Developer: Image & Form International AB
Publisher: Thunderful Publishing
Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Category: Role-Playing & Adventure
Release Date: April 25, 2019 (EU & NA)
A card counting steamy fantasy beckons!
When it comes to the Sweden based developer Image & Form Games, I’ll be the first one to admit I can be quite biased. Not only do I view them as being a great developer to a number of titles of note, but there is a history of support between them and Miketendo64.
They were there for Miketendo64, in the beginning, to help us get a step on the ladder and we’ve been supporting them in kind ever since, but don’t worry, the relationship we have in no way has an effect on the outcome of this review for the simple truth is, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is a captivating delight that fits right at home in Image & Form’s ever-expanding SteamWorld universe.
With that out of the way, let’s properly commence with the review. First revealed as part of an Indies Highlights video in January of 2019, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is a role-playing card game that takes the SteamWorld series into a bold new direction and gives it a fantasy setting.
In terms of feel and premise, Quest is without a doubt a true SteamWorld game, in fact, it might even be the steamiest one of them all as writer Pelle Cahndlerby, went out of his way to build the relationship between the characters even more so, thus enabling Quest to have more depth and carefree humour and the soundtrack throughout really helps to keep the game on track.
As for the visuals, level design, character art and animations, Image & Form just get better and better. Not only is the game visually stunning, but the attention to detail is very well done, especially on the cards, which is a huge aspect of the game. Not only do you use them in battle, have the option to craft more and upgrade the ones you have, but they are a delight to collect and look at.
What’s more, not only is Quest a steamy piece of hand-drawn eye-candy throughout, but whether you’re wandering through rooms, or in the heat of battle, Quest boasts a 60fps framerate at 1080p in docked play, whereas the game maintains 60fps in handheld play but at 720p.
On the subject of story, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is a fantastical tale of heroes, monsters and a once young and innocent world. Fast forward to present day, the world is no longer what it once was and the word heroes has taken on a whole new meaning.
Instead of being perpetual do-godders, modern day heroes are arrogant, lazy and full of themselves and when trouble comes, it is not them who must save the day, but a motley crew of “anti-heroes,” who are clearly made of the right stuff, when others are not.
Like any true hero journey however, it all starts with a quest and for the knight Armilly and the alchemist Copernica, while their quest starts with a mushroom, the mushroom is just the beginning of a journey comprised of 19 chapters across 4 acts.
As far as the chapters are concerned, the player must complete their current chapter to move on to the next one and when playing through a chapter, there are two styles of play present. The first is one that sees them using the left joystick to move from room to room, as they attempt to reach the end of any given level, collecting each chest as they go, and the other type is the card gameplay itself.
Battles are fought with punch cards, with six cards being dealt to the player at the get-go, with more cards being added to replenish your hand every time your turn comes around. Incidentally, because you can only hold a maximum of six cards, in the event you only use one card during your turn, when you can use up to three, you will only get one additional card. Should no available cards be usable come your turn, you do have the option to redraw two of them.
Each punch card represents abilities that can be used by your heroes, and those that you select will appear near the top of the screen and will not take effect until you finish your turn. In the event you’ve selected a card you don’t want however, you can take it back and use another card instead, but only as long as you haven’t finished your turn.
Unfortunately, not every card can be used as you wish. You see, there are three types of cards, Strike, Upgrade and Skill. Strike cards are the easiest ones to use as they have no values associated to them and you can use them freely. Upgrade cards can be used for things such as creating shields and upgrading attack damage. Like strike cards, upgrade cards can also be used freely.
A benefit of using both those card types, is the fact that the act of using them generates SP (Steam Power,) which is shared between your team and enable you to use your Skill cards, which feature number values. For instance, a skill card that has a value of 2, requires 2 SP and a card with the value of 4, needs 4 SP.
To get the most out of your cards, however, not only is it vital to craft new cards and upgrade them using the coin and items you can acquire by enduring through battles, but it’s knowing how to play them. Only, card crafting and upgrading doesn’t come until later into the game, so it’s not something you’ll need to primarily worry about when you start playing.
Now, while you can just use any available card as you wish, if you use three cards associated to one specific character, you can perform a Heroic Chain, which adds a bonus card to your turn and its effect is determined by the weapon you have equipped.
Of course, there are also cases where if you play a card of a designated colour before playing a combo (skill) card, bonus output is added to the combo card’s overall output, thus resulting in a Tag Team Combo. More than that, it features a nice little animation that has the involved characters co-operating in fun ways.
I will just point out however that the decks players can use, can be built however they wish. When the option becomes available, you can choose which cards you wish to have in your deck, but just be warned that you can only attribute eight cards to one party character, so when you are battling with three party characters, your battle deck is comprised of 24 cards in total. Those cards however can be reshuffled after use, not to mention that the eight cards a character can have, are part of their own personal deck. Also, things like items and equipment can be found via chests and brought from stores.
Something else you can do during your turn is use items when needed, as status effects can be inflicted and if one of your allies falls, you will want to pick them back up and get them fighting again. When your turn is over, the enemy will take their turn and a battle is only won when you’re the last one standing.
If all three of your characters die, it’s game over and you’ll need to resume from the last place you or the game saved and just in case you’re starting to fret that Quest is a strategy role-playing game, it’s not. Sure, there is some strategy involved, but within five to ten minutes of playing, you will easily get the hand of the card battling system because it is actually rather simple when you’re playing.
In keeping with its RPG genre classification, every battle you win will reward you with EXP, you can level up, with Hero Statues available for players to stroll over to and interact with to save their game and recover health. Of course, the act of refreshing yourself does also bring back every enemy you defeated but on the plus side, it just means you can do some grinding.
Should Quest prove a little too hard or too easy for you however, there are three game difficulties (Squire, Knight and Legend,) and you can change the difficulty at any time. Also, in addition to Quest just offering players a fairly linear story, there is some side content available.
Aside from collecting every card going and building your deck of choice, there is a range of equipment for players to acquire, additional party characters to collect via the story, and there is also a side mode that can be unlocked.
The mode in question is an arena mode that is unlocked via story, but from there, players must beat a cup to unlock the next one. Only, the tenth cup actually requires players to collect every single treasure chest in the game in order to unlock it. Then of course, there is an in-game bestiary for players to complete, but in order to see all 72 creatures and enemies, you will need to beat the game and every arena cup going.
However, after thoroughly playing through Quest, my favourite aspect out of all of it has to be the boss battles. I loved how they got harder and I especially enjoyed the feeling of victory that follows each battle, given the fact some boss fights can last for what felt like forever and heavily reminded me of some Octopath Traveler boss battles.
To answer the duration question however, depending on how you choose to play, what your goals are and how far you want to go in completing Quest, SteamWorld Quest can take you anywhere between 12 and 25 hours. However you choose to play it though, don’t do what I did, which was boot the game up at 20:00 and still be playing it 09:00 in the morning. Quest is highly addictive and it is certainly a game deserving of savouring properly. Also, its connection to other SteamWorld games, is made known within the first five minutes of booting up the game.
While SteamWorld Quest is not the SteamWorld Heist sequel a few of us have been yearning for since the release of Heist, it is most definitely a spiritual successor of sorts. Without Heist, Quest would not have been possible. Heist opened the floodgates and Quest is paving a bold new direction for what SteamWorld games can be.
Quest may not be my favourite game in the series as Dig 2 has that honour, but with its card battle mechanics, charming characters and creativity throughout, it is without a doubt a must own game for lovers of all things card, RPG, steampunk, and SteamWorld related and I can’t wait to see where Image & Form take the SteamWorld series next. If you do decide to hold off purchasing for now though, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world as a physical release is coming.
THE VERDICT: 9/10
*Review Key Provided by Image & Form Games
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This post was written by Solid Jack