There are dozens of “match-three” games similar to Bejeweled and Candy Crush in the games market. The roguelite, Ironcast, has its foundation in the classic matching style, but it adds a twist: a compelling, interactive steampunk story.
Now, Ironcast has been around for a while. You may recognize the turn-based strategy game from the Steam, PS4, or Xbox One marketplaces. This month, it was released on Nintendo Switch – a surprisingly great match.
The success of Ironcast is found in its story. I’ve played games that attempt to make a simple puzzle more interesting by tacking on a story. Generally, these fail to impress, because the narrative has nothing to do with the puzzle mechanics. Ironcast is different. The story and puzzle mechanics work hand-in-hand to immerse the player in another world.
In the Ironcast world, the year is 1886. The British and French have been at war with each other for over a decade, a war fought over a newly-discovered clean energy source. They battle each other with giant, walking vehicles, called Ironcast. You begin Ironcast as Commander Aeres Powell, an electrical engineer who turned to battle after losing her family in the conflict. Other commanders can be unlocked later in the game, and they all have detailed back stories and special abilities. Most of them are wealthy engineers, but I particularly enjoyed the quirkier characters thrown into the mix.
After selecting a commander, you choose an Ironcast to control for your entire campaign. These mechs can be leveled up by spending XP won in battles. Resources (called scraps) are collected throughout the game by matching tiles in the combat screen or completing missions. Scraps can be used to purchase mechanical upgrades for your Ironcast, such as new weapons or stronger shields. These opportunities to toughen up your mech make the once repetitive tile matching gameplay more engaging. I found myself searching for impossibly-long match chains so I could get the most XP possible. My mech needed all of the things.
Your first campaign is nine game days long with one mission being completed each day. The scenarios are procedurally generated, and you can pick between several different mission objectives. Sometimes, your goal is to destroy an enemy Ironcast. Other missions include salvaging components of enemy Ironcast, gathering resources, surviving a certain number or turns, or negotiating for supplies. I liked that I had the option to choose the objective that seemed most interesting to me. I wasn’t a fan of the salvaging missions so I could skip those and pick survival scenarios instead.
Battles are fought and missions are completed through the use of the matching puzzle mechanic. Each color of tile represents a different resource needed to pilot an Ironcast mech. Purple tiles represent ammo. Orange represent energy. Blue tiles are energy. Green tiles can be used to make repairs. Each round allows you to match two chains of tiles. You may take as many actions as you are able with your remaining resources. This means, you can attack the enemy, raise your shields, walk to gain evasion, or repair your Ironcast before or after making the matches. When you are out of actions, you pass, and allow the enemy to take their actions.
There’s a lot to keep track of when playing a game of Ironcast. You need to be able to see how much ammo, energy, coolant, and repair points you have at any given time. Also, you have to figure out the current condition of your own mech and that of your enemy. It’s important to keep track of your special abilities and their cooldowns, as well as your mission objective. However, the game’s UI flawlessly organizes all of this in an easy to learn and easy to read manner. The controls make sense. In the Nintendo Switch release, you can even play the game entirely through touch screen controls. To my surprise, in the touch screen mode, I even found the option to switch the tool tips from a right-handed configuration to left-handed. Fellow lefties, rejoice!
If you fail a mission but survive, the game lets you continue to your next objective. However, if you die in battle, your campaign ends. At each permadeath, you must start from scratch, losing all your levels, upgrades, and abilities. Don’t fret about it too much, though. At the end of a campaign (even if you lose) Commendation Marks are awarded. These can be spent at the main menu for upgrades that will affect all future campaigns. You can use these marks to purchase new characters, new models of Ironcast, permanent health upgrades, and more. In order to experience everything the game has to offer, you have to end a game at least once. The Commendation Marks create a fantastically high replay value and kept me coming back to the game when I had lost.
All of this is wrapped into a tidy package with crisp, clean graphics that look just as great on the Switch’s handheld screen as they do projected onto a 55″ TV. Everything is easy to read and a significant amount of information is well organized within the space.
If you have ever gotten caught up in an intense game of Bejeweled, but you are looking for something a little more grown up and challenging, Ironcast is for you. The steampunk storyline creates an immersive experience that is rare for match-three puzzle games.
A Nintendo Switch review copy of Ironcast was provided by Ripstone for the purpose of this review