Hands On: SteamWorld Heist Caps Off Switch’s Year-Long Indie Bounty.

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Ya know, back in the 90s and 2000s, getting *any* sort of XCOM style game on your console was a pipe dream. Now we have two on the Nintendo Switch. The deliriously charming Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and soon the equally as charming (and challenging) SteamWorld Heist.

Ya’ll don’t know how good you have it, and to be frank, you have it pretty darn good. Why? Because SteamWorld Heist – arriving on December 28th – is an exquisite side-scrolling tactical shooter that adds to the XCOM Formula by subtracting the third dimension and hit percentages while throwing in a heavy focus on geometry and player skill.

Taking place entirely on a 2D plane, SteamWorld Heist’s gameplay finds the player aiming at enemies with pistols, shotguns, explosives, machine guns, and more in vertically complex, cover-littered rooms filled with barrels to hide behind, explosives to…explode, and goodies to collect.

Each of the game’s recruitable characters come with unique stats and classes, and the key is mixing and matching them to your satisfaction – a good balance of accuracy, power, and flat-out mayhem is the key to success in a given scenario.

For example an enemy may be hiding behind a box, a tile or two in front of an explosive barrel. You can take aim with a laser-sighted pistol, aim at the ceiling, ricochet the bullet into the enemy, and land an immensely satisfying slow-motion one-hit-kill head shot. You could also aim with a grenade or rocket launcher for the explosive barrel, and cause a cascading medley of fire and brimstone.

Of course any number of the equipment options could come into play, too. Maybe you simply toss a grenade, or use your melee-boosting brass knucks and punch the enemy into oblivion.

Taking aim and using the geometry of the level is as important as weapon selection and intensely gratifying. You’ll be ricocheting shots off walls, blasting up through trap doors, feeling like a BAMF while doing it. Kills result in a terrifically satisfying slow-motion explosion of robot parts – made all the more rewarding when that kill comes as the result of a banked shot or via the use of a character ability. Some of my favorite gaming moments this year have come from impossible shots I pulled off in this game.

Safe to say, SteamWorld Heist is a game you play, but also a game you play *with*, lending levels massive replay appeal as you strive to achieve a full-star rating on each; which means no one can die, and you grab all the ‘epic loot’ you can.

By most estimates, the game should run between 12-13 hours if you breeze through everything, and a lot longer if, like me, you’re striving for perfection and not particularly…good at the game. Which is a minor caveat. This game is tough. And playing through 2/3rds of the campaign on the second highest difficulty, I find myself tasked with lowering the difficulty to make it all the way through, or simply playing *better* than I had before.

It is a strategy game at heart, and a player needs to thoughtful regarding how to approach groups of enemies as the game goes on, from small choices like who you want charging into the fray of battle first, to big choices like equipment load out, and hat selection. I have a tendency to blast my way into room with grenades and rockets. Recently I’ve found this strategy confounded by enemies with shields that need to be disabled first. So I need to adjust.

As it stands, despite the questions regarding if I’ll be able to beat the game, I’m over the moon with SteamWorld Heist on the Nintendo Switch. It’s bright, colorful, unique, and just
feels good. Even though the game’s a couple years old, it feels fresh. There are some annoyances – inventory management is cumbersome in a PS1-era RPG sort of way. The difficulty curve seems to spike toward the end of the game’s second act (as it probably should), and the story and writing, while good, primarily serves to as a clothesline on which to hang missions – which is sort of a double-edged sword because you know there’s a guy at the developer who has this entire incredible world mapped out in detail. At the same time – with gameplay as good as this and gameplay as good as it is in SteamWorld Dig 2, less is probably more.

Additional special mention goes to the music which is by these guys and, well…awesome:

As 2017 winds down,rumor has it indie games that find their way onto the Nintendo Switch find new life – garnering new attention and better sales on Nintendo’s hybrid console then they did on other platforms combined. A combination of goodwill toward the Nintendo Switch and a player base that’s always eager to try weird and unique things, makes certain games especially appealing on the platform.

SteamWorld Heist seems like a good candidate for that. The sort-of-sequel to this game, SteamWorld Dig 2, has been met with acclaim by gamers and critics. Bringing SteamWorld Heist to the platform – DLC included, is a no brainer. What I was not expecting was just how much of my brain I needed to use, and how exciting it was actually using it.
SteamWorld Heist is currently available on Windows, Steam, PS4, PS VITA, Linux, and iOS. It arrives on the Switch December 28th