At last year’s EGX Expo I was able to play an abundance of new upcoming games, hardware and tech, ranging from Virtual Reality to small scale indie games. One of the games that left a distinct impression on me was Ironcast, a rogue-like match 3 puzzler set in a Steam Punk-esque world (developer Daniel Leaver prefers the term “Victorian Sci-Fi”). I was able to have a chat with Daniel Leaver last year about the PC version of Ironcast and he mentioned his excitement for the (at the time) upcoming release on current gen consoles. So now the time has come, Ironcast is available on both Xbox One and PS4 and we got our hands on the Xbox Version.
In Dreadbit Game’s Ironcast you take on the role of a ‘Commander of the Consortium of Merit’ and control a 7-metre-tall walking combat machine known as an ‘Ironcast’ (catchy name). You must use said Ironcast to defend this 1880’s “Victorian Sci-Fi” world. I’ve never really delved into the match three genre of puzzlers and so tackled Ironcast with a fresh perspective.
You battle by matching
blocks resource nodes in order to power your Ironcast’s systems. These systems consist of Shields which, (yep you guessed it) absorb damage, movement which increases your chances of evading enemy shots, and your two interchangeable weapons. At first glance it may seem as though the match three element of the game was the primary focus as the colourful blocks take up the centre of the screen. However, whilst this is of course the primary element of battling I found the majority of my enjoyment with this title was my time spent with the more RPG elements of the game: upgrading my Ironcast, and choosing encounters that would fetch the required materials to power up my weakest elements.
From the very first time you open up the world map to select your mission you see a red marker which represents the final boss, a counter at the top shows the amount of days you have available in order to battle, level up and upgrade your Ironcast ready for the final battle. Upgrades can be acquired through completing certain missions for a particular item, i.e. destroying an enemy Ironcast without damaging its shields and so looting a shield upgrade for yourself. You also have passive and active abilities that can either be unlocked when levelling up, through a choice of three seemingly random options with every level. You can also cash in your ‘Scrap’ gained through finding rare scrap nodes and completing missions, to buy upgrades for your existing weapons or upgrade them entirely.
I feel that Ironcast is the Dark Souls of the match three genre, I say this because just when I was getting to grips with the games accessible yet deep layers of combat and progression, I was killed by an enemy Ironcast which to my dismay introduced me to the games perma-death system. Once dead, your Ironcast in gone and you must restart from the beginning of the game. Yup, harsh. The only element that remains are ‘Commendation Tokens’ that you gradually receive in a similar fashion to the ‘Scrap’. Although rarer than scrap you can use these tokens to buy some of the more major items the game offers, such as new Ironcasts or commanders to play as. This means that whilst the perma-death feels cruel it in not unjustifiably so and restarting with the option of choosing a new Ironcast or character takes away the monotonous feeling of starting again.
I felt my time playing Ironcast was well spent, especially once I’d put in the time to see the games strengths. I believe some will be divided as to whether this game is better played in a chunk of time so as to really get a feel for your Ironcast abilities or if it’s best played in short bursts. I found myself leaning towards the latter, I would turn the game on, do a few battles, carefully plan my next move, apply my upgrades and turn the game off to resume later. This brings me to the ultimate realisation that this game would be perfectly suited for a tablet, I would have loved to be able to play this in bed with the iPad and the simple yet beautiful visuals I feel would easily translate to the mobile platform easily.
Ironcast is undeniably a tough game, it is not your simple match three, it features a lot of depth and careful planning is required to progress to the end. The perma-death may be a deterrent for newer players especially if this does eventually come to tablets where accessibility is key but I think Ironcast’s charm lies within its ability to surprise with its difficulty and the requirements it demands from its players.
For more on Ironcast check out our interview with game creator Daniel Leaver here.