In this alternate history puzzler you’ll hear the metallic crunch of behemoth war machines. The old streets will crumble under the thunderous echoes of high-caliber canonry, and be illuminated by the crackle of lightning coils ready to mark their targets. But most importantly you’ll think about your every girder creaking maneuver, knowing that one mistake, one miscalculated command, could be the difference between victory and a chassis shattering defeat. Strap on your tin watch and brass goggles, because Ironcast is probably the best tile-matching game you’ll play this year.
Another Kickstarter darling, Ironcast shoves you into the cramped cockpit of a souped-up kitchen furnace and asks you to blow everyone else up. Don’t worry it’s for the good of England, trust me. You’re given a certain amount of days before being forced to confront an enemy commander; and each day prior select from several randomized missions, each offering their own objectives and rewards. It’s a race against time, compiling as many resources and as much manpower as you can before having to face off against another Wild Wild West inspired mecha-spider.
This all sounds simple enough, but it becomes a head-scratching exercise in sequential planning once you begin to lumber your ironcast onto the battlefield. There are a lot of smaller details to cover, so here are the most basic rules for ironcast piloting procedures:
Rule One: There are five different node types that need to be connected by drawing a continuous line through identical colors. Matching nodes will zap them into your various ironcast supply slots depending on their color. Ammunition is purple, coolant is blue, etc.
Rule Two: Collected supply can be used to activate the physical systems of your ironcast, allowing you to fire different weapons, move quicker, or raise shields.
Rule Three: Only three matches are allowed per turn, but you may activate any number of systems that you can afford.
These few rules are the foundation of the game’s mechanics, but it’s the subtle detail in utilizing your ironcast’s capabilities that makes this game a worthy brain-teaser. There are more than a few weapon types that can be built in the game, each requiring a specific amount of ammo in order to fire, and each exploding, melting, or blasting their targets in different spectacular ways. For instance, if your opponent’s shields are raised, you generally won’t want to use a MKI Light Cannon, the many smaller rounds easily being deflected. An Energy Lance, however, might be just the trick for punching through that shimmering blue stuff. Similarly, engines and shield capacitors suck up varying amounts of energy from your supply, so it’s a good idea to keep a balance of high-to-low cost equipment, lest your machine turn into an unmanageable energy vampire.
The game is all about vehicle centric supervision in a turn-based environment. How you decide to spend your supply is every bit as important as cheerfully linking up seventeen little blue squares and listening to them sizzle away concurrently. Deciding when to raise your defenses, repair, or fire your weapons are all stratagems leading to the finale of your heated duel to the death. Utilizing special link and overdrive nodes can connect multiple colors at a time, or provide a much needed boost to your systems’ power. It’s even possible to target individual systems on an enemy ironcast if they end up causing you due annoyance, which they will. Repairing your tin can costs money, so even if you’re feeling confident in your current mission, your hubris might lead you to taking some extra damage you never planned on paying for. Just like how driving in real life works. It’s all about managing these details to better efficiency.
Assembling and upgrading your ironcast is a piece of cake, if cake dropped from loot tables and was much pricier. Diagrams for new parts will occasionally drop after a successful mission, and can be cobbled together using your excess money (scrap). Pilots can also gain experience, allowing you to choose a new ability or passive buff upon each level surpassed. While you earn scrap and experience points from missions on a regular basis, you also earn global experience for your profile, which unlocks new starting mechs and pilots, as well as passive boosts to any new game. Even with the inevitable cycle of defeat looming, you’ll still feel as though you made some measure of progress towards beating those filthy computer controlled cheaters. Ahem, sorry, some residual bitterness there.
Speaking of the occasional unbridled meltdown, there are a few nit-picks that might turn away some folks. While your decision making and ability to foresee the enemy’s moves are vital, there are enough elements thrown to random chance that can end up infuriating you, especially if you’ve made the best possible judgments. An ironcast’s dodge chance, for instance, is a percentage based roll, and while you can increase this chance, the degrees of separation are so small that your odds of avoiding that enormous laser blast feels almost wholly up to the Fates. Another issue inherent to this type of puzzle game is the possibility of simply getting fleeced on the matching board. Everything could be going well, your rival billowing his last breaths, but then you suddenly run out of viable matches. As the turns tick over and your foe builds back momentum, your board continues to look like a bag of mixed skittles dumped onto a table, constricting your now limited options like a noose. Though I’ve played the game for almost eight hours and this has only transpired a handful of times, so again, minor nit-picks that don’t significantly detract from the overall fun.
I realize that by even mentioning the term “tile-matching game” in the first paragraph I’ve already doomed half of those reading to abandon the review altogether, and I don’t blame them; the match-three type has become a sore spot for many gamers out there, seeing it as nothing more than an adequate way to spend five minutes on the toilet, or a devious method of fooling family members into spending their retirement funds on extra candy-coated lives. Yet there’s something about the colorful composition of pieces on a board that draws most of us in, even if we choose not to tell anyone about it. That’s why we’ve seen all manner of match-three iterations throughout the years, all trying to exploit that compulsion, while also trying to revolutionize new systems to add more complexity. Numerous games like the Puzzle Quest series or 1,000,000 have done this with massive success; however Ironcast integrates its game play so seamlessly into its gritty steam punk theme, that I’m genuinely excited to see what other genres can be pulled into this puzzle subset. Where’s my Warhammer tile-matching game?