and gathering all the loot you can being the main ones.

Standing in your way, of course, are the crew of the ships you’re invading. While avoiding the enemy is technically possible (I think), the main thing you’re going to want to do is take them down to get through, though certain ships will dispense an ever-increasing number of robots to stand in your way the longer you take. If things get too hectic (or simple), you can adjust the difficulty before each mission.

The meat of the game comes from the gunplay involved in raiding each new vessel, though. You have a few different types of gunners, including those who use automatic weapons, friendly-firing explosives experts, and my personal favorite, the ranged targeting (i.e. sniping) shooters, whose scopes give them a better idea of where their shots will bounce/land from a greater range. Following a certain physics model not unlike Worms or Gunbound, your shots will bounce around while within their given range, and you can use this to perform a variety of trick shots to do everything from knock the hat off of an enemy’s head to sending them to the scrap pile. Of course, pretty much anything you can do, so can they, so be careful and make the most of the cover you find!

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Between levels on the map, you’ll find different bars, taverns, stores, and other places of business from which you can gather intel, side missions, or simply purchase items. As in SteamWorld Dig, the folks hanging out in these establishments are entertaining and full of character, much like your crew. Altogether, there’s a very believable world to immerse yourself in here, furthered by the charming and delightful character designs and dialogue delivered by everyone around.

On the subject of items, though, the one big flaw I had with this game involved the rather limited space you have in which to keep your items. The idea is not to hang on to anything you don’t need, but even then, the space feels a bit tight for even that. You can purchase additional boxes that expand your inventory for an ever-increasing price, but you’ll still find yourself being faced with having to sell something you don’t want to — if only because you found a new weapon on a mission and haven’t even been able to try it out yet. The starting weapons that each crew member has doesn’t take up any inventory space, yet anything else will, whether equipped or not.

It’s not a huge flaw, but it can be a nagging and persistent one — especially when the dialogue keeps talking about how you’re going to keep the bazooka you just sold off after the mission because the stats didn’t seem much better than what you already had. I’m still wondering if that was a mistake.

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Without a doubt, the SteamWorld series — er, franchise — has to be one of my favorites going on right now. I’m not a huge steampunk nut who glues gears onto everything I own, but everything I’ve seen in these games so far is sincerely enjoyable, regardless.

Also, I have to give a tip of the hat to Captain Piper here. If a game with a strong female protagonist interests you, then this is probably worth your time. She doesn’t come off as anti-male or anything like that, but simply happens to be female and gets things done. If anything, she reminds me of the Samus Aran we thought we knew before Metroid: Other M in a lot of ways, and that’s alright by me.

Come to think of it, if Shovel Knight can have an amiibo, I think Rusty and Captain Piper deserve them, too!

If you don’t happen to have a Nintendo 3DS, SteamWorld Heist is slated to come to just about everything else under the sun sometime in 2016, from Steam (fittingly) to PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Wii U, and iOS. Whatever your platform of choice, be sure to give this one a look. There’s plenty of content for players of all skill levels (including New Game+), so you should definitely get your money’s worth.

SteamWorldHeistBoxSteamWorld Heist was released for the Nintendo 3DS on December 10th, 2015 at a price of $19.99 USD.

A copy was provided by Image & Form Games.

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.