As a fan of all that is steampunk, and as a fan of the Emancipation Proclamation (because who doesn’t enjoy the abolishment of slavery, outside of a certain University of Oklahoma fraternity), I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Code Name S.T.E.A.M. since it was announced by Nintendo. Developed by Intelligent Systems, Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is a turn-based, third-person strategy game that has you play as some old school American heroes, as well as some famous fictional characters in a steam punk world where President Abe Lincoln never had a mishap at the theatre.
When alien creatures invade Earth and threaten humankind, President Abraham Lincoln calls upon The Agents of S.T.E.A.M., which stands for Strike Team Eliminating the Alien Menace. The Agents of S.T.E.A.M. consist of American folk legends, each with their own unique primary weapon and special ability. Henry Fleming has an Eagle Rifle, and his special Eagle Strike attack is an explosion that decimates the enemy. Then there’s John Henry (who I can’t help but imagine Michael Clarke Duncan playing if he were alive and this got made into a movie), with his Bear Grenade launcher and Hammer Blow special attack. And don’t worry, it’s not a boys only club. Tiger Lily is also an Agent of S.T.E.A.M., with her Medi-Mortar that heals everyone in an area (including enemies) and her Healing Wind special attack, that brings everyone to full health around her.
It’s a robust roster of unique characters with unique abilities. Other characters that can make up your team of four include Lion, Tom Sawyer, Randolph Carter, QueeQueg, Scarecrow, The Fox, and Califia. You’ll find that you can make your team to your liking and playstyle, but certain characters will help more than others depending on the level layout and enemies you are facing. Oh, and old Honest Abe? You get to play as him too… in his giant Abe Lincoln mech. And if you own any of the Fire Emblem amiibo, they become playable characters in the game.
Playing off the title and name of the team, there is a steam mechanic in the game that drives all of your actions – it is STEAMpunk, after all. Each character starts with a certain number of steam clouds, and at the end of the turn will replenish a certain amount. Each square of movement requires one steam. Attacks require different amounts of steam depending on the weapon you are attacking with. The only actions that don’t require steam are the Special Abilities and Attacks, but you can only use each character’s special once per round. You can end a character’s turn without using all of his/her steam, and that steam will carry over into the next round so you can do more actions, but the steam will never eclipse that character’s maximum amount.
Then there's the Overwatch mechanic, which can be activated by depleting some of that unused steam during your turn. Overwatch adds yet another layer of depth to the game, where you can carefully plan out your placement of characters, and leave them with a reserve of steam instead of depleting all of it in their turn. If they happen to spot an enemy or one simply walks into their view, they'll automatically attack the enemy. Think of it is an automated self defense mechanic. Granted, it's a situational tactic, so that means it's not always a viable tactic to use.
The steam system is good because it adds more strategy than simple move-and-attack mechanics. You’ll need to get in range for a heal. Or, depending on the mission’s goal, you might want to distract the enemy while Lion sneaks around them and leaps five spaces into the target area to move on to the next mission. Yes, that is a strategy I used at times, and I feel no shame. It’s all about utilizing your team to the strategy you have set, and sometimes that means holding onto steam to accomplish your goals next round.
When you get assigned a mission, Abe Lincoln will fill you in on the parameters, and then you’ll venture forth. A mission could be a single level (usually a boss), or it can have multiple areas to it. In the levels, there are save points that will let you use it as a one-time check/save point, or a one-time save that will let you revive all of your teammates back to full health for a certain amount of gold. Just don’t make the mistake of overwriting your checkpoint with one closer to the end that has you in a bad situation, because then you’ll most likely have to replay the whole level.
You’ll have the opportunity beforehand to choose which characters you want to take with you and what you want their loadout to be. During missions you can collect gold and gears, and after the mission you will be rewarded gold depending on how well you did. What do gold and gears do for you? Well, conveniently placed question, I’ll tell you. Gold is used as a running tally to unlock subweapons, which you can then assign to a character of your choice. This can range from rifles and guns that lay mines, to shotguns and a banana peel shooter that stuns the enemy when they step on it. And depending on how you play with each character, you’ll have options for what utility you want them to bring into the mission.
Then there’s the gears. Each level of each mission has a certain amount of gears you can collect (usually three a level). Again as a running tally, reaching certain gear-collected milestones will unlock new boilers for you. Boilers are also equipped for characters, and they affect that characters amount of steam, as well as other things. So while there are no individual leveling up each character, the progression comes in the form of unlocking new subweapons and boilers.
Now, you might not (and probably won’t) unlock all the subweapons and boilers just from playing the story. I know I didn’t. That’s why (REPLAY VALUE ALERT!!!) you can replay previous missions with new challenges that will make them a lot harder. For instance, you can go back and play one of the first levels, but now you can’t bring subweapons, or you don’t see the enemies’ health or how much steam you have. For replaying missions with these harder challenges and settings, you’ll be rewarded with more gold – a lot more gold. And that’s how you’ll get all of the unlockables. You can also replay missions to get a higher score, which will then be compared to people you’ve Street Passed who have played Code Name S.T.E.A.M.
Now from reading the review this far, you’ll notice that my writing has been positive. And for good reason – I enjoyed playing Code Name S.T.E.A.M. But there are things that didn’t sit well with me, and I know they won’t for some other players as well. The biggest offender in Code Name S.T.E.A.M. are the atrocious wait times. Not the loading times in-between levels, but waiting for the enemy to move and complete their turn. They are really… really… rrrreeeaaaallllyyy long. And usually as you progress in a level, more enemies will spawn, sometimes to ungodly amounts. So after your four teammates complete their turn, get ready to sit there for a while, listening to the sounds of the aliens moving and attacking – or not; more often than not you’re staring at a wall that probably has an enemy behind it in another room, as the progress bar for their turn ever so slowly creeps towards completion. It gets a little better later on when you’re taking out enemies faster and really understand the mechanics, but still, wait times like this are a major annoyance.
The art style is like a comic book, from the character art to the presentation. I think that’s a good thing, but it also comes with comic sans font, and no one likes comic sans font (nitpicking, I know, but it’s FREAKING COMIC SANS!). While the music and sound effects don’t really do anything for me, the voice acting, art, animations and 3D effect make up for it. Now while I like the voice acting and story, I know for a fact that it won't sit well with others, and that's because they are incredibly cheesy. Remember Bobby Zimmeruski from the Goofy Movie and how obsessed with cheese whiz he was? They are more cheesy than that. I think it adds charm, but the cheese level is at an all time high.
While I enjoyed Code Name S.T.E.A.M., it’s not quite at Fire Emblem level for me. The game ramps up nicely in difficulty and provides a challenge throughout, but there are times when the enemy can get relentless, become an annoyance, and make you want to start a level all over again despite the fact that you are at the boss. There’s replay value there if you enjoy the challenge, and it’s a charming, enjoyable turn-based strategy game despite the flaws. And even if the game sucked – which it doesn’t – there’s a GIANT ABE LINCOLN STEAMPUNK MECH BATTLING GIANT TENTACLE ALIENS!
Great characters, deep strategy, but long wait times make up Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.