The development team at Image & Form makes it look easy to create fun and exciting video games. I was introduced to their talent with the innovative SteamWorld Dig on the Wii U and since then have thoroughly enjoyed each subsequent title they’ve released. They’ve mastered the Metroidvania genre (SteamWorld Dig 2), delivered a fantastic entry in the turn-based tactical niche (SteamWorld Heist), and now they’re going after the RPG crowd with SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech. Can these guys (and gals) do no wrong? It certainly seems that way!
The first thing you need to know about SteamWorld Quest is that you don’t need to have played any prior games in the series to play this one. There’s really no continuity or recurring characters (at least not ones that are vitally important) so feel free to jump right in with this title. Second, this isn’t a traditional turn-based JRPG that you might be expecting, but rather a card-based one. Wait! Come back! If you’re like me this might not be your favorite genre of game. I grew out of the Magic the Gathering phase of card games back in the mid-‘90s, although I know a ton of people that are still into that. It’s just not normally my favorite thing in the world to play. Having said that, this game does a fantastic job of creating easy to understand gameplay mechanics and features a level of polish that is so often overlooked elsewhere. What this means is that even if you’re not normally a fan of this type of RPG, you’ll want to give this one a shot because it truly is something special.
You begin the game with only two characters in your party. This will eventually be expanded with more members, although you can only have three actively battling at any one time. Each of your fighters will carry a deck of eight punch cards. There are three types of cards: Strike, Upgrade, and Skill. The first two categories won’t cost anything to use in combat, and will actually add Steam Pressure (SP) to your gauge at the top of the screen. Your Skill cards consume a specific amount of SP to use. When you enter a battle a random draw of six cards will show up at the bottom of the screen. They will be color-coded to match your characters and when you select a card the party member it belongs to will also glow. You can only play three cards on your turn so you’ll need to strategize to figure out the best combo of cards to play. Some may be grayed out because you don’t have the required SP to play them. However, since you can play up to three, if you lay down two cards that give you 2 SP, then a card having a 2 SP requirement can be played as the third card. Like I said, it can take a bit of thinking at first, but after you play for a bit it becomes second nature.
Now, the combat system only gets deeper as you find and purchase new cards to add to your deck. For example, each character will lay down a special fourth card on a turn if you manage to play three of their cards in one go. But, what happens if there’s no way to do that because the hand you were dealt just isn’t cooperating? Well, each turn you can redraw up to two cards, but of course the random nature means you never quite know if what flips over will be better or worse than the one you had. Despite the randomness of this, there’s a great deal of thinking that can go into deciding which cards to play. Do you attack with the Strike and Upgrade cards to build up SP, or try to coordinate all three cards to be from one member to get the special fourth card? Making things even more complex are some cards that feature bonuses on them by pairing up an attack with another character beforehand. If all of this sounds confusing, don’t worry, the game doles out this information as the game progresses so it’s all easy to digest and understand.
In addition to finding new cards with new abilities and attacks, you can spend gold to upgrade existing cards to make them more powerful. You can also purchase new primary weapons, which often increase character attributes as well as change out the special fourth card that plays when three cards are laid by one character in one round. Add in a multitude of characters and the ability for each to only take eight cards into battle, it can be quite the dilemma deciding which cards to put into your deck. One thing that would have been beneficial is some type of a load out menu so you could save profiles for your characters. Sometimes you want specific cards for certain situations, and having to go in and manually change out the cards can be a little annoying, but I’m being very nitpicky here. Still, I wouldn’t say no to a patch that addresses this.
For an RPG, this game is a bit light on story. There’s banter back and forth between the characters to progress the quest along, but there’s nothing here that’s too deep or provocative. I do appreciate the humor thrown in and the various party members are memorable and entertaining. Just don’t go in expecting some sort of novel masterpiece.
As is tradition with the SteamWorld series, the graphics and music are wonderfully done. The game has a sort of simplistic art style to it, but it’s also filled with plenty of detail that we’ve come to expect from this developer. The variety in character design is appreciated and the animated attacks all look great. You’ll visit a decent variety of locales and they all have a distinct look to them so the game doesn’t feel cheap like some other indie titles sometimes do. The music is wonderful in all aspects and I never grew tired of hearing the battle track, despite hearing it over and over again. As is tradition with these titles, the characters feature gibberish speech, although you do get a nice voice over at the beginning of the game and for some reason each chapter’s title is voiced, which seems a bit out of place, but still appreciated.
I’m one of those people that usually shy away from playing games with card-based battle mechanics. If you’re one of those gamers, don’t let that aspect steer you away from SteamWorld Quest. It’s one of the best battle systems I’ve encountered and it’s super easy to learn and a ton of fun to experiment and try different things. I also appreciate that you can hold down ZR to speed up the battles so you don’t have to sit through the same attack animations over and over again. Even though the game might be a little light on story, I really fell in love with the characters and the combat and the fact that the game is broken up into chapters make it a perfect candidate for on-the-go gaming. With on the fly adjustable difficulty settings, card battling novices and experts should be able to have a fantastic time!
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech Review
- Graphics - 8.5/108.5/10
- Sound - 9/109/10
- Gameplay - 9/109/10
- Lasting Appeal - 8/108/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
SteamWorld Quest is a wonderful card-battling RPG that features slick graphics, wonderful music, and easy to understand combat mechanics. Even if you typically avoid these types of games you should give this one a shot. Its charming characters and fun strategic gameplay are sure to keep you coming back for more.