What a wonderful Steamworld.
If Image and Form’s output on the Switch has proven anything, it’s that the Swedish developer isn’t content with playing by the rules – Instead believing that to innovate, sometimes you must rewrite them completely. In the same way that Steamworld Dig 2 sought to provide a unique spin on the often diluted metroidvania genre, what with its mix of unique traversal mechanics and rust-powered aesthetic charm, Steamworld Heist seeks to do so for all things turn-based strategy. Originally released back in 2015 for other platforms, the game’s ‘Ultimate’ edition on the Nintendo Switch is an experience well-worth gearing up for a second time.
Set a couple hundred years after the events of Steamworld Dig 2’s finale, Heist’s story plunges you into the far reaches of space. As ragtag pirate Piper, captain of the roguish steambots, only by docking, looting, and evacuating will you be able to plunder your way to victory across the galaxy. Steamworld Heist’s wildly different change of time period and setting is quite apt given the shift from platforming to turn-based movement, but never hinders the feeling that you’re jumping back into this world thanks to the warmly familiar comic book visuals.
Since set amongst the stars this time around, your space-faring quest is one that sees you plunge into the depths of other galactic freighters as opposed to that of the underground. Armed with a plethora of weapons to acquire, hats to don, and robot pirates to recruit, Steamworld Heist sees you build up your crew before letting them loose on the various mechanised foes standing in your way. Once docking onto an unlucky enemy gunship, you and a squad of others get to wreak havoc in glorious strategic fashion.
Movement is primarily grid-based on a 2D plane, but where Steamworld Heist shines is in its ability to promote skill instead of chance. You see, whereas other big boy strategy battlers like XCOM work by offering players a likelihood that you’ll hit your target, Heist never teases you just as long as an enemy is in your line of sight. This tact is especially thrilling when using a longsighted weapon, with nothing being more satisfying than ricocheting a bullet to an enemy’s head off a wall behind him.
Satisfyingly slow-paced battles see you loot various upgrades such as health kits, armour, and special ammunition, all coming together to give you an edge in future tussles when plundered safely. Those who are brave enough to do so will achieve that highly coveted three-star rating, and while nothing more than a badge of honour in the long run, getting in and out of an enemy ship with every last bit of loot and a full crew is a reward in and of itself.
Though by no means enough to break Steamworld Heist’s core ‘loot ‘n’ plunder’ gameplay loop, the challenge introduced after reaching the game’s third area makes using any underpowered members of your crew quite redundant. Previous levels are always to hand for those who want to bring them up to pace, but it soon becomes clear that sticking to the same team of smugglers is the best route to victory. Outside of slight stat boosts and specific abilities unique to each character, this lack of motivation to grind up your low-levelled troops feels like an oversight.
Overall, Steamworld Heist is a solid spin-off that shouldn’t work but does.In some cases, in ways that would put other turn-based games to shame. For nearly 15 hours now, i’ve not been able to pull myself away from this strategic take on Steamworld, with Heist easily acting as Image and Form’s most well-rounded game to date – Steamworld Dig 2 included.