A bipedal tank? Yes, a walking tank.
Ironcast takes place in an alternative Victorian England (one with a strong dose of steampunk aesthetics) where war has broken out between Great Britain and France (again), after the French discovered a new source of energy called Volite. Britain, coveting what it didn’t have escalated matters, now a French invasion force has landed on the South coast.
The way this invasion plays out in Ironcast is via what at first seems like a simple match up puzzle game, but your score only goes towards generating XP; the focus is on the situation that presents itself in a given mission. But there is still match three puzzling to be done, and here’s (briefly) how it works.
Each colour represents a different attribute that supports the functionality of your own Ironcast: purple is ammo; orange is energy (powers shields and movement); blue is coolant (this is expended whenever a function is used); and green is repair (as individual components can be damaged during combat). Each node represents a unit, and most functions usually require two or three units. It is strangely enjoyable to determine the most effective path to take in obtaining the most of a given node type, which can cross the entire grid, and determining the best way to clear the grid in a productive way in readiness for the next turn.
In addition to the puzzle components, Ironcast also revolves around turn based mech combat. Often the requirements of a mission are to defeat the opposing French Ironcast/Steamtank, therefore matching nodes serves to equip and maintain your Ironcast as you operate its functions. The operating and targeting is surprisingly in depth for what is ostensibly a matching puzzle game, but without becoming convoluted or confusing. Challenge comes from the opponent you are facing, be it in defeating them, or even just surviving.
Survival is a key concern, as Ironcast features permadeath. Although, Ironcast is not strictly a roguelike, as missions are not randomly generated, although the order in which they are made available and the subsequent rewards they provide are. Permadeath is a real threat in this game, but as a punishment, it serves more as a lesson than as an act of failure.
Despite death resulting in losing your current Ironcast and all its loadout, you are rewarded with ‘Commendation Marks’ based on the amount of XP earned during a play-through and additional Commendation Nodes collected as well. Commendations can be used from the main menu before starting a new game to buy new Ironcast, commanders, abilities, augmentations, and boosters. Once unlocked these will be available to use in all future play-throughs. This makes each ‘failure’ still worthwhile as it supports future attempts, in addition to the knowledge gained from just playing the game.
Overconfidence will see your Ironcast go down in flames. Pure offence will not work in all situations. Therefore, either plan for defensive possibilities or be more selective when choosing missions. There are multiple missions to choose from, each time allowing you to go with what is best given your current Ironcast loadout, or based on the type/amount of rewards provided from completing it; although picking around the latter can bring with it disastrous results.
Each play-through runs for eight missions (and takes around one hour) before being left only with the Great Battle of Westminster, where the final boss battle takes place. The prior missions are necessary, not just for providing you with expertise for strategising more effectively but also obtaining resources; scrap and war assets. Scrap acts as currency that is used to buy upgrades for your Ironcast, but it is also used to repair it after battle, which can get costly.
War Assets are equally as valuable, although not as immediately so, their true value does not come into effect until the Battle of Westminster: the higher your war assets the greater the amount that is taken off the final boss’s total amount of health. However, if you’re feeling brave, or reckless, then you can actually take on the final boss early.
Ironcast is another instance of a game coming to the Switch having been on other platforms, yet finding what feels like its true home. It makes great use of the Switch’s versatility of control options, including full use of the system’s under-utilised touch screen. Touch controls are the perfect addition to this version of Ironcast, but the traditional controls (also present on other versions of the game) are equally functional.
Ultimately it is player preference as to how you want to play, with no option being sub par. It’s also worth noting that the game makes great use of HD rumble providing responsive feedback as action takes place on either side of the screen.
There is plenty of replay to be found through multiple play-throughs, helped by the fact that the game rewards you for your time in previous attempts. Plus, each mission is fairly short, allowing for quick bursts of play, but that can also result in going for just one more mission. It’s also a shame that you can’t flip the tables and play as the invading French forces, which might serve to increase replayability.
It offers significant depth for a game of this type, but without requiring hours of your time. It respects your time more than most games that feature permadeath; it is not about punishing the player but providing opportunities to grow and improve. The story acts solely to support the steampunk aesthetic but also manages to have fun with it as well. Now, to find one’s monocle and top hat.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: August 10th 2017
The Switch eShop is attracting a fair few match up puzzlers of late, but Ironcast should be the first one to be considered. It might be a port, but you would be forgiven for thinking this was designed from the ground up for the Switch.