Code Name S.T.E.A.M. represents an interesting departure from normal Nintendo games. Taking third person shooter mechanics, combining it with turn based strategy, and throwing on a layer of steampunk weirdness, the game is certainly a unique experience. The core mechanics are sound, featuring a diverse cast of characters that can utilize a wide array of weaponry. However, the experience of playing the game is more bland than one might expect from something that puts Abraham Lincoln in charge of a band of heroes trying to save the world from an alien invasion. Along with this come a few development mistakes that end up dragging the entire game into mediocrity.
The story of Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is sort of a mishmash of steampunk and scifi tropes. Aliens are invading the Earth, starting with London. Our heroes join forces with Abraham Lincoln, who has been secretly heading up Unit S.T.E.A.M. (Strike Team Eliminating the Alien Menace). The team, as you find out through the adventure as you discover more and more members, is made up of tons of popular characters from the past. Tom Sawyer, Tiger Lily, the Cowardly Lion, and pretty much any other public domain character from the time period make an appearance.
This colorful cast does give some life, and laughs to Code Name S.T.E.A.M., but only a few. Mostly the characters all chatter on about the alien menace and the overall situation, with very few jokes landing as they were intended. However, the actual gameplay differences between them are quite significant, allowing for some variety to the team dynamics. Going into each mission you assemble your team of four players from the roster of available characters. This will become more important as the game goes on as some characters will work particularly well together, while others are necessary to get certain items.
Once you have your team prepared, you dive into the missions, which can last anywhere from a few minutes to about a half hour depending on how much you rush things. Objectives range from killing all enemies, killing a single enemy, or fighting a boss. Most missions though, simply have you try to reach a goal, which can be accomplished by having only a single character reach the area. This is certainly appreciated, as having to get all four characters to the end would be frustrating. However, it can also lead to some pretty funny circumstances, such as when you use the Lion’s ability to leap over obstacles to jump around almost the entire map and into the goal, all while your other characters are still fighting it out near the starting area.
Combat is handled in turns, but with a few changes thrown into the mix. First off, when it is your turn you are able to move about the battlefield as if the game was a run-and-gun, third person shooter. Squares appear on the ground, indicating the amount of steam necessary to traverse the map. You can move around as much as you want, and the steam will dissipate or return depending on your final location.
Every action you take requires this steam, including firing your weapon. You can use it all up to move farther and shoot a few enemies along the way, or you can save some to go into overwatch mode. This allows your character, assuming they are using the right weapon, to attack incoming enemies as they advance on your team. This is one of the more interesting strategic elements of Code Name S.T.E.A.M. By cleverly using this, and the fact that enemies will become aware of you if they spot you moving around during your turn, you can formulate some great surprise attacks that take out entire groups of aliens. However, waiting for them to arrive at your location is easily the worst part of Code Name S.T.E.A.M.
The “enemies’ turn” phase of Code Name S.T.E.A.M. will easily become known as the game’s greatest faults. Most turn based strategy titles will handle the enemy troop movement and actions in a quick fashion, they want to get you right back into the game after all. But Code Name S.T.E.A.M. instead has you literally sit and watch a progress bar fill up across the screen. Aliens will move about the map, attacking if they come within range, but usually just taking a few seconds to adjust their position or determine that they have nothing to do. This part of the round can easily take around 15-30 seconds each time, and with some maps lasting 15+ turns this can quickly add up.
Players will likely find themselves simply doing other things during this time. Zoning out of the game and watching some TV, or pulling up something on their phone. Every once in a while they might check back in to see the progress bar almost done, or they might just get bored and move on. The fact that there is simply no way to make this part go any faster detracts significantly from the enjoyment that could have been found within Code Name S.T.E.A.M. The pacing is broken, causing players to rush through the game in the least amount of turns, rather than with the most amount of fun in mind. Collectibles are strewn about the map, with each set of them unlocking new items for your characters to use. However, if you haven’t eliminated all of the enemies on the map you will likely decide to avoid going out of your way, as it will incur another round of slow enemy movement.
It is truly unfortunate as, outside of this, the core gameplay is pretty engaging. Combat is a cool mixture of third-person shooter and turn based strategy. Although aiming is likely very difficult on the regular 3DS and 3DS XL, since the game relies pretty heavily on the New 3DS’s C-stick. This becomes even more of an issue, even for the New 3DS, when tiny enemies begin appearing within the game. Aiming at some of these is simply a chore, offering little enjoyment and a lot of frustration. But most enemies are easy to hit, and feature weak points that can be exploited. The alien enemies come in all shapes and sizes, with each variation leading to a different strategy on their part. By understanding and using this to your advantage you can save yourself a lot of effort. Of course, you can also just aim for the glowing part that deals extra damage. And if you get into a tough spot, each character has a special attack that can be performed once per level to deal some extra damage.
Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is unfortunately less than the sum of its parts. The game has a lot of good elements, but the few bad ones drag down the entire game. It’s still an enjoyable experience, but not one that will be particularly memorable. While it innovates in some areas, and presents a fun, light-hearted story, the overall feeling is that players could find more enjoyment in other 3DS turn based strategy games.
Code Name S.T.E.A.M.
- Available On: Nintendo 3DS
- Published By: Nintendo
- Developed By: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo SPD
- Genre: Turn-based strategy
- US Release Date: March 13th, 2015
- Reviewed On: New Nintendo 3DS
- Quote: "Code Name S.T.E.A.M. presents a lot of interesting ideas, but never pulls them together to form a cohesive and fun experience. There's certainly a lot here to enjoy, but to get to it you'll have to suffer a little boredom."
- Unique gameplay
- Interesting characters
- Fun and light-hearted story
- Enemies' Turn phase takes forever
- Some annoying combat elements