If you asked me what games the SteamWorld series is similar to, my best answer would be, “Uh, all of them.” Over the last nine years, almost every SteamWorld game has tackled a different genre and style of gameplay. They’ve done everything from tower defense action to Terraria-style mining platform adventures, and even turn-based tactical loot shooting. Throughout all these genres, there’s been a consistent aesthetic of mashing up gizmo robotics with contemporary settings. SteamWorld Dig took place in a Wild West robot town, while SteamWorld Heist was all about space-faring robot bounty hunters. SteamWorld Quest is perhaps the biggest departure of all, though, by crafting a fantastical world of robotic dragons and oil-powered goblins.
From top to bottom, SteamWorld Quest is an absolute visual treat. Characters are rendered with more care and quality than in any other SteamWorld game, and the soft lights and shadows that bounce off them during gameplay add to the aesthetic even further. The wonderful character art is complemented by the beautiful, painterly backgrounds and environments that you encounter throughout the game. While the music is mostly generic fantasy fare, some boss fight tracks pack a real punch.
Naturally, such a leap in aesthetic is matched by an equally large leap to a different gameplay genre. SteamWorld Quest is a traditional turn-based RPG, seeing you navigate environments and dungeons, encountering foes in real-time, and engaging in battles with a party of up to three members. There’s a twist to the battles, though, as every action in combat is fueled through a unique card game system that might be familiar to fans of indie hit Slay the Spire.
In SteamWorld Quest battles, every action is fueled by punch-cards. Each of your party members has a customizable deck of eight punch-cards that they bring into battle, and on each turn, you get a random hand of cards from the pool of all of your characters decks. Strike cards are simple attack cards and upgrade cards are buff abilities, but these card types also generate SP, which you can spend to use powerful skill cards.
The basic structure of combat is simple, requiring the same sort of critical thinking skills that any standard turn-based RPG would. If your enemy is weak to melee attacks, use a melee debuff to make them even weaker, and then pop off a couple strike cards from melee specialist Armilly. There are other advanced systems at play that give you impetus to play your cards smartly, such as combo cards that deal bonus damage if another character has a card played that turn, or special bonus attacks you can deploy if you use three cards from the same character in a turn.
SteamWorld Quest has the best aspects of card collecting games in it, while managing not to get bogged down with the overwhelming technicalities of regular card games. You get the satisfaction of finding new cards hidden in dungeons, or crafting them at the shop using gathered materials. At the same time, though, you’re not stressing out over building a finely tuned massive 50-card deck. The eight-card limit on each character makes it incredibly easy to put together specific kinds of builds or card combos without being overwhelmed by your options.
You’ll be fine-tuning your decks plenty, too, because combat can be brutal if you aren’t prepared. Even on normal difficulty, every battle requires at least a little bit of strategy and planning. If you try to mash A through each encounter, you’ll be sorry. Boss fights can be especially tense, as I barely survived each one by the skin of my teeth. Still, the feeling of losing a battle, thinking about what you struggled with most during that fight, and then editing your decks to combat those hurdles and try again is seamless, rewarding, and satisfying.
I was constantly hungry to find new battles and try out new strategies thanks to the lengthy story campaign. The narrative doesn’t do anything incredibly groundbreaking, but it’s a charming story about wannabe heroes rising to the occasion when they’re the only option left. The themes of professional heroes and the bureaucracy that holds them back from performing true good and natural heroics is interesting, and the way our goofy protagonists skirt the line between lawful good and well-meaning idiocy is just as satisfying as the inventive combat.
Some of the mechanics of the game outside of combat, though, are a little less satisfying. When you see enemies in the world, you can run up and attack them to get a preemptive strike and start battle with an advantage. That attack is really finicky, though, and I often found myself standing right in front of an enemy and swinging my sword only to miss, multiple times in a row.
New mechanics and a change of paint don’t stop SteamWorld Quest from being just as satisfying, addictive, and well put together as its predecessors. The mix of card collecting, deck building, and RPG battling comes naturally, and the cast of fun characters that accompany that action left me smiling for hours on end. Despite a few issues with map design and clunky dungeon controls, SteamWorld Quest is a gem of a game, and a must-play for anyone with a Nintendo Switch.
A review code was provided by the publisher.