“Code Name S.T.E.A.M.” shows Nintendo is not out of ideas

Nintendo is well known for their long-standing franchises, with their last new series being the Wii Sports games in 2006. As such, to cynics, it may seem that Nintendo lacks innovation.

It seems “Code Name S.T.E.A.M.” for Nintendo 3DS hopes to change that notion.

The premise of “Code Name S.T.E.A.M.” alone is one of the most unique concepts you’ll ever see. Set in a steampunk Victorian era, the game features a series of characters from classic American literature assembled by Abraham Lincoln himself to fight against an alien invasion. The art style is similar to comic books, complete with comic book-style text boxes in cutscenes, the dialogue is extremely patriotic and over the top and there is a gigantic steam-powered Abraham Lincoln mecha (piloted by none other than President Lincoln himself).

And yes, believe it or not, this game was actually made in Japan.

The gameplay, compared to the game’s premise, is much less unique. Players will control up to four characters at a time in a turn-based, third person strategy game, similar to the likes of “Valkyria Chronicles” or “X-COM: Enemy Unknown.” The unlikely source of steam is used for both moving and shooting, and recharges at the beginning of your turn. Steam can also be saved up at the end of your turn to be used to counter attack an enemy on their turn.

The characters are quite varied and unique, each drawing from a different source of early American literature. Henry Fleming from “The Red Badge of Courage” wields a powerful Eagle Rifle that fires three-round bursts, Tiger Lily from “Peter Pan” is light on her feet and brings a healing Medi-Mortar into battle, Tom Sawyer from “Tom Sawyer” is nimble but weak and wields a tricky punch gun that can stun enemies and the no longer cowardly Lion from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” has extremely high health and can leap onto enemies with his Lion Launcher. Several other characters from various turn of the century literary sources also appear, each with his or her own unique weapon.

There are a large variety of secondary weapons and boilers as well. There’s the standard shotgun and rifle, but there is also a steam-powered crossbow with extremely powerful critical hits, a banana launcher that trips up enemies and a medi gun that fires long-range healing projectiles. Boilers provide agents with various abilities, can boost both offensive and defensive stats and change the amount of steam generated in each turn.

The missions themselves, however, are much less varied. Though the environments are pretty good, the main objective is almost always simply reaching the end goal or occasionally beating the stage boss. Including objectives such as getting a certain number of kills or surviving for a given number of turns would have provided more variety.

Another disappointing part of the game involves the strategy aspect itself. Unlike Intelligent Systems’ other famous turn-based strategy series, “Fire Emblem,” which is viewed entirely from an overhead perspective, “Code Name S.T.E.A.M.” takes place from the much more limited third person perspective of each of your squad members, which can be disorientating when trying to find a certain path to get to the exit, or the exit itself. Additionally the enemy turns take quite some time, and even the hidden fast forward toggle doesn’t seem to do much.

Still these nitpicks don’t take much away from this breath of fresh air, not only to the turn-based strategy genre, but to the world of games in general. The game is a bit rough around the edges and at times can seem a bit time-consuming, but it is nonetheless enjoyable when executing a complex strategy. The setting and characters are intriguing, and the premise alone really needs to be seen to be believed.

It’s unlikely that players were crying out for a game featuring the likes of Abraham Lincoln and American literature in a steampunk setting, but it seems Nintendo knows how to give players something amazing they never knew they wanted.

Game: “Code Name S.T.E.A.M.”
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Release: March 13, 2015
Rating: ★★★★☆