Thanks to Ripstone Publishing for the review code
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 08/10/2017
In a fictional version of Europe, a mysterious power source has been discovered that gives both the French and British access to powerful mechs known as Ironcast. As the two nations clash over this power source, you take control of a commander being sent in on the British side to stop the war once and for all!
While the touch-focused menus get the job done at guiding you to what to do next, the art style of the game itself (when in missions) comes off as very similar to British computer games of the modern era, mainly the ones based off licensed properties. You have facial portraits for the in-between battle cutscenes that look like they came from the wall of someone’s house, and the actual battle scenes look a bit cramped, with the center being where the match-three action takes place while the left and right sides represent the two machines that are battling.
The music is also completely and utterly forgettable, making the presentation as a whole feel pretty generic and basic, causing me to wish that they put a bit more effort into making the game stand out for both visuals and audio.
Once you start a new campaign and after an (optional) tutorial level, you’re taken to the garage, where you are placed in charge of whatever Ironcast or Steamtank vehicle the selected character controls. Before battles, you’re always brought back to this location, in order to repair damages to your vehicle using obtained gold pieces, along with being able to equip two different types of weapons along with different types of drive and defense systems. As you clear more and more missions in the campaign, you gain experience that unlocks new weapon blueprints, Ironcast abilities and more, which will gradually allow you to beef up your Ironcast to gain special traits such as being able to leech energy from fellow enemies, and launching a special kind of ballistic weapon every few turns without the need to build up attack energy. These benefits practically ensure that you’ll be spending quite some time in the garage after every battle in order to ensure that your vehicle is ready for the next battles.
Once you are ready to continue your quest, you proceed through the game by going to the map screen and choosing from several randomized battle events that change order with each playthrough, meaning that some missions that appeared early on in one playthrough may not appear until later on in another playthrough, but regardless of what playthrough you’re on, the main objective remains the same, requiring you to survive for a certain amount of days in order to take on a very difficult and climatic battle. While there are other difficult battles you can take on in the days leading up to the climax, (indicated by the “Normal” or “Hard” difficulty settings) it’s best to stick to the easier ones in order to build up experience for your mech.
This is done by simply doing well in the main part of Ironcast, the match-three gameplay. However, this isn’t a competitive puzzle game, as instead of the matches damaging the enemy directly, it fuels your system so you can use the four available skills in order to attack the enemy or defend yourself. To do this, you need to match three or more of the four different types of game pieces in order to fill the corresponding meter for your mech, which will allow you to perform certain actions when the meter is high enough. You have the Purple Attack icons, which when connected will let you use one of the two weapons you have equipped to your mech, (activated using the ZL or L button) the Orange Energy icons, which fuels your tank’s energy and helps it move to evade enemies or put up barrier shields, (activated using the ZR or R button) the Blue Coolant icons, which prevent your system from overheating when using Orange Energy, and finally, the Green Repair icons, which will repair damage done to your defenses and weapons. Matching three or more of these icons is a crucial act to get the hang of, since being able to have a healthy amount in all four meters is the key to successful battles, as the enemy forces will quickly get tougher and tougher and will start to outsmart you, since you only get two attempts at matching pieces before you’re forced to make an action. Other pieces will appear on the board from time to time as well, from yellow icons that will get you extra gold, to pieces that will allow you to link two different color groups together in order to maximize the efficiency of your loadout.
While the overall concept sounds really simple to get the hang of, the game does have one big feature that’ll either be the biggest turnoff or attraction for players, and that’s the permadeath system. While you can fail levels without much of a penalty, (by simply not clearing certain stages in the amount of turns required) losing all of your health points will lead to the entire game ending and you having to start from the beginning. It can be really, really annoying to have to restart the entire campaign after getting so close to the end because of a cheap shot or not getting the pieces you needed on the board, (there is a shuffle option but it takes valuable time away from you) so in most situations, this would be a guaranteed way to get me to never play the game ever again. Thankfully, Ironcast does try to make things a bit better by allowing you to use rare, commendation marks that you gained in your prior playthroughs (Little purple stars you gain either through random appearances on the game board or by leveling up) to buy extra characters, mechs, and abilities that can change the tide of battle. While it will still require a lot of practice and skillful planning in order to beat the campaign, this feature does add a bit of extra replay value to the game, and certainly makes the game a lot more enticing to try again compared to something like Vertical Drop Heroes HD, so I do commend them for adding something that will be more likely to prompt a “one more try” feeling from the player. It also helps that the main game isn’t too horribly long, so it’s not like you’ll be losing 60 hours of progress from a silly mistake, which helps keeps the frustration factor rather low.
In conclusion, I found Ironcast to be a lot more addicting than I expected, mainly due to how the game handles permadeath. Instead of making it something where you start over again from scratch or only keep insignificant items that don’t help much, the game encourages you to spend your marks on new characters, equipment and Ironcast machines to join the battle, while not making the main game cheap in order to force that point across. With careful planning, it’s certainly possible to beat the game with the default loadout as long as you plan things out properly and take advantage of level up bonuses.
While a match-3 game is still a very done-to-death concept, it is admirable that Ironcast tried to give the concept a unique spin by mixing it with strategy elements. It may seem a bit pricey, but with the high amount of replay value and some addictiveness to it, this is indeed a strategy hybrid worth checking out if you are already a fan of these types of games, but just be sure to play this game in handheld mode to avoid the awkward button controls, since doing diagonal movements using a stick/D-Pad is a lot tougher than using your finger. I give Ironcast an 7 out of 10.