Game Review #272: SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: Chad M.
Developer: Image & Form International AB
Publisher: Thunderful Publishing AB
Category: RPG, Adventure
Release Date: 04.24.2019
Price (at time of review): $24.99
Buy SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
It’s Getting Steamy In Here
With the Nintendo Switch gaining more and more traction and the eShop expanding as it is, it becomes normal to see the same developers and the same publishing houses pop up. What seems to be rare is to find a team that sticks with a certain theme and has nothing but success after success with this recurring theme or world. I can think of no better example than the Swedish developer team Image & Form, as their last four titles have all had the same theme of depicting the adventures of a race of steam-driven robots in a post-apocalyptic steampunk world, and it’s no different with their fifth and newest title, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech. Well, actually, it’s just a tad different, but I’ll touch on that in a bit.
As I was saying, the titles before had kept the theme while jumping around trying different types of gameplay archetypes, from tower defense, amazing adventures with Rusty and Dorothy in two great rootin’ tootin’ western-themed platformer Metroidvania games, and also being space pirates who fight it out in turn-based strategy battles. So it’s no surprise to me to see their same theme of steampunk robots being brought over to a fantasy RPG. Let’s jump in and see if they have a quality game, or are just full of hot air.
Once Upon A Time With Robots
So, as I said before, not everything theme-wise is the same, as this title isn’t post-apocalyptic, it’s a fantasy-driven RPG with mystical and magical elements throughout. The story revolves around 3 main characters—Armilly the knight, Copernica the alchemist and Galleo the craftsman—who set out to locate and join the guild heroes that have come up missing; but once out on their mission, it sharply turns into a hunt for the mystical and extremely powerful Necronomicog.
Yes, you read that right. Cog, as in a metal cog, and they’re robots, keeping with the SteamWorld humor to which we are accustomed. Staying with the cheeky and sometimes over-the-top fun world that the SteamWorld games are known for allows Quest to keep with that tradition. They poke fun at a lot of things and use a lot of pop culture references as they have in the past, and then throw in completely outlandish characters and things throughout the game.
You’re joined later on by more characters—Orik, Tarah & Thayne—and your group will grow, but as the story is such a large part, I’ll leave it there and let you soak it all in for yourself. It’ll take you about 15-20 hours to beat the campaign, but it depends on if you choose to tweak the difficulty and the player’s skill level in the later levels.
Put Your Sword Down & Use A Card
What shocked me the most and had me fall in love with this game is its amazing mechanics and deep gameplay. I was worried about it involving cards and myself never really being too big into any card games, like say Hearthstone, but as I began playing, I found that it was more like a Final Fantasy game, or even more like Persona, and then, once the fight begins, the turn-based fight would involve cards.
First off, the game does an incredible job with its tutorial, making newcomers or novice players of card-based games much more at ease, and before you know it, you’re breezing through building decks and making decisions on how to best perform. There is a difficulty option that you can tweak, and if you are a novice player to the card-type games, the later levels may require it of you. I was able to avoid it, but it took a while, adding some extra time to my playthrough, but I had so much fun that it didn’t bother me.
As with most traditional RPGs, you will create a party of three fighters, and usually you’d have attack and spells, but here is where the cards come in. You can only choose from six cards (in hand) in the 24-card deck—made from three individual characters’ 8-card decks—with the three card types being skill, strike, and upgrade. You’ll compile quite few cards finding them in treasure chests throughout the levels, and you can go to shops and have them crafted or upgraded from collected materials you find; but I will say, this is very pricy, and I usually couldn’t afford some of the cards I wanted, making it feel like I needed to grind to get the money to do so. But, against that notion, I just continued through and didn’t regret it, which was nice that it never felt like I had to grind.
Between each fight there is light exploration through the linear story, and you can find a lot of loot as you look around and work your way back, building up your XP. Now, as you move around the level going screen to screen exploring, similar to dungeon crawling, you’ll run into enemies, and if you strike them first, you’re rewarded with a preemptive strike bonus, dealing damage before the battle began; though it didn’t seem perfect, as I felt I had to be aligned right in front or behind them for it to register properly. Of course, walking into them directly will start the battle without any bonus on either side.
Now, when the battle starts, as I said, it’s turn-based, with battle cards called punch cards being used. As stated before, there are the three types used (strike, skill, and upgrade) during battle. Strike cards deal out damage, upgrade cards allow for temporary power-ups to the team—by using these cards, you’ll fill your SP (steam power) one point at a time, which, once you build it up, can then be used on skill cards. The skill cards are more powerful, doing more damage, and it will show the amount of SP used by them.
Each turn allows you to choose three cards to use, and you’ll be given new replacement cards for the ones you choose to play. If you find you have a card not needed, you can redraw twice. There are elements used on the cards: frost, fire, physical, and arcane; and if you pay attention, you’ll find that enemies have weaknesses towards certain elements, and this can be used to your advantage. When you win the battles you will get materials and money. You can use these to buy items, like potions and other weapons and accessories that can be used while in battle or outside of the battle.
The card game was so easily approachable I was shocked. You have the normal characters like the tank character, but then find that he can be a healer too; or you use your mage to find that they can also deal heavy attacks that a knight usually would. This offered a layer that had me constantly wanting to try different set ups with different characters to see how they played, and can add replay value to come back in, stacking cards and working through the lineup of characters and how you pair them up.
There is a basic mana system, in the way of steam points, which build as you use basic strikes, and can be built up to purchase the more powerful cards needed. Because of this, you have to balance the amount of strikes and high class skills you have to use. This adds a lot of dynamic to the card system.
The boss battles are fun, and the enemies seemed varied to begin with, but I did see quite a bit of just changing the color and raising the HP and power with a rinse and repeat with some bosses and enemies. This was one of my only gripes, as the game is so fun and everything is gorgeous, you just want to see more bad guys and see how far the developers will take it, rather than just having them reused with as if you haven’t seen them already.
While pressing through the levels, you’ll usually see a statue before bosses. The statue is a large hulking Knight, and at this point, you can save your progress and restore your health, since it doesn’t refill health after battles.
Audio & Visuals
The soundtrack music is composed in a way you’d expect, with it fitting the setting and medieval time period perfectly. They passed over the renaissance fair-type music for a more tightly polished sound that gives it a triple A feel in the music department. The characters make a garbled sound when they speak, as to mimic voiceover while you read the dialogue through text prompts, which helped the pacing of the text.
There is a narrator that speaks between the chapters, and this is done very well, with a campy and deep British accent to fit the piece. The visuals are what we’ve gotten before from Image & Form, as they’re beautifully hand-drawn 2-D robots and wildly creative monsters and characters, and of course, there are dragons sprinkled in. The colors pop and are bright and eye-catching, even in the darkest settings with the environments and characters having a lot of detail. The game is smooth as butter in both handheld and docked mode.
It’s A Wrap!!!
The price of Quest is currently $24.99 (North America), and for 15-20 hours of gameplay and a battle arena you can play with after defeating the campaign, it would normally have me on the fence, feeling it may be a tad overpriced; but for what you’re getting, with a great gameplay experience that’s loaded with laughs and looks as beautiful as it does, I feel this is well worth the cost. This is one I really hope sees a physical copy. As I stated before, I’ve never been a huge card gamer, but this one won me over, as everything was done so well and made for an almost perfect game!
Buy SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*Review Code Provided by Thunderful Publishing