Honest Abe Wants You…. to Fight Aliens!
By Corey Dirrig
Editor’s Note: Reviewed on a New Nintendo 3DS XL
When Nintendo, a company known for it’s iconic characters and legendary franchises, creates a new IP, many people become equal parts excited and concerned. Some of them turn out great, such as Pikmin in 2001, and others don’t, like Wii Music at the height of the Wii Party Game era. A lot of those same feelings started making their way back when Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. was announced for the 3DS last year. The premise of the game is absurd, as former U.S. President, Honest Abe Lincoln, creates a task force of characters from tall tales and fiction novels to battle an invading alien race in a steampunk-fantasy version of London. The team is called the Strike Team Eliminating the Alien Menace, or Unit S.T.E.A.M. But as a game developed by Intelligent Systems, the team behind Fire Emblem: Awakening, I decided to take a leap of faith, and boy, am I glad I did.
Though the narrative is rarely exciting, the game really emphasizes the great missions and combat. Intelligent Systems has crafted a fun and intriguing battle system set as a third-person strategy game, where steam power dictates everything from how you move to how you decide to encounter the enemy. Once you’re out of steam, you’re out of moves for that turn. However, you don’t have to use all of your steam during that turn. As I progressed through the campaign, I found myself starting to conserve steam so that I could launch a counter-attack if an enemy found me. Playing with the mechanic and finding the right amount of steam to use felt intuitive and unforced, really making me think about situations even in the early stages.
| Code Name S.T.E.A.M. Sing-A-Long |
One of the best things about Code Name STEAM is the variety of the mission types. Some are basic escort missions, others require precise teamwork to detonate a bomb in a certain amount of turns. Balancing my team was especially tense during those missions. As you progress through the fifteen to twenty hour campaign, players unlock new characters and weapons to strengthen the team. Each of the twelve characters has a unique primary weapon and their own passive ability, ranging from dynamic sub weapons to compliments to other characters. Players can also unlock Fire Emblem characters for their team using their respective amiibo from the Super Smash Bros. line, adding four to the existing roster. Taking multiple lineups through missions really changes up the dynamic every time as each character brings a certain element to the table. Battlefields are a giant loot fest for characters, littered with upgrades for jetpacks and weapons, even steam upgrades to allow extra storage per turn. Missions took me to awesome locations reimagined in the steampunk style, like Washington, Buckingham palace, and many settings from the fictional stories that the characters are pulled from. It was an awesome visual treat.
Battles are very intense and thought provoking, making me think about how I was positioned. One wrong move and you’re toast. The different maps often challenged me with different levels of terrain, obstacles, and enemies, sometimes combinations that prevented me from seeing what was ahead. I died on multiple occasions because I failed to prepare for what I couldn’t see on the map. Each enemy type poses their own threats and has their own set of rules, so I was always trying to keep track of the ones I could see. The game isn’t necessarily hard, it just made me feel the tension in the heat of battle.
| Code Name S.T.E.A.M. amiibo Trailer |
One minor gripe I do have with the game, which may not be a problem for other gamers, is the pacing of the enemy turns. I found myself waiting close to two minutes at times. This may not seem like a long time, but when you are in the heat of battle, I found myself taken out of the experience a bit, wanting a fast forward button. What makes it worse, the enemy moves are mostly boring moves, so making me wait felt frustrating. I’m surprised Intelligent Systems didn’t address this notion, as the Fire Emblem games are often faster paced and keeping the player fully engaged at all times.
Overall, Code Name S.T.E.A.M. was a very visual and engaging experience, even if the pacing of the enemy moves was, at times, frustrating. The cell shading is done surprisingly well, and really pops when using the 3D. The crazy premise and the fun characters are really fun, especially since some like Tom Sawyer, Tiger Lilly, and The Lion I hold near and dear to my heart from my childhood. This game is not for everyone, but those who love the tense battles of a strategy game will get a ton from this game. I really hope that Nintendo and Intelligent Systems take a go at a sequel, maybe even one for Wii U, fixing some minor issues from this game. It could really stand out as a great franchise for them.