I’m not that big on “Match-3” games, mainly because I find them to be pretty straight-forward and boring. The exceptions to the rule are games like “Puzzle Quest”, which offers RPG elements and gives me a reason to keep matching like-colored gems. “Ironcast” is similar to “Puzzle Quest” in that regard, but also has “FTL-like” elements when it comes to making strategic decisions and permadeath. Before I go any further, I’d like to thank Michelle Turner, Ripstone’s PR & Marketing Manager, for providing me with a free press copy for review purposes.
“Ironcast” does a very good job in the tutorial department, walking you through the majority of what you need to know. Matching “gems” of a particular color fills up the matching bar above the grid, which in turn can be used to attack, raise defenses, and etc. Like “FTL”, you can increase both shield and evasion values by spending energy and coolant, though you lose one “tick”of each every turn so that you can’t become this almighty powerhouse. Instead of swapping gems like in “Puzzle Quest”, you’ll draw lines horizontally, vertically, or diagonally over as many like-colored gems as possible.
One thing that bothered me about the game was the fact that your AI opponent (which is either a mech or a steam tank) uses its own, imaginary grid. This is both a blessing and a curse. “Puzzle Quest” could be often unfair in the sense that you can unknowingly set up your opponent for some killer combos after making your own match and allowing gems to fall from the top of the grid. Thankfully that doesn’t happen here because the AI has its own grid…though I have to wonder if it ever cheats in order to get what it needs. Another problem is that after a while, you’ll often have a bunch of useless gems on the very bottom of your grid with no way to get rid of them.
Sure, there are passive and active abilities you can unlock as you play to offset this problem, but these abilities unlock at random. You may get an ability that allows you to take all the repair gems without spending a turn (you get three before your opponent moves) during one playthru, but may not see it for the next five. I’m OK with this idea, but the game can be incredibly unfair at times and I’ve often found myself looking at the “game over” screen on the second or third mission because luck just wasn’t with me. Speaking of difficulty, I do think there needs to be an “easy” setting that reduces the cost of repairs at your base while also reducing the damage your opponent can inflict. I often find myself spending so much on repairs that I can’t make use of the blueprints I’m getting.
As far as gameplay is concerned, the flow of play will go something like this: choose a mission (or fight a boss), complete said mission, return to base, repair/upgrade, and repeat. It’s all very simple and I like the fact that you can choose random abilities as you level up (you earn XP) and receive random blueprints so that you can later purchase the item with scrap (the game’s main currency). Again, all of these rewards are randomized, so you never know just what you’ll be offered on any one playthru. Luckily, the more you play (and die), the more mechs you’ll have access to when starting a new game.
There’s very little not to like about “Ironcast”, though I will echo my earlier statement in that it NEEDS an “easy” difficulty setting. It can be extremely frustrating to be doing well only for luck to turn around and take a proverbial dump all over your mood. Roguelikes like “FTL” have been doing this for a while now, but I feel more out of control about what I can do about it than I do with most games of the genre I play. It’s still an excellent game and I wholeheartedly recommend it at the $15 price tag (as of 4/1/15), but I really wish it could appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers alike. The former crowd will no doubt get frustrated at times (like I do) when they can’t seem to make any headway, forcing them to search forums and adopt a particular policy in order to get by. Having to play a particular way to progress can suck the fun out of trying out new things…something I LOVED to do in “FTL” (and it didn’t punish me for it…too hard).
Final Verdict: 7/10