It’s rare for Nintendo to invest in a new franchise these days, but it’s laying out the red carpet for Code Name: STEAM. Though the steampunk meets comic book story turned me off when it debuted at E3 2014, playing the game is a really fresh, yet familiar, experience that merges real-time third-person gameplay with turn-based strategy.
Developed by Intelligent Systems, the crew responsible for the Advance Wars and Fire Emblem series, the game pits you as a crew of heroes sent on missions by Abraham Lincoln, usually to stop alien attacks. The early levels I played are mostly about sneaking around destructible barrels and other obstacles, hiding, blasting aliens, and advancing toward a goal post of sorts (usually a green door).
The 3D environment is what sets STEAM apart. Because your viewpoint is limited by what each of your characters can see, it doesn’t feel like a traditional turn-based game. I found myself constantly using the right C-Stick (nub) on the New 3DS XL to look around and spot aliens (or coins, which fund upgrades).
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You control each of your heroes (up to six of them) separately, moving each on a 3D field with a turn-based grid overlaid on top of it. How far you can move, and how many shots you can take, depends entirely on how much of your supply of steam each character has used. It’s refilled each turn, but moving and blasting uses it up. There are also advantages to holding onto some of your steam: If you have a few extra puffs left during the enemy’s turn, you can fire back when they try to attack your characters.
Each team member has his or her own weapons, which you can equip with primary and secondary functions. For example, I gave my healer, Tiger Lily, a shotgun so she could still deal some damage. One of my other characters had a crossbow that could also launch a grenade several squares ahead. Another team member, who was a sort of pink lion man (his name is “Lion”), could catapult himself into the air, surprising aliens by leaping over obstacles.
I wasn’t able to try them out, but you can use any of the four Fire Emblem Amiibos from Super Smash Bros. Wii U to put characters like Marth and Ike on your team. You cannot alter their weapons, but I’m sure Ike will do just fine with his sword. Keeping with Fire Emblem tradition, if one of these characters dies on the battlefield, you cannot revive it (just the Fire Emblem characters).
Code Name: STEAM is an odd duck, but once you immerse yourself, the gameplay is classic Nintendo. Like a plumber chasing a gorilla, Nintendo’s strengths rarely lie in its themes, but we grow to love its characters because of how fun the games are to play. That’s what STEAM feels like. It hits U.S. stores for 3DS on March 13.