Flash! Bang! Whoosh! this is what solving a puzzle feels like in the XBLA Indie game Steam Heroes. Developed by Tiamat Games and Projector Games for the Xbox 360, Steam Heroes puts a twist on the puzzle genre. While keeping with familiar game play similar of other puzzle games, but adding elements to create an intense experience. Where completing a stage in Steam Heroes is a kin to an insane victory in a battle. Set in the fictional Steam Land where Baron Von Smog and his evil minions are attempting to rule all of Steam Land. The Steam Heroes are set to disrupt Von Smog in 12 stages of color matching steam stomping.
Every stage in Steam Heroes is set up by a cut scene displaying the story out as a one panel comic. These are effective and give the player context for the game. Voice acting is used to not only give clarity, because word balloons can be difficult to read, but to even flesh out the characters. Game play consists of matching three or more game pieces to clear them from the game board. When this occurs the steam from the pieces will aid the heroes in battle. As a player is successful in matching game pieces the more successful the heroes will be. Forced by mechanics, players will have to be strategic in which pieces to clear. As specific steam/health bars need to be filled with a matching steam in order to keep playing. No time limit is in place because play time is determined from the player’s skill. Stage bosses will attack with, and without, special abilities against the heroes that will effect the game board and the many bars. Five in total displaying the heroes’ steam, the player’s health, and the enemy’s health. The problem with all these bars is also having to search a full game board for matches at the same instant. Unlike most puzzlers this one just keeps piling on the game pieces and never allows the player to breath. With so much to take account of a rush of sorts is born from the scramble of searching. Steam Heroes is a very active gaming experience that can be just as draining as any fast paced action game. Which is its strength and is complemented by a creative and aggressive world.
The world of Steam Heroes is not very deep and could be replaced by any world really. The art design is a unique blend of Western and Japanese styles. With anime robots designed off of ancient navy diving suits and gears placed where ever possible. Steam power is the advanced technology of this world and it seeps into the character design. All infused with the mechanical nature of steam power to create fun heroes and enemies. Additional visual effects add to the game play’s hectic nature by creating a sense of power in the player’s actions. Selection of game pieces produces a colorful Wicca like circle that envelops the screen. Which already feels like casting a spell, but then game pieces explode into stars when matched. Feeling powerful while being attacked by a powerful force is what the visuals and sound adds to the experience. Sound effects are loud and they will engage the player while annoying anyone else not playing. Music has a fantasy epic sound to it. Like the soundtrack was meant for fighting a dragon or a wizard, helping to giving the game a true sense of place and atmosphere. Speaking of sound the voice overs are done very well with each voice being distinct and fitting the character. Actors feel like they are having fun their rolls, and when dialogue is present, it is kept short and sweet.
This is the mantra of Steam Heroes. Story mode will be blown through in about twenty minutes and was designed as a tutorial for Steam Hero Mode. This mode collects all the defeated bosses from story mode in tougher matches. With a goal of victory in the fastest time, if fast enough, a player’s name will placed on the leader board as a reward. Like an arcade cabinet the game lists the top times before every stage in Steam Hero Mode. Creating a challenge for the player beyond the difficulty level of stage. Like the cut scenes in Story Mode these leader board displays give a reason to play. Instead now it’s your personal battle instead of the game’s story. The problem with this set up is the feeling of fighting against an enemy is weakened. In Steam Hero Mode the player is in a fight against their own skill limitations. Fun with this challenge seems to wane with time and the game begins to lose steam. From my perspective It is easier to accept a loss from another being, real or fictional. If a multiplayer function were available this would add more replayability being able play against friends online or locally. Because topping a score does not compare to confronting the opponent and crushing them.
Steam Heroes is definitively for the player seeking aggressive game play and presentation in puzzle form. Not made for every puzzle player, but one who happens to be bored with a relaxing color matching. This game would also make a great introduction for the action junkie looking for a new way to kick-butt. At the cost of 240msp/$3, Steam Heroes delivers an entertaining game that may not a meal. Being quick and bite sized, Steam Heroes is perfect for an eclectic gaming collection.
Overall Score: 7
Official trailer below.