Steam Punks Review
Like steampunk? Find something you like, slap some gears on it, and then call it a day. That’s the approach game developer Monster Robot Studios took with Steam Punks, an iOS platformer that takes inspiration from SNES classic Mega Man X.
If “takes inspiration” is code for, “lifts virtually every game element from”, then yes, it’s safe to say that Steam Punks takes inspiration from Mega Man X. Now, it’s not always a bad thing for a game to emulate the heck out of another game; often developers will copy their favorite titles and shave away the rough edges to create something shiny and new. Steam Punks, however, plays like the video game equivalent of poorly-edited fan fiction.
First of all, this action-platformer likes to talk, a lot, and not well. There are countless typos, grammatical errors, and poor writing throughout the entirety of Steam Punks, including a prominent typo when the game is loading the pre-title screen. “Presents” is spelled “Presents”, not “Persents”, guys. The game itself is almost precisely like Mega Man X; armed with a pellet gun you’ll traverse several levels (selectable from a boss select screen), and go around collecting new powers from each boss you best. There are more than a few secrets to uncover as well, and these are quite welcome additions to the levels, but with as mind-boggingly dull as each level is it’s a tough sell to want to replay them.
Much of Steam Punks’ banality is because of the protagonist’s ludicrously sluggish walking speed. Seriously — Dear Esther seems like a breakneck experience compared to how slowly protagonist Dunns moves. He gets a dash move, supposedly to aid in mobility, but it’s probably the slowest dash in the history of video games. Another issue that compounds Steam Punks’ dullness are the brain-dead, sloth-like enemies. They’re dumb, they barely move, and they don’t seem that motivated to do anything. They do tend to drop copious amounts of loot in the form of money, health, and ammo, but these power-ups seem determined to do anything other than let you pick them up. The coins flutter up and outwards at weird angles, making you miss far more than you’ll ever collect, and sometimes the health and ammo make up their minds to go on incredible journeys; we encountered more than a few items that hit the ground and kept sliding at a faster speed than our slowpoke hero could muster.
The stages and boss fights go on for tediously long; it’s as if the developers knew that they didn’t have enough content for a full game, so they just padded everything out in order to charge full price. Between levels you can visit a hub town filled with NPCs bearing typo-laden dialogue. They offer a variety of ways to customize and power up Dunns, but the cost is quite prohibitive. After completing the first two levels we had a whopping sixty coins, and the first upgrade we’d located cost six-hundred. Why so expensive, you ask? How else are the developers going to get you to spend more real money on in-app purchases? The controls work fine, albeit with unsurprising sloth in their responsiveness. The graphics and audio seem like they were lifted whole-sale from RPG Maker 2003; often backgrounds look garish and unfinished, NPC animations are often awkward, the sound effects tend to lack oomph, and the music blasts out with a discombobulating crackle.
Now, despite its numerous flaws, at heart Steam Punks could be a pretty good time. There’s a reason the universe has seen so much of Mega Man and his various reincarnations and spin-offs — its because those games are damn fun. Steam Punks wants you to have the same kind of fun, but lacks the polish or the technical power to elevate itself above the rabble.