Ironcast Review: Commendable
If I tried to make up a zany sounding genre-merging game I would never be able to come up with Ironcast, a unique match-3 puzzle RPG for Nintendo Switch. The game blends several genres and a surprising setting with great skill. Though the total package is an admirable meshing off strikingly different parts, Ironcast will inevitably not be for everyone.
Ironcast mixes the risk vs reward of rogue-like games with a match-3 puzzle system AND adds a bit of seasoning via turn-based strategy. By all means, it shouldn’t work but it does. The core gameplay of choosing the right gems to match (to increase your energy, coolant or ammo) and right actions to take (increase walking speed, be defensive or press the enemy) is a lot more fun than it may sound on paper. Playing is believing.
This makes sudden deaths, which reset 100% of your progress, tolerable. You can earn commendation marks in a run and when you die you can redeem them for items and characters that can make future runs more manageable. Once you get the hang of Ironcast and how to approach certain combat scenarios, a full game-winning run can last 2-3 hours though many of these will go up in flames unexpectedly.
You control your Ironcast, a giant mech, while glaring at a puzzle board during missions. You match three or more gems of the same icon to acquire ammo, coolant, energy and repair. You may be out of ammo but need energy to raise your shields, so you need to judge wisely when you make your selections. You get two opportunities to match gems in a single turn and then the enemy gets their turn. You can increase your mech’s speed and shields, fire your weapons as much as you want in a turn so long as you have the necessary supply of gems to pull these moves off.
There are other factors into gameplay, like active and passive abilities, which can turn the tide of battle. Sadly, most of the game’s systems other than direct combat aren’t explained all that well.
You set out on your own in warzone in the 19th century as France terrorizes England. Its a sort of alternate-history, steampunk inspired aesthetic that really shines and is wholly unique. While the story doesn’t have any twists or turns worth writing home about, the style it possesses is one-of-a-kind and gives the game solid character to flesh out the package around the core gameplay premise. You will skip through dialogue eventually, because you’ll start the game over so many times, but the setting and art style help to give these puzzle game a charming personality that no one could have seen coming.
Between missions you can save your game (though this still resets when you die) and repair and upgrade your mech. Upgrading your Ironcast is vital to have successful, longer runs before meeting an inevitable and brutal death. There is a great deal of strategy hidden beneath the surface here and planning ahead can be a blast when things work out. In the end though, much of the game comes down to luck so you will find yourself shaking your head in frustration from time to time.
The thrill of pulling out a victory when you thought you would lose for sure is envigorating, so much so that it makes you forget some of your more disappointing, devastating failures. The rogue like nature of the game will turn off many but the core package is enough fun to keep you happy while you learn the ropes though the game could do more to help you along the way.
The combo of match-3 puzzles, turn-based RPGs and rogue-like difficulty should not work as well as it does. You will have a lot of fun figuring out how to succeed in Ironcast. The fun will continue over the dozens of hours of exciting gameplay scenarios so long as you can push through the game’s first few hours of ass-kickings and trial-by-fire.
Ironcast is a frankenstein's monster of three genres: match-3 puzzlers, strategy RPGs and rogue-likes. It will test your patience early on but like many classic games, both digital and physical, mastering Ironcast's combat scenarios is worth all early frustration. The game's setting is entirely unique though the story is unremarkable and it could explain aspects of the game much better. Review copy of the Nintendo Switch version provided by the developer.