First announced after their Nintendo Direct presentation at E3 2014, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. was a title that truly came out of left field. The company seemed to hit one out of the park at E3, and they continued to surprise with this new IP headed by Intelligent Systems of Advance Wars and Fire Emblem fame.
What Is It?
Influenced by classic comic book material, Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is a turn-based strategy game that takes place in a steampunk version of London. While it’s debatable as to when in time the plot takes place, all anybody needs to know is it was during the time when Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States as it’s been well documented that he makes his presence in the game.
For the most part, you’re put in control of Henry Fleming (loosely based on the Henry Fleming from The Red Badge of Courage), a Captain America-ish go-getter who has a sense of American Dad‘s Stan in him leading a ragtag group of heroes and mercenaries that call themselves Unit S.T.E.A.M. (Strike Team Eliminating the Alien Menace) to stop a pending apocalypse put forth by an incoming alien race. To make things even more hilariously interesting, like Henry Fleming, each fighter in your infantry takes the same name and is loosely based on characters from certain literature and history — you have such people as John Henry from African-American folklore and even the likes of Tom Sawyer from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. While it would be out of the ordinary to call the game a good history lesson, it’s really a unique touch added by the developers.
Why Should I Care?
While it has its similarities to its cousins in Advance Wars and Fire Emblem, the gameplay is quite different from both and plays more like a strategic third-person shooter in the vein of Valkyria Chronicles and XCOM.
Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. doesn’t flood your screen with menus upon menus during each turn. Most of the action takes place in front of you, and the challenge and strategy with every level’s mission is the fact that you have no intel on the enemies or terrain you come across until you’ve actually played on that map.
Intelligent Systems’ other strategy games gave players the luxury of seeing the entire battlefield and planning out how you’ll accomplish the game-winning goal. Most of Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.‘s missions rely on players getting a unit to the endpoint or some version of capture the flag, and while that itself doesn’t have much variety, it’s really the process of getting to the end that’s the real joy.
First off, all the action takes place in a third-person behind-the-back perspective of every character you’re in control of, and you have to keep switching control to different characters to get the best feel of the map you’re on. On top of this, you’re actually in full control of your unit’s movement in addition to his or her attacking ability. Both use up steam, which is represented by a gauge at the bottom of screen. Every space you move depletes one cloud of steam, and using your character’s abilities will take up a pre-determined amount. Steam is then replenished at the start of your next turn, or if you come across steam bottles or hint points on the map.
Oftentimes, the best course of action is to look for higher ground so you can see as much of the map as possible. Ideal things to spot aside from your own characters are of course the aliens, coins, steam replenishment bottles, save points, and gears (there are a select amount to collect in every level, much like the giant coins in the Super Mario games).
The game throws all sorts of curveballs at you in the form of powerful enemies coming out of nowhere, so a lot of times the strategy of dividing your units to conquer all the aliens doesn’t work. Other times, aliens are hiding in the best places to catch you off guard, so even if it’s not your turn, you need to pay attention and move the camera around with your different characters so you can spot what’s coming. If you have some steam saved up, you can defend yourself by attacking oncoming aliens.
This combined with the fact that a lot of the terrain can be done away with, which can be both good and bad in terms of reaching your goal, really gives you a lot of flexibility as to how you want each battle to turn out.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
There are 12 playable characters to run into in the game, and you’ll be able to use four recruits per mission. As you’d expect, each character has varying strengths and weaknesses, and the beauty of it is there’s no way to keep all your bases covered. Again, though the goals in each level don’t vary much, the unpredictable nature of some of the movements the aliens make can easily make some of the missions frustrating. In addition, the CPU seemingly takes forever to make their moves. Most of the time, the long wait is to your advantage as you can use this time to prepare your units with steam saved up to defend themselves, but the excruciating 30-second waits can be a little much.
Those with the New 3DS XL can also use the C-Stick to adjust the camera view or use the system’s built-in amiibo sensor to add Fire Emblem characters Marth, Ike, Lucina, and Robin into the game. It doesn’t make much sense, but hey, it’s amiibo support. You either like it or you don’t.
The game also has a few multiplayer modes for those with friends that have the game. The most enjoyable of which is the general deathmatch mode, but it also leaves much to be desired due to how small the maps are in combination with the 60-second time limit you have per turn. This shortens matches considerably, and they also become super predictable simply because the time limit forces players to just rush their attacks.
It’s Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.‘s self-awareness that really makes the game a winner. The plot, which is pretty much summarized by the definition of the title’s acronym, is as general as it gets and the character dialog is so zanily written and acted that the experience often feels like a classic Saturday morning cartoon.
Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is a new Nintendo IP, and with that, it comes with new experiences and gameplay unique to its brand. Nobody knows if this will become a hot new series, but the game is without a doubt another solid entry to Nintendo’s already impressive lineup of games in the 3DS family.