So here I am, 3DS in lap, trying to discern my own personal feelings from the objective perspective one should take when reviewing a game. I’ll lay down the icky truth right away: I didn’t like the game. I felt it bored throughout most of it, but this most likely stems from a general blasé attitude I have towards most turn-based strategy games. I mean, I still have a wrapped copy of Fire Emblem: Awakening that my friend lent me. They just don’t elicit those feelings of excitement that arise at the prospect of sinking one’s teeth into a shiny, new gaming experience.
Incidentally, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M (and known in Japan as Lincoln vs Aliens which is way cooler) is made by Intelligent Systems, the folks behind Advance Wars and my personal shame Fire Emblem. Couple that with it being a new Nintendo franchise and it’s sure to tickle the fancy of many gamers out there. It just didn’t tickle mine.

But the game has charm. Check out the trailer to see what I mean:

Flavors of Americana

One thing that I did love about the game, though, is its wacky alternate steampunk reality that kicks off in London. You start as Henry Fleming – yes, that Fleming from a popular American piece of literature – and you’re attacked by a bunch of spidery-looking aliens that want to, of course, destroy earth. While the plot may seem cliché, everything else about the story really isn’t. Once you manage to battle your way against the enemies, you meet up with your old pal John Henry to get swept up by an airship flown by none other than Abe Lincoln. If you’ve noticed a pattern in characters – you’re probably right: they are fresh off the pages of American history and folklore. You then join a myrid of other popular figures like Tom Sawyer and Scarecrow, spearheaded by Abe, who is the head of S.T.E.A.M (Strike Team Eliminating the Alien Menace) to save the planet. These known fictional and historical characters are brought to life through a cool comic book art-style design.

Code Name S.T.E.A.M Image by IGN

Code Name S.T.E.A.M Image by IGN

Full Steam Ahead

Alright, so let’s get down to the basics of the actual gameplay. You choose your team of four characters and face off against the aliens, and as per norms of TBS games, each take turns to either attack or set up a tactical play. Anything you do, whether it’s to move around the designated area of the map or to attack, uses up steam points. Once depleted, you had better hope you’ve set yourself up properly (i.e hiden from the line of sight of the aliens) or you will be defeated. However, if you do have some left over steam in your reservoir, you can use you “Overwatch” attack during an enemy’s turn if he falls into your line of sight. It’s actually pretty challenging, especially with the over-the-shoulder camera view. Often, I couldn’t really see where the aliens were positioned so I didn’t truly know if I was protected until BAM! life-meter drained. Also, the waiting times can be lonnnnnng. Like, very long. I can pretty much lay the blame of my boredom on the pacing of the game.

Code Name S.T.E.A.M - image by Invisible Gamer

Code Name S.T.E.A.M – image by Invisible Gamer

History and Myth Working Together

At the start of every mission, you get to choose your roster and as you progress through the game, you unlock different characters. No character is the same, nor do they have the same weapons or abilities. Choosing your team right is essential to your strategy. While some can perform the infamous Overwatch attack, those who can’t make it up in different ways, such as having more in their power bar. Also, each character has special skills, such as one dude’s ability to rise the team’s attack power. Depending on map, and kind of enemy(s) your facing, you have to choose your team wisely. Also, littered about the maps are collectibles which you can unlock upgrades for your various characters. The team building is probably the best part of the game. Your movement, team stats and essential abilities truly shape how you experience the map.

Code Name S.T.E.A.M - Image by Polygon

Code Name S.T.E.A.M – Image by Polygon

This is my BOOMstick

The weapons are pretty awesome, too. Not only do you get to actually aim and shoot, but what the weapons actually do is pretty neat. Without giving away too much, there’s a certain someone who has a weapon called the “Penguin Lobber”. However, PETA activists, worry not: it’s not actual penguins. It’s little mechanical ones that waddle until blowing up in the face some unsuspecting alien. All the guns are unique and have fun names. Punch gun, anyone?
Since all these funny weapons are used to kill the aliens, lets talk about them for a bit. The aliens are boring. No, really. They might be able to give out some devastating blows, but design-wise, they are nothing but lacking. It’s not my intention to body shame (sorry, Alien readers!) but seriously, the lack of creativity is glaring, especially when you contrast them with the main characters. Ah well, they are only there to kill, right? Also, they’re kinda hard to spot at times, they sometimes blend in nicely with the environment. I once stared at my screen for a few moments until I spotted it: “Oh! It’s in the corner! Cheeky bugger…”.

Code Name S.T.E.A.M: Fire Emblem - Image by GenealogyVsThracia

Code Name S.T.E.A.M: Fire Emblem – Image by GenealogyVsThracia

Split Views

Alright, so I started the review with my conclusion: I didn’t really enjoy the game as I found it boring. Many will surely disagree, but hey! Opinions are like… bumholes, everyone has one. But one thing I can say about the game is that many of its aspects, such as the silly characters, wacky guns and the over-the-top Americana smorgasbord mixed with some onomatopoeia are pure fun. It’s just the gameplay itself that’s lacking. But I repeat, I’m not the biggest fan of TBS games and this has undoubtedly defined my experience. This is a new franchise, so it obviously has potential. You can play the demo for free on your 3DS through the Nintendo eShop. It doesn’t hurt to give it a go. Oh and for those owning Fire Emblem amiibos, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M supports them in some cross-franchise love. But beware: if your in-game amiibo bites the dust, it’s dead dead.