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Ironcast

Score: 82%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Ripstone
Developer: Dreadbit
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Puzzle/ Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

Ironcast puts you into Victorian era Britain. It has a lovely painterly style, with detailed iron mech and character designs. Itís primarily a puzzle game, but a lot of work has gone into the backgrounds and things like the animation for mechs firing missiles and guns. Iíll go into this more later, but the game also has some really cool character designs that are, well, wasted on the game. The great thing is there is a great deal of diversity with different races and genders, and each character design looks appropriately fitting to the time period.

The sound is equally high quality, with an orchestral score that sounds like it belongs in a war movie from the same time period. Thereís a lot of brass, foreboding strings, and heavy drums, making it very much feel like youíre in the military, fighting a righteous fight against the enemy on a grand scale. Thereís no voice, however, so youíll have to make due with some good music and sound effects for all the guns and giant machines that populate the game.


Gameplay:

Ironcast is one of those stories that lives in a historical period, but with some alterations. In the case of Ironcast, one big tweak to Victorian era Europe is the addition of giant Steampunk style mechs. The extended backstory is that France created an energy source called Voltite, and the British Empire tried to borrow it. Did I say borrow? It was more like "stealing," hence a war between Britain and France began. And hey, when you have a really powerful energy source, why not create mechs? So the war escalated as these new walking machines called Ironcast brought the devastation to a new level.

Enter you, an Ironcast commander named Aeres Powell. I should also mention, because the Ironcast is entirely enclosed, its regiment is not required to dress for the rough and uncivilized needs of ground combat. Because of that and because this is Victorian England, you are dressed to the most proper expectations of Victorian society. The interior of the Ironcast is also described as being elaborately decorated as well. I must admit, even though Iím not a Steampunk fan by any means, I love the imagery and world that this game conjures up. I really wanted to see that elegant Ironcast cockpit! Unfortunately, we only hear it described and never see it. And because the art is quite detailed and beautifully painted, itís also a shame that we only get a tiny portrait of the main characterís head. Well, we only see the tiny head portrait during most of the game, but there is a larger illustration of each character when you are selecting characters before starting a new game.

At first, the game looks like itís going to be another of the endless Puzzle Quest-inspired games out there. After a short amount of playing, youíll discover Ironcast is anything but another knockoff. Thereís a turn-based element to the game, as you have 3 rounds of matching before your opponent gets the same opportunity. Youíll match up Energy, Weapon, Repair, and Coolant gems and then use your stock wisely before ending your turn. Special skills can do things like instantly refill Coolant or repair damaged systems without the need for wasting a turn of matching. You can also target certain enemy systems. Do they have a really nasty weapon and you need to simply survive a bit longer? You can target the weapon and knock it out. Then there are commendation tokens. Match these up and if your game ends, you can turn them in for special perks such as new characters.

If it all sounds like a whole lot to take in, it is. But somehow it all clicks together into an interesting strategy game. Sometimes, making the biggest match you can make is not a good idea, and itís better to bide your time and wait for the best opportunity. There are a lot of moments like this in Ironcast that make it an enjoyable game to think your way through.

There are some disappointments, however. At first, it looks like youíre going to get a cool story to go along with the gameplay. It leads you on as you are knocked out, your commander is killed, and you discover a traitor. Wow, this is cool. So if I choose different missions my story will change, right? Nope. Well, if I choose a different character, Iíll get a completely different story and new dialogue, right? Nope. All those cool character designs pretty much amount to a new skin on the same dialogue. In fact, itís difficult to tell what the game wants you to really accomplish. If you donít get better story branches from the harder missions, why have different missions at all? Is this a game to be played purely for the experience, sort of like an arcade game? Or are you supposed to stick with it, play the easy levels, and build a better character until you can play all the way through? The developers appear to be calling Ironcast a Roguelike game, so that explains some of those elements. I can see where that might be going, but for me it just left me wandering without a purpose.


Difficulty:

You can choose missions of different difficulty before you select each mission. There are higher stakes for the more difficult ones, of course. The main story, however, remains the same, no matter what mission you choose. It seems odd to set a story-based puzzle game up this way. Why not reveal more plot or character details if you choose a tougher mission? Either way, you can choose to sail through the easy missions or challenge yourself with the tough ones at any time.

I wonder sometimes if youíre expected to fail in Ironcast. Those commendation tokens mentioned before can only be redeemed when you lose your game and are defeated. So if you want to buy a new character with new perks or exclusive upgrades, you basically have to commit suicide by mech before youíre allowed to do so. It seems odd, and it took me a while to figure out where Ironcast was trying to take me. You can spend a lot of time "leveling" your character, so to speak, but if you havenít spent the time to match up commendation tokens, the end of the game is really a clean slate. None of your progress or accumulated upgrades stays with you when you die, youíre just left with whatever commendation tokens you were lucky enough to snatch up.

Not only that, but you are at the mercy of random leveling bonuses. You might get some pretty devastating skills in one playthrough, but in the next be stuck with rather useless ones.


Game Mechanics:

Ironcast doesnít have any major control problems. Match, select items from menus, and end your turn with the press of a button. It works pretty well, and for the screens where you have to move a cursor, thereís a handy option to speed up the cursor speed.

One small gripe would be the a lack of a screen resize. I had a small bit of the screen cut off at the edges, so it was hard to tell what the numbers were on some items.

Ironcast is a very pretty, enjoyable puzzle game. Itís got some interesting twists on the genre and it kept me coming back for quite a while. Itís just out of reach of being amazing, however, due to some of the repetitive story elements and lack of a discernable goal. Still, it is fun, and the art style is quite nice. Itís elegant, civilized puzzle combat - hopefully something that will become a genre of itís own.


-Fights with Fire, GameVortex Communications
AKA Christin Deville

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