It’s always interesting to see developers try their hand at reinvigorating a seemingly well-trodden genre by adding in an unexpected new element. There’s always a great risk being taken, however, as the new project then runs the risk of trying to do too much at once and fails at doing anything properly. Ironcast is one such game that aims to shake up genre conventions and bring something fresh to the match three puzzle game, and while it remains to be seen how this will pan out when it’s released on the Switch, our time with the game left us looking forward to the full experience.
The gameplay is — at its most basic — a match three puzzle game, but there is so much more to the experience than just that. Layered on top of the puzzle gameplay are elements of strategic RPGs and roguelikes. After picking a mech and pilot, each with their own special abilities and qualities, you partake in “battles” with other mechs in a turn based system. When it’s your turn, you're given three moves to match at least three of any color node, of which there are four. Each different color will net you resources in one of four different areas, such as shields or ammunition, and the number of nodes that you can match will determine how many resources you earn.
It’s a bit complicated to wrap one’s head around at first and it could perhaps be a bit more straightforward in this aspect, but it gives the game a satisfying amount of depth that’s seldom seen in this kind of game. No longer is it a simple game of finding like colors and matching them up, but you now need to plan the kind of matches you make according to what you most need at the time. The AI is particularly brutal as well, and will constantly press you to change up your tactics as you manage resources to the best of your ability.
There are also roguelike elements to the game which ensure that no run is going to remain quite the same. Successfully winning a fight will allow you to earn credits which unlock perks that are then added to an ever-expanding pool of options, from which a few will be randomly drawn for your consideration upon leveling up. Die, and you’ll have to start over form the beginning, but you’ll gradually unlock better perks as you continue through the game. To be honest, this system comes off as being a bit tedious, but we weren’t able to judge that from a brief demo session. Even so, for those that are hooked by the gameplay, this roguelike system will certainly give the game long legs and keep you coming back.
As for the presentation, the game takes place in the 19th century and the steampunk elements are evident from the first glance. There’s grimy and gritty textures galore and the powered suits creak and groan as they battle with each other. While it doesn’t seem like the game does anything particularly new with this aesthetic, it hits all the genre conventions perfectly, and it’s clear that a great deal of effort has been put in on this front. For example, each pilot you can choose has some impressively detailed artwork and a long bio explaining their backstory and motivations for piloting an Ironcast. All of it comes together quite well in creating an engaging atmosphere that really draws you into the world, and we can’t wait to experience more on this front.
All told, we found ourselves cautiously optimistic at the potential of Ironcast. At the outset, one would think that layering in all these strategic and RPG elements would hinder the experience of a match-three puzzle game, but they improve and build upon it in a surprisingly effective way. We still have our reservations about this one —particularly in regards to the roguelike elements — but make no mistake, this is definitely one to keep an eye on. It launches later this year, and we’ll be sure to have a review with our full analysis of the game.