In the red, white and blue corner, we have Code Name S.T.E.A.M. Weighing in at 3g, The Genre Blender From Nintender mixes strategy with third person shooter. Your team, a ragtag bunch of fictional characters from (mostly) American literature are lead by the great man himself, Abraham Lincoln. You must do battle against a fearsome alien army to save Earth from annihilation.
In the red, gold and purple corner, SteamWorld Heist. Weighing in at a sprightly 0g (digital download, see), The Steamin' From Swedin fixes your strategy to the 2D plane. Your team, a ragtag bunch of robots, can't go saving the planet... it's already been destroyed by the time the story begins. Instead, you're tasked with solving ever larger mysteries in the depths of space.
We'll be judging these contenders on points alone (apologies, boxing fans): presentation; functionality; gameplay; story and character; steaminess (not that kind of steaminess) and future. Seconds out - round ONE!
A lot of effort has been put into Code Name S.T.E.A.M.'s presentation. It looks like the Saturday morning cartoons I grew up on and the UI has the feel of a comic book (no surprise, as that's the framing device used for the game). The cut-scenes are fully voiced, with a raft of sci-fi actors and voice actors giving life to the team. It works and works well - you'd expect it to give SteamWorld Heist, with its comparatively lower budget, a sound thrashing.
And yet. The SteamWorld universe has an aesthetic all of its own, which has changed since the days of SteamWorld Dig. Robots are now more humanoid in shape, replacing the squat-but-cute Rusty template. Each character is distinctive and has their own text bleep. Locations don't inspire that much, being mainly of the dim'n'dingy space freighter/hovel variety. There's no voice acting, either, though real life band Steam Powered Giraffe (for that is their name) have contributed to the game's soundtrack.
Given the relative budgets available, and the fact that Code Name S.T.E.A.M. tries too hard, we're calling this round... A DRAW.
What use is made of the 3DS hardware and all its bells and whistles? Code Name S.T.E.A.M. fights this battle well - it uses the touch screen, the C-stick and amiibo. It's the best use of the C-stick I've found - gentle nudges of the nubbin shift your character's aim very precisely. The amiibo thing is a bit cheap in comparison: you can scan in four Fire Emblem amiibs who then appear in the game as reinforcements. We've only tried two: Marth, whose lack of a ranged weapon made him useless, and Robin, whose ownership of a ranged weapon makes him fantastically handy.
This time SteamWorld Heist wilts under the steam-driven pressure. There's no contest - it's a CODE NAME S.T.E.A.M. WIN!
Code Name S.T.E.A.M. starts well. The game's elements are explained in a handful of challenging opening levels (seriously - I got a fair few game overs before I hit the second chapter). Everyone controls the same but has a signature weapon, with the choice of a sub-weapon appearing later. There are also special moves: your medic can heal everyone within range, for example, whilst others can be more offensive. You can choose to plough through your foes in many different ways, basically, which is always nice. The odd level switches things up by putting you in charge of a massive steam robot to fight the larger monstrosities, too.
However, the actual meat of moving your characters around and shooting can drag in certain levels. There's no map, which was seen as a massive minus by reviewers at the time. This I counter with something said by GNamer Forum legend sporkhead on Twitter: "Information is the scarce resource". You're supposed to be unsure of what's going on. Less forgivable is that you are made to wait through the enemy's turn, though this does fall into the same category. You're expected to be on the lookout for alien activity to locate their position. Nonetheless, the game is still sluggish, with rare save points only compounding the problem.
In-level SteamWorld Heist, on the other hand, zips along at a cracking pace. You can always see the whole map, though locked areas will be blank, and your characters have good range of movement. As you're only moving in two dimensions, aiming is much easier. In fact, since your bullets can bounce off walls to a limited extent, fluky/well-intentioned ricochets are an encouraged strategy. Beating a baddy with a bouncer is a tremendous moment whose appeal almost never gets old. Your opponents do suffer from what you have to call 'Stormtrooper aiming' but that's where the difficulty levels come in.
You can select a mission's difficulty level, much like in Kid Icarus Uprising, and receive more loot/experience as a result. Even better, the levels are procedurally generated, so replaying the same level a dozen times will give you something new on every go. The infinite game! However, things can get repetitive and certain boss levels are exceptionally long-winded.
Even with those flaws it's an easy call. It's a STEAMWORLD HEIST WIN!
Story And Character
In Japan Code Name S.T.E.A.M.'s subtitle is Lincoln Vs. Aliens; the story is more involved than that, but not by much. The cut scenes tell much of the tale, though they do drag when you've unlocked enough characters: the developers felt each of them should have at least one line during any one scene. There are still some good story beats once you have all twelve team members but they can get lost in talky treacle. That said, it does give the characters... character. They behave as their counterparts in their respective novels behave (mostly) and remain fairly distinctive.
The SteamWorld Heist approach is different. The story moves at the pace you decide, as missions can (and possibly should) be replayed as often as you want. If you want to push on, you can; if you want to hold steady, go right ahead. The back stories of your steambot team can be discovered or left behind, too: you just need to talk to them from time to time, or, y'know, not. In fact, you don't even need to recruit some of them at all (though that'd make things much harder).
This adapatability means it's another easy decision. It's a STEAMWORLD HEIST WIN!
Here it is, at last. The central issue that's brought us to this bout: steam. Code Name S.T.E.A.M. runs on the stuff... literally. Every step you make, every shot you take, every cake you bake (maybe not that last one) uses steam. Whilst you can take back your steam if you return to your starting position, once a decision is made, it's gone. Some of it is replenished on your next turn but calling it 'key' is like calling jumping in a Mario game 'key': it's fundamental to pretty much everything you do.
SteamWorld Heist, despite its very title featuring the word 'steam' first, bizarrely features less of the stuff. You're steambots, sure, and water is the currency you use to buy new weapons... but actual steam is rarely mentioned, if ever.
That can only mean one thing. It's a CODE NAME S.T.E.A.M. WIN!
At the time of writing, SteamWorld Heist has just been released on the Wii U with XBox One and iOS versions still to come. The SteamWorld franchise now numbers two hits in a row, since the lovely Dig was a smash two years before Heist appeared. There was a prior tower defence game, too. Code Name S.T.E.A.M. came from nowhere and, it seems, has gone back there. Despite being made by Nintendo hitmakers Intelligent Systems (who are very experienced in the strategy genre), reviews not being terrible, and there being a sequel hook so large you could catch Jaws with it (the shark, not the James Bond baddie), it's easy to believe it'll be a very long time before we see Henry Fleming fire a steam gun in anger again.
On the other hand, as we're certain to be seeing the SteamWorld again in some form, this is not even a question. IT'S A STEAMWORLD HEIST WIN!
The Final Analysis
On paper before either release, you would have expected Code Name S.T.E.A.M. to trounce its opponent. And yet no; Image & Form took on the NintenGoliath and won by 3 points to 2. At least, by our bizarre set of criteria. Although I have a soft spot for the antics of Code Name S.T.E.A.M. - and it is by no means a bad game - SteamWorld Heist is a very fine piece of software that we recommend wholeheartedly.
Next up: why MegaMind is a better film than Despicable Me.