Review: Ironcast (Switch) - Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review: Ironcast (Switch)

by Sairus

A textbook case of don't judge a book by its cover. 

 The fruit of a successful Kickstarter back in 2014, Ironcast has already been released on Steam, Xbox One and PS4. Now Dreadbit has set its sights on the Switch.

Ironcast is a single player tactical RPG revolving around giant steampunk mech battles with some light roguelike elements. It's also a match 3 puzzle game. With so much going on, Ironcast should probably be a disaster but actually comes together as a surprisingly fun and clever title.

The game has you take the role of an aristocratic mech pilot as you try to fight off a French invasion of London. Piloting one of these mechs, or ironcast as they're known as in game, is a fiddly business as it turns out and you need to manage several different systems simultaneously to keep the whole thing running. This is done using a fairly standard match 3 system of lining up long sequences of colorful squares on a grid.

There are four main resources to collect. Ammo and coolant will power your guns and heat systems. Energy manages your shields and movement. Finally, repair boxes can keep all of these from breaking down.

Once you've amassed enough resources you can begin your assault on the enemy. Combat mostly revolves around spending ammo on your two weapon slots to target and destroy individual systems on the enemy, or using energy to enhance your defenses and evasion. Combined with unique abilities tied to your mech there is a surprising amount to take in during a single round of Ironcast.

This all runs the risk of being overwhelming, but thankfully there is a remarkably well structured tutorial that gets you up to speed with everything very quickly.

This combination of tactical turn-based combat and matching puzzle blocks may sound awful at first, but the two systems blend together shockingly well on a gameplay level. Games are often tense and reward careful juggling of both gameplay styles.

Unfortunately, the same praise cannot be said about the visuals of these sections, which I would argue is the sole reason this game is not as well known as it could be. Where the gameplay meshes together seamlessly, the visuals are a jarring mish-mash of sleek brass and steel interfaces and woefully out of place colorful puzzle tiles. The presentation of the actual mech combat doesn't do the primary game screen any favors as the animation techniques used make the whole thing look like a dodgy puppet show on flat paper backdrops.

I feel Dreadbit themselves are aware of this problem. Trailers for the game tend to focus on the lush visuals, story and mech customization found elsewhere in the title. The actual puzzle combat is often shown only in quick flashes as if they are embarrassed by it.

The story those trailers emphasize is worth some of that focus though as it is a clever beast all by itself.

When the game begins, England is under attack by a French army led by a gigantic, seemingly unstoppable ironcast. This ironcast will reach London in 9 days. For every day of the campaign you choose from 3 semi random missions, which reward you with upgrades. With every mission you complete the invading ironcast moves closer to London giving each battle a sense of urgency as you try to get your own ironcast powered up enough to fight it.

Something that genuinely shocked me during my first playthrough is that losing a mission is a permadeath game over. You are sent back to the title screen and all of your hard won upgrades vanish, leaving you to retry the campaign right from the start.

This could have been extremely tedious, but every attempt at the campaign rewards you with Commendations, which allow you to unlock new characters, ironcasts, abilities and other buffs. Combined with the random nature of the missions, upgrades and equipment you come across in a playthrough, each campaign is a fresh experience. On a perfect run, the campaign is only an hour or two long, but it will take many attempts to get there as the game is quite unforgiving in places.

As this is the latest in a series of ports of the original PC game, Ironcast for Switch comes with a nice set of enhancements for those that have played previous versions. All DLC characters and mechs are included, plus much of the game has been rebalanced to address some complaints about unfair difficulty spikes. It's also fully playable in every configuration of the Switch, including playing entirely with the touch screen.

Overall, I have been very surprised with how much I've been enjoying Ironcast. I put off playing versions on other systems because of  how unappealing the match 3 aspect looked. I rather unfairly assumed it was another shovelware Bejeweled clone being hoisted onto the eShop and put it out of mind. But after giving it some proper play it's actually became one of my favorite Switch games.

The game is not without its flaws - namely the presentation of the core gameplay sections is very weak and the number of mechs, pilots and mission types can sometimes feel lacking. Loading screens also drag a little longer than is comfortable between games. However, the ridiculously replayable campaign plus a genuinely interesting and engaging combat system make it an excellent addition to any puzzle or strategy fan's Switch library.

Final Score: 7.5 

[Review code provided by the publisher]

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