Nintendo’s gotten its feet wet in the world of SRPGs before with series like the Advanced Wars and Fire Emblem series, but it’s been awhile since we’ve seen an America-themed SRPG starring Abe Lincoln from them. Well, that’s not entirely true: they’ve never actually made one. Nor has anyone else, for that matter. The point is that it exists now and that it’s called Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is reason enough to celebrate. Better still, it’s worth your cash.
When aliens invade the planet in an alternate 19th century history, it comes down to the man from the $5 bill to assemble a team to stop them. The Strike Team Eliminating the Alien Menace, code named S.T.E.A.M., is comprised of elite fighters from all over the world. Together, they’ll have to fight off the invaders with a variety of bizarre weapons, a giant mecha and possibly the greatest theme song known to man.
Like most SRPGs, Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is almost entirely focused on combat, and the closest comparison to how that works would be Sega’s title Valkyria Chronicles. In fact, it goes beyond a close comparison as the two systems are basically clones of one another. What we’ve got here is a turn-based system where each character is given a limited amount of Steam (action points) to move about and fire their weaponry. Movement is handled in real time rather than forcing you to navigate menus, which is largely just a nice touch as you’re still constrained to a grid, and firing weapons has a bit of variation to it as your heroes’ aim isn’t perfect.
There’s a couple more wrinkles to the combat as well. For instance, most heroes can also perform XCOM-style Overwatch attacks if you store up a little extra Steam after you’re done moving, firing and so on; this basically means that the hero stands guard and will automatically fire on any enemy that enters their vision and range during the enemy’s turn. The opposition forces love this technique and it would behoove you to get a handle on it as quickly as possible.
You’ve got a wide variety of characters with a wide variety of weapons and special abilities as well, which is going to have an effect on your strategy. John Henry fires area-effect grenades with a trajectory you can control, for instance, while The Lion is focused on mobility and can leap around and Tom Sawyer (yeah, it’s that kind of game) can lay mines. As strategy goes, this is about as deep as it gets – there’s not really a leveling or character upgrade system as most games would define them, so Code Name S.T.E.A.M. feels like an attempt at a more accessible SRPG for the masses.
Presentation-wise, Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is really, really steampunk. Your view of this might vary a little; it’s an aesthetic that’s gotten its fair amount of attention lately, but at least it’s not zombies again. The game is framed as a Golden Age comic book, so heroes are appropriately heroic and hammy, the aliens are appropriately monstrous, the graphics are rendered in a classic cartoon style and so on.
One thing that bears mention about this one: I’ve actually seen some commentators ding Code Name S.T.E.A.M. for a lack of character depth. This is a story about Abraham Lincoln assembling a team that includes the likes of tall-tale railman John Henry and the Lion from The Wizard of Oz to fight an alien invasion. It’s a simple game with a gloriously dumb premise and it’s executed as well as one could expect, but if you’re expecting the next masterpiece of artistic expression via the medium of electronic gaming, uh…that’s probably not going to happen. Your characters don’t stop the aliens with deep, emotionally revealing discussions about their feelings. They shoot them. Take it or leave it.
So that means your feelings on the title are going to be focused on how it plays, which is pretty reasonable in my book. Code Name S.T.E.A.M. plays well and it’s fairly merciful as SRPGs go, so it gets a recommendation from me. If you’re into light strategy gaming that’s suitable for short bursts of play, you’re in good hands here. If, on the other hand, you’re waiting for the next great Abe Lincoln simulator that really taps into what that legendary President felt during his tenure, well…you should probably keep waiting.