The excellent card-based adventure RPG, SteamWorld Quest: The Hand of Gilgamech, is the latest game from Swedish indie developer, Image & Form. With SteamWorld Quest, the studio responsible for the spectacular Metroid-style action platformers SteamWorld Dig 1&2, and the action strategy game SteamWorld Heist, has once again proven themselves capable of crafting great games, no matter the genre.
Set in a medieval world where mechanized heroes clash with the forces of darkness, the aspiring knight Armilly and her inquisitive wizard friend Copernica are swept up in a silly adventure complete with mythical monsters, opposing armies, and a sinister robotic foe with a birdcage for a head (appropriately named Captain Canary).
Like Image & Form’s previous outings, the story of SteamWorld Quest represents a relatively light-hearted romp through an incredibly well-realized setting, which leans on straightforward, charming humor and machine-based puns in nearly every story beat (often pausing the action, exposition, or even enemy monologues to make jokes at naive Armilly’s expense).
Players will create a party of three characters to traverse the beautiful, lovingly-rendered world, and the team composition can (thankfully) be adjusted at any time. Characters not in the party still receive some experience, so they won’t be left behind if they are put on the bench for a while.
At the beginning of each battle, the player is dealt six cards from the deck they have built, with decks comprised of exactly 8 cards from each party member. Both the player and the enemy team then choose up to three cards to play for that turn and, if the player isn’t satisfied with their hand, they can redraw up to two cards on each turn. The predetermined turns will then play out, and the cycle begins again, with each side drawing three more cards to add to their hand, so the player will always have six cards.
Cards come in several varieties: basic action cards which build meter, utility cards which are usually meter-neutral, and cards with powerful effects which spend meter. With so many cards to choose from and so few spots to be filled, it is easy to create a wide variety of effective decks which play to the strengths of your team or capitalize on the weaknesses of foes (which can be found in the handy Beastiary in the menu).
After each turn, all the cards used are cycled back into the deck. Because cards are never discarded, just shuffled back into your draw pile, and each party member has exactly the same number of cards, it means even though your deck is small, there is virtually always something valuable for each party member to do. Moreover, even if you draw a hand full of cards used by only one party member, there is no limit to how many times the same character can act per turn. You can have Armilly take three actions one turn, split actions evenly between party members the next turn, or any such variation. This frees the player up to make whichever decision they feel is best in the current situation.
What’s more, if the same character acts three times in a single turn, they’ll also get a bonus action, which is determined by the weapon they have equipped at the time. Act three times with the group’s healer, Galleo, and the bonus action will heal and increase the defense of the entire party. Act three times with Copernica, the mage, and the party gains a powerful damage-absorbing shield. Act three times with Armilly, and she will heal herself while dealing damage to a random enemy.
An incredibly wide range of cards can be crafted at the wandering shop, or found in chests hidden throughout each chapter, so a thorough exploration of each area reaps concrete benefits. At the end of each chapter, players are told the percentage of the total treasure they found, and chapters can be replayed at any time. This, in addition to save point statues in each level (which cause all enemies to respawn) allow players to easily pivot between continuing to progress through the story or grind experience, gather card crafting ingredients, and find every hidden chest.
SteamWorld Quest’s systems seem simplistic when compared to other card-based games, but Image & Form has boiled the RPG down to its essence and focused on the fun aspects of deck-building games without all the unnecessary cruft common in other games in the genre. Bigger doesn’t always mean better, and the team at Image & Form has proven time and time again they know it. With SteamWorld Quest, they have crafted a lean system where virtually every card earns its place, with no wasted space.
With a charming cast of characters, a delightfully quirky world, and approachable yet engrossing card mechanics, SteamWorld Quest is an excellent deck-building game, a fun-filled RPG, and an engaging prospect for fans of tactical turn-based games. Image & Form has another hit on their hands with SteamWorld Quest, so if you are hungry for a meaty RPG to play on Switch, this is it.
Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download
Publisher – Thunderful Publishing AB
Developers – Image & Form International AB
Release Date – April 25, 2019
Price – $25.00
Genre – Role-Playing, Adventure
Players – 1
Size – 940 MB
Brian Barnett has loved video games ever since his uncle Jimmy introduced him to them at the ripe old age of five. His wife, Audrey, was also introduced to video games by her uncle, lending credence to Brian’s theory that behind every gamer, there is a cool uncle.
Since playing Super Mario Bros. on the NES, Brian has had a passion for Nintendo games. The first thing he did when he started earning money was save up and buy himself a Game Boy, and they quickly became inseparable. Through the years, this led to his special love of portable game consoles, so the release of the Switch is the perfect storm of Nintendo action he has been waiting for.
In addition to his gaming obsession, Brian enjoys playing drums, writing and listening to music, and hosting a weekly video game and nerd culture podcast.
He is an extrovert, and loves talking about and playing games with others, so let him know if you want to team up and play together!
Plays: Switch, New 3DS, SNES, NES, GBA, PC, Xbox One, PS4, Vita