Do you like rogue-like games? Do you like mech games? Were you a fan of the Puzzle Quest series of games? If the answer to any of these are yes, then developer “Dreadbit” has got a game for you. This marks another entry in the growing line of games that the Nintendo Switch has ported over from Steam and customized for the Switch. Ironcast puts you in the role of an English soldier, armed with a massive mech-like robot, tasked with repelling French forces over 9 in game days, as they try to over run a re-imagined 1886 steam punk inspired England. The goal of the game is to win smaller battles to gather scrap, war assets, and level up your mech, to make sure that you are able to stop Frances final push at then end of the ninth days.
Game Play Mechanics
Before the the ninth day comes and you’re forced to fight the final battle, the game gives you multiple options of battles for you to engage in. Each battle has rewards that you are presented with after you complete it. You’ll earn war assets, scrap, and experience points. You’ll want to take missions with as many war assets as possible, as war assets actually help reduce the starting health of boss battles, making them much more manageable. To be honest, without a fair amount of war assets, you’re probably going to get demolished your first couple times through.
Before each mission you’ll hit the engineering bay, where you have several different options to optimize your mech. You’ll have the option to use scrap to create weapons, shields, and drives, from other mechs that you defeat in battle, all of which you can equip once you’ve created them. You also want to make sure you keep enough scrap on hand to repair your mech between fights, otherwise you’re going to get to that game over screen pretty fast. Additionally, there are multiple pilots and mechs that are unlockable through a “commendation mark” system. Each of these has their own special powers that can be unlocked and equipped or switched around as well.
Once you’ve got your mech set up properly, it’s time to pick a a fight with the French. The battle mechanics are a place where the game really shines. There are enough mechanics to take into account to keep things interesting, but still relatively simple enough that you can pick up the game, play for 15 minutes, and feel like you accomplished something. The bulk of the play happens on the game board. The goal here is to match at least two gems of the same type to gain one of various resources. Unlike a lot of puzzle games, where you can only match by making a line horizontally, or vertically, in this game you can also match tiles diagonally. The game gives you the option to make up to two separate movements on the board per turn.
You get to use the resources gained to attack, raise your defenses, put your mech into motion (making it harder to hit), cool your mech down to make sure it doesn’t overheat, and gather bonus scrap. Each tile match also gives you experience points that scale as your match becomes bigger. There are other tiles that affect gameplay as well. There are link nodes, overdrive nodes, and commendation marks. Link nodes let you link two different types of tiles to make a match that gives you multiple types of resources. Overdrive nodes do the same thing, plus the added benefit of increasing the next attack or defensive actions effectiveness. Commendation marks do the same thing as link nodes as well, they also give you one free commendation mark which is used as currency outside of the game to buy new pilots, mechs, abilities, permanent stat boosts upon level ups, etc.
Once you’ve used up your two matches for the turn, you have to decide what you want to do with the resources you’ve gained. Every enemy has a small tab next to them that lets you target portions of their mech. Ideally you want to attack and lower their shields first, using your purple resource, ammunition. One thing you’ll find out quickly is that, you always want one heavy weapon equipped, otherwise you won’t be able to damage their shield, and they will take minimal damage. As you can see, each system (Weapons, Drives, Defences) has it’s own health bar. Opening the tab next to your own mech will let you use your green resources to repair damaged systems. Ideally you want a solid balance of keeping your shielding high, attacking, and engaging your mechs drive system. When your mech starts to walk, it increases it’s dodge change. Using the orange resource, energy, you can engage your drive and shield systems up to three times each, adding additional dodge chance, and damage absorption. This is where the blue resource, coolant, comes into play. Each action you take causes your mech to start to over heat, run out of coolant and your shields may go down, your accuracy may suffer, etc. The game really makes you do a balancing act to make sure you don’t coast through every battle. Luckily, within that balancing act the game lets use mech abilities, without any resource cost other than the cool down time of the skill. Depending on the skill, some of them are very useful.
The only thing that really bothered me about the system present is that, during the enemies turn, they don’t make moves on the board. In a traditional puzzle match game, you see what resources the opponent has gathered, in this game you don’t. As I already don’t trust A.I, it makes me wonder if the game is just bullshitting me from time to time.
After battle, it’s all about rewards. As we talked about earlier, you’ve got your war assets, your scrap, and your experience points. As experience points add up, you gain a commendation mark for every 5,000xp you manage to gain in a single play through.
If you’ve gained enough experience, you’re also going to get a general level up, that allows you to pick a perk that you can equip to the character you chose to pilot your mech. Much like the mech abilities, you can use these for free as long as they aren’t on a cooldown. From here, you just continue to play and upgrade until you either die, or save England from those dirty, dirty, Frenchmen. Staying true to rogue-like roots, when you die you get to keep your commendation marks, so that you can gain permanent marginal upgrades for your next playthrough. Ideally, after several playthroughs, your mech will be able to stand toe to toe with the final boss.
Replay Value and Visuals
When it comes to replay value this game has it in spades. Outside of the fact that you’re going to be replaying the campaign to upgrade your mech with commendation marks until you can take on the final boss, the unlockables offer some different gameplay styles. Each mech that you can unlock has different stats and abilities, as well as the pilots. If you’re the type of person who is a fan of unlockables, you’re going to find yourself plowing through this game repeatedly to see how different mechs and pilots perform on the field of battle.
Visually speaking, the game is incredibly clean, the colors of the tiles are vibrant, and the world around it is juxtaposed with dreary dark colors of the war ridden world. I feel as though the art style of the game manages to do a service to the “steampunk” genre, while not sacrificing any “crispness.” Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what resolution the game runs in on the Switch. I haven’t been able to find this information from it’s official release page, it’s nintendo switch market page, or anywhere else. What I can tell you is, if this game “isn’t” 1080p, I sure as shit can’t tell, because it looks gorgeous.
Final Thoughts & Verdict
It’s interesting to see a developer take three genres, throw them in a blender, and have something come out that somehow ends up being a perfect blend of all three. No single mechanic of this game feels like it’s over powering any other mechanic, and the flow of battle is almost relaxing to an extent. As I said earlier, this is a great example of a “pick up and play” game, that you don’t need to sink hours and hours into to feel like you’ve made some kind of progress. Flip that coin over though, and you could find yourself sinking dozens of hours into this game, still trying to unlock everything. One final thing worth noting, the port to the Nintendo Switch has full touch screen functionality. If you want to play the game with your joycon controllers, great, if not, have at it!