The Victorian period – a time of the Industrial Revolution, poverty, child labour and of course, battles between giant mechs on the streets of England’s cities. Well, according to Ironcast that is…
Ironcast is set in an alternate steam-punk Victorian time period where the British and French are at war over a very valuable commodity known as Voltite. There exists a private group of wealthy businessmen and women that want to see an end to this war, so they develop and manufacture ‘Ironcast’ – giant mechs with incredible combat capabilities. What better way to end a war than by making giant war machines, right? Whilst these Ironcast fight in the name of Queen Victoria, they aren’t piloted by the British army but instead smartly dressed aristocrat commanders. You take on the role of one of these commanders as you prepare for a final showdown with the French to decide the victor of the war.
I love the premise of Ironcast with its bizarrely altered history and top hat wearing toff commanders. It’s certainly offers an interesting twist on the time period, and the developers have even gone as far as offering an extensive back-story for each character in the game. Unfortunately, the text displaying these story details was so small it was barely readable on my TV – the same could actually be said for most text in the game. You’ll either want to put on a pair of magnified glasses or sit right up close to the TV during your time with Ironcast.
Fortunately gameplay itself is much easier to follow. At its core Ironcast is a match three puzzler/battler in the vein of titles such as Puzzle Quest – you’ll have a selection of colour nodes in a box that you need to match up to inflict damage on your enemy. We’ve all played similar types of games before with Candy Crush being the primary culprit, though I have noticed my niece playing something similar but Frozen themed… Either way, Ironcast adds a bigger deal of strategy to the formula by allocating different attributes to each colour node that’ll shape how the battles play out.
Purple nodes will power up your weapons, orange nodes give you energy to move or use shields on your Ironcast, green nodes allow you to repair your Ironcast’s failing systems whilst blue nodes provide coolant that stops your Ironcast from overheating. There are a few specialist nodes too, such as the link nodes that’ll match up with any colour and the overdrive nodes that’ll offer extra power to one system of your Ironcast.
You have to carefully manage each different attribute if you’re going to find success in Ironcast’s battles. I’ll admit, during my first few attempts of the game I just matched up whatever nodes there where the most of. This will see you fail quickly – what use are ten coolant nodes when you have no ammo to fight? It’ll take a bit of careful thought if you’re going to be the victor in each battle. You get to match up nodes three times per a turn before your opponent attacks you so you have to make the most of each attempt.
The battles are really enjoyable, especially when they go right down to the wire with both Ironcast on minimal health. The simplistic approach of matching colours makes the game a lot more accessible too, even if having a decent strategy to each battle is essential. At the end of the day it all comes down to how good you are at matching colours.
However, there’s still a lot of luck involved. There were times when I’d be desperately in need of a particular type of node only for none of them to appear. It’s a little frustrating as your fate is taken out of your hands. You can be as strategic as possible, though if the required nodes don’t appear it can quickly result in a game over.
After each success you’re rewarded both experience and scrap. You can use these to improve both your Ironcast with better equipment as well as unlock new abilities such as increased node spawn rates or increased weapon damage. These improvements are vital – Ironcast is structured over a nine day period, the final day culminating in a battle against the best of the French forces. If you aren’t well prepared you will fall – the game can be brutal anyway, but going into battle without a well equipped Ironcast will see Britain fall into the hands of the French.
Each day leading up to the final battle sees you facing of in a variety of different missions types. You’ll get to choose which mission you take on beforehand with varying factors such as mission type and mission difficulty – the tougher the mission, the better the reward. Each time you play the game the mission choices are randomised, meaning no playthrough will ever be the same. It’s handy too, seeing as Ironcast has a perma-death system that results in you having to start the game from scratch each time you die.
If you die you lose your Ironcast, your experience points, any scrap you have, all progress – you have to start your Ironcast adventure anew. The only saving grace is that any commendations you earn carry over. You can trade commendations in at the start of each playthrough for new commanders, new Ironcasts or additional stat boosts. These can give you the upper hand on your next playthrough, offering at least a little consolation for each death you’ll suffer.
This perma-death was actually a little frustrating at times. Whilst I’ve suffered the same fate in countless rogue-likes over the years, the fact that you depend so much on coloured nodes that drop at random means you can lose a ton of progress for something that might not necessarily have been your fault. When you die for a stupid mistake or poor planning you accept it and try to improve the next time – when you die because ammo nodes didn’t drop on your turn in a one shot shootout you begin to get a little resentful towards the game.
Ironcast’s presentation is neat and tidy, with in-game battles looking well presented with easy to navigate menus and great battle effects between the battling Ironcasts. The Ironcast themselves look great too, with a decent variety on show that look as impressive as they are lethal.
The backdrops of battles do look a little bland though. Whilst British gamers may find some of the city backdrops familiar, they feel a little barren and devoid of activity. With full scale mech battles going on a little more destruction or perhaps the sight of civilians would at least make each battleground feel more alive.
There are a lot of things I liked about Ironcast – the match three gameplay was well implemented and strategic, I loved the alternate Victorian setting and the Ironcasts themselves looked great. Some of the battles I had went right down to the wire and the feeling of relief when you got that killing blow in was so satisfying – you’d live another day and get to improve your Ironcast ready for your next battle.
Unfortunately, the randomised element of how the coloured nodes dropped caused a lot of frustration for me. I wanted battles to be decided by skill and strategy – not by the order in which nodes fall. I’ll admit that most of my failures weren’t causes through a lack of required nodes, but when it does happen you’ll feel that the success or failure of a mission is out of your hands making the perma-death all the more frustrating.
Ironcast is by no means a bad game though and you will enjoy the strategic elements of it – you’re just going to need a whole lot of patience if you’re going to beat the French.
– Well implemented match three gameplay that requires a bit of strategy to succeed
– The alternate steam-punk Victorian time period is great
– It’s enjoyable to improve your Ironcast after each battle
– The satisfaction of winning a tense battle that has gone right down to the wire
– The random nature of nodes means that some battles are decided by random as opposed to strategy
– Bland environments during battles
Developer: Dreadbit (www.dreadbit.com)
Publisher: Ripstone (www.ripstone.com)
Release Date: 26/03/2015 (PC, Mac, Linux) 04/03/2016 (Playstation 4, Xbox One)
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed) Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux