Nintendo recently released a demo for Codename S.T.E.A.M. via the eShop, and we’re here to talk about how it plays. Let’s start with the basics. The common consensus when Codename S.T.E.A.M. was announced was that it was Nintendo’s take on Valkyria Chronicles. That said, while there are a number of similarities, the comparison between the two games isn’t as straightforward as you might think.
Codename S.T.E.A.M. has characters moving freely around a 3D environment. Instead of being limited to a certain range of movement, though, characters instead operate on “Steam” energy. Doing anything in the game requires Steam. Moving requires Steam, firing your weapons requires Steam, and so on. The interesting part is, after you’ve moved, if you don’t like what you just did, you can retrace your steps back to your original spot and this will bring back all the Steam energy you used up. You can then move to a different spot to see if that suits you better. If not, you can retrace your steps again, and try once more.
Codename S.T.E.A.M. is a game that’s all about managing where you are in relation to your enemy, and it encourages the player to try different things out before locking in their turn. You’re in no way committed to your move until your turn ends (with an “End Turn” button that you tap) or something that potentially affects someone’s HP happens. There’s a lot of room for experimenting with what your next move should be until you feel comfortable enough to commit to it.
This is important because there’s a large amount of money scattered around each map, along with health packs and other items, and you can collect them without using up any Steam if you’re smart. For example; let’s say there’s some money around the corner from you. You could run around the corner (using up Steam to do so), pick the cash up, and then backtrack to your original spot (thus regaining all the Steam you used). Now, that may sound like it would make the game too easy, but it doesn’t. Steam has many uses and every turn, you’ll use yours up much faster than you would have thought. Thus, managing how you use your Steam is everything.
Here’s another example of an interesting way the game makes you keep an eye on your Steam: Codename S.T.E.A.M. has a feature called “Overwatch”. If you have extra Steam left over after your turn, if an enemy unit walks within range of you, your character will automatically perform a pre-emptive attack using their remaining Steam. Overwatch is interesting because it means you could potentially kill an enemy unit before it even has the chance to attack you. Again, it’s up to you whether you want to use all your Steam up on your turn or save a little in case an enemy gets too close.
Naturally, Steam refills between turns. You get 8 units of Steam per turn for every unit in your party, and 2-4 units get spent per attack depending on the weapon. Each “space” you move on the stage costs one unit, and, if the weapon supports Overwatch, you can only use Overwatch if you save enough steam for an attack or more. In fact, if you have enough Steam, you could even perform two Overwatch attacks. You can also refill Steam through Steam pick-ups, by spending in-game money on single use save points, or by reaching tutorial messages scattered around the map.
The tutorial messages feature in particular is a little quirky. Since tutorial hints are scattered throughout the map, you may not even see one until the info is already useless. (Shoot at the chandelier to drop it on your enemies! …what do you mean you already killed them all?!)
All in all, the Codename S.T.E.A.M. demo is rather generous. It gives you access to the prologue (3 maps), chapter 1 (3 maps) and the first map of chapter 2. You only have one character for the prologue, two for chapter 1, and four for chapter 2, although you can replay chapters 1 and 2 when done. Note that I say you can replay the chapters, not the maps. You get to bring in anyone you want, but you can’t go straight to, say, the second map of chapter 1. You can freely retry a map from the beginning if you’re in the middle of it, though.
I only have two real thoughts on these maps that I haven’t already mentioned. The first is that chapter 1 was legitimately difficult at times due to having two characters and no healing outside of save points and health packs—although I may have found it harder because of how I didn’t know the save points were save points for a while. When you get your third and fourth characters, you also get access to sub-weapons, which gives the protagonist the ability to heal, as well as a character whose main weapon is meant to simply heal.
The second is how the game handles the enemy aliens’ turns. The game plays each alien unit’s turn one at a time, even if the player cannot see what they’re doing because they’re out of sight. Because of this, it might seem like the game has “stopped” because entire seconds go by where the aliens’ turn is playing out, and you can’t see what’s going on. There’s also no skip button and no, the R button does not fast-forward a-la Fire Emblem. Depending on the map and how you approach it, this can add up to spending quite a while waiting for aliens you can’t see to complete their turn. The only thing telling you that the game is even doing anything is a bar under the notification that it’s the aliens’ turn, which fills up as each one moves. (So keep an eye on that to assure yourself that the game hasn’t simply stopped.)
Codename S.T.E.A.M.’s demo left a fairly good impression on me, and I look forward to seeing how the full game plays.
Food for Thought:
1. Funny story about the save points… the tutorials don’t even mention them, so when I saw a green, glowing structure, I thought, “obviously alien-related” and shot at it. Good thing they’re immune to the anti-terrain weapon. I later found out they were save points by accident.
2. The final map in the demo has some enemies that lob grenades at you. Sadly, even when you’re standing right next to them and pointing at them, Overwatch never seems to trigger in response.
3. It seems there are four methods available to control the camera and aim. I wouldn’t recommend the face buttons since you can accidentally skip dialogue this way, but the touch screen works fine. The other two methods are the Circle Pad Pro and the C-stick, which I couldn’t try, since I have access to neither. Honestly, my only issue with this is that the turning your camera and aiming your weapon are considered the same thing by the game.
4. For those of you that hate enemy units spawning behind you without warning in Fire Emblem—this game does that, too. Map 2 of chapter 1 spawned some aliens at the starting position after a few turns.
5. I swear I got more critical hits from Overwatch than attacking enemies on my turn. I don’t know if that’s actually a thing or just confirmation bias, though.
6. This may feel pedantic, but bear with me. The aliens have a 4-or-so-second animation of them looking left and right before ending their turn if they haven’t noticed you yet. The game plays a similar, but shorter animation even if they have, before they start moving.