Ironcast is a bit of an odd duck, but oftentimes I’ve found that oddity can lead to fun one-of-a-kind experiences. The best way to describe Ironcast, in a nutshell, would be to say that it is a turn-based matchmaking game with permadeath and RPG progression mechanics. It will probably feel vaguely familiar to anyone who has played the Puzzle Quest series of games. Releasing back in 2015 on PC to favorable reviews, Ironcast has now made its way onto the Nintendo Switch.
Set in an alternate steampunk version of 1800’s Victorian England, a war has broken out between England and France. A powerful new type of energy called Voltite has been discovered by the French, who refuse to share this amazing revolutionary discovery with the British. Not to be deterred, Britain steals samples of it so they can also have access to this new source of energy. After refusing to return the samples, France declares war on the British Empire. After years of waging war and eventually reaching a stalemate, there was a technological breakthrough that led to the creation of the Ironcast: 7-meter tall bipedal tanks powered by Voltite. They were created by a group of wealthy private citizens who call themselves The Consortium of Merit. The aristocratic commanders of The Consortium now fight in their Ironcasts alongside the British Army to help break the stalemate and end the war once and for all. I think that it is an interesting story, considering that it is essentially a matchmaking game. I’m more than a little biased, though, since I love the Victorian steampunk genre.
When you start a new campaign for the first time, you will only have one Ironcast commander and Ironcast available to begin with. There are more to choose from but they need to be unlocked: we’ll talk more about that later. Campaign mode consists of a map of England dotted with various missions. You get to choose which mission you want to undertake, each offering different objectives and rewards. Some of the more common objectives include: surviving a certain number of rounds; matching and collecting the required amount of supply crates or simply destroying the enemy. Each mission takes an in-game day to complete and after each day, you get another randomized set of missions to choose from. The position of the big boss is marked on the campaign map, along with how many days you have left until you must engage him. These bosses are challenging so you best choose your missions carefully and be prepared for the big showdown. Successful missions reward you with experience, scrap (the currency used in the game) so you can pay to repair your damaged Ironcast and buy new weapons and systems, and war assets. Sometimes you’ll even be rewarded with blueprints to unlock new equipment for purchase in the garage store. War assets are another form of currency earned by successfully completing missions. The more war assets you earn, the more the incoming boss’s health is reduced, making the difficult fight a little bit easier.
Failing a mission by not completing the given objectives or by running out of time doesn’t mean that its game over for you, it simply means that you will have wasted a valuable day and you will not receive any of the completion rewards. Ironcast does have a permadeath feature, however, so if your Ironcast is destroyed in battle say bye-bye to your progression. There is a persistent reward system in place that makes Ironcast worth playing over and over again without making you feel like you’re wasting your time, which I feel is very important when featuring permadeath in any videogame. During a playthrough, you can earn commendations. These can be found rarely on the grid during battles. The only other way to get them is when you do eventually get game over, you are rewarded with one commendation for every 10,000 experience points that you’ve earned during your run. You can spend your hard earned commendations in the main menu on a bunch of useful things, such as permanent bonuses to scrap and experience earned new augmentations and abilities to be found during the campaign, and new Ironcast and Ironcast commanders to play as. I thought having to restart the game over and over again would be a pain in the ass, but thanks to easily skippable dialogue you can get right back into the action quickly.
Now let’s get down to the gameplay side of things. The battles of Ironcast are turn-based affairs. You need to match the nodes in order to fill up your four different reserves: ammo, energy, coolant, and repair. Ammo is needed to fire your weapons, energy powers your defensive systems, repair nodes are needed to fix up your damaged systems, and coolant is used up everytime you fire a weapon or use a defensive system. You can make two matches per turn, but as long as you have enough reserves you can fire on the enemy and build up your defenses as much as you feel the need to. It is also possible to target a specific system on an enemy: destroying their shields can leave them defenseless until they’re able to repair, take out their weapons and they won’t be able to fire at you. Be warned, though: they can do the same to you. The most important stat on your Ironcast is the hull health meter. Once that drops to zero your Ironcast is destroyed. There is no way to repair it during the fight, with the exception being a rare special skill. The battles might seem a bit overwhelming at first, but you’ll pick it up in no time. Each playable Ironcast has a unique skill that can be used at any time during a battle without costing reserves. These are usually very handy but they must undergo a cooldown before they can be used again. More skills can be learned as you level up. This brings us to the most important place in the game: the garage.
The garage is where you prepare yourself in between missions, and the only place where you can save your game. You can pay scrap to restore the hull health of your Ironcaast (it doesn’t automatically replenish after a mission), as well as purchase and equip new parts. You can also equip any special abilities or augments that you have unlocked through leveling up. Once you gain enough experience to level up, you get to choose one of three random upgrades. These can be either special abilities to be used in battle, general augments for your Ironcast, or special augments that can be attached to your weapons and defensive systems to give them bonuses. It adds a cool customization element to the game, but I really don’t like the randomness of the upgrades. It can be frustrating to level up and have nothing decent to choose from.
I have to admit, Ironcast surprised me. When I first heard about it being a roguelike matchmaking game with permadeath, I thought it sounded ridiculous. As it turns out, ridiculous is exactly what I was looking for. The battles are surprisingly addictive and kept me coming back for more, even after getting whupped and having to restart the campaign and the randomized mission structure helps keep things fresh. If you want a fun little puzzle game that’s great on the go, grab yourself a copy of Ironcast.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of this review.
Final Score: 8/10
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