Codename: Steam is an upcoming turn-based strategy game for the 3DS.
Developed by Intelligent Systems, the creators of the Advance Wars and Fire Emblem series, it's a unique project that combines the team's strategy know-how with an outrageous aesthetic.
After getting some hands-on time with the game, I can confirm that Codename: Steam's biggest promise lies in its unique approach to turn-based strategy. There are action and even stealth elements blended within a more traditional strategy framework.
At the beginning of each mission, you choose your party from a number of colorful characters, all with his/her own unique abilities, and pick a loadout for each. Once on the battlefield, you take your time with each character — presented in third person, like an action game — and set up his or her actions.
During each turn, you have full control over the movement of the character at your command. You can move, interact with elements on the grid-based board, and attack enemies, all according to the amount of "steam" each character has. It feels like an action game in these snippets, with the caveat that you're watching your steam meter.
When you shoot a weapon, you aim a reticule and aim for a sweet spot. When you move, you have the option to walk slowly and stay out of the enemy's line of sight, adding a light stealth element to the gameplay. Playing stealthy feels intuitive, and that approach yields rewards on the battlefield.
Once your character has used up their steam, you're out of actions, and it's time to set up the next character. Once all of your party has taken their turns, it's time to sit back and watch your opponents do their worst.
On this pure mechanical level, the game has a rock-solid feel. I was starting to get hooked after just a few turns. Importantly, through playing an early starter mission and getting a peek at a much more complicated later scenario, I was able to get a sense of Codename: Steam's depth.
Steampunk Abe Lincoln vs. the aliens
Codename: Steam is unique, not just because it dares to make a deep turn-based strategy game that looks (and plays) a little like a third person shooter. It boasts a fictional world that is pleasantly, utterly bonkers.
Set in a graphic novel rendition of a steampunk London, the game stars such characters as a steampunk Abraham Lincoln (who rides in a Lady Liberty airship, naturally), legendary fictional heroes like John Henry, Tom Sawyer, Princess Tiger Lily (the American Indian princess from Peter Pan) and Lion, based on the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz. And this motley crew has been assembled to fight Starship Troopers-esque aliens from another planet. You get your orders in each mission from President Lincoln, naturally.
It's really wacky, and presented with tongue firmly in cheek. I admit to giggling while interacting with the somehow not-assassinated Lincoln. And there's something pleasing about the multiracial band of heroes cooperating to save the world, in this alt-history setting apparently devoid of a lot of real-life history's ugliness. It's an appealing cast, no matter how goofy the set-up.
You cannot go wrong with the pedigree that Intelligent Systems has. A quick look at the developer's work includes turn-based games from the aforementioned Fire Emblem and Advance Wars series, alongside more outside-the-box titles like Pushmo, Cubivore and a number of WarioWare games. It kind of makes sense, then, that Codename: Steam has such a wacky aesthetic and willingness to mix in other gameplay elements.
if there's anyone who can pull this off, it's Intelligent Systems
Put another way, if there's anyone who can pull off making a deep strategy game based in a cartoon steampunk world populated by off-kilter versions of folklore heroes, it's the folks that cut their teeth making Fire Emblem and WarioWare games side by side.
Codename: Steam is slated for launch in spring 2015 for the 3DS.