‘SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech’ Review – Essential but Not Flawless

Image & Form’s SteamWorld franchise began back with SteamWorld Tower Defense which was a DSiware title. The franchise finally had a breakthrough hit with SteamWorld Dig that was released on Nintendo 3DS before seeing multiple ports following. Since then, the Swedish studio released two of my favourite indie games of all time with SteamWorld Dig 2 and SteamWorld Heist so I had high expectations when I played SteamWorld Quest on Nintendo Switch.

SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech ($9.99) was one of the biggest surprises for me when I played it on Nintendo Switch. The game’s overall quality wasn’t surprising given Image & Form’s track record with the SteamWorld games but the sheer polish in the gameplay and visuals was above anything the team had done before and the studio’s first attempt at a card battler ended up being amazing. Fast forward to last month and the card battling RPG SteamWorld Quest has hit iOS as a universal premium game bringing the complete adventure to mobile for the first time.

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SteamWorld Quest is Image & Form’s first major iOS game since the awesome SteamWorld Heist hit the platform back in 2016. Read Shaun’s review of that here. SteamWorld Heist felt like a perfect fit for touchscreens with its strategic turn based gameplay and I thought of the same thing when I played SteamWorld Quest on Nintendo Switch. I was actually surprised that SteamWorld Quest on Nintendo Switch had no touchscreen support given the simple movement across areas and card-based combat. Thankfully touchscreen support has been rectified now through the iOS version.

SteamWorld Quest has you taking on the role of Armilly alongside her friend Copernica. Armilly has ambitions to join the local guild but gets shut down at every instance. This continues until the village is attacked. This is where your journey begins spanning gorgeous locations, multiple grand boss battles, new and old friends, and more. SteamWorld Quest feels like a very simple and cliched story in the beginning but it has the signature humour and charm I love from the studio’s games.

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Expect the main story in SteamWorld Quest to take you around 25 to 30 hours or so depending on the difficulty you choose. While some might expect an RPG to be longer, I love how this has almost no padding. The only time I felt a bit annoyed with the pacing was with one of the progression-halting mechanics in the middle and one of the later areas when there was teleportation involved.

The core gameplay involves traversing through hand-drawn locations while looking for secrets, fighting enemies, opening chests, and more. Going off the beaten track is often rewarding with new cards, items, or even currency which you can spend in the shops to buy, upgrade, craft, and more.

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I’ve praised a lot about SteamWorld Quest so far but the main draw is definitely the combat. SteamWorld Quest‘s battles are called Punch Card Battles. Each turn, you draw multiple cards and can play up to three cards. Strike cards are basic attack cards while upgrade cards have boosts. Using strike or upgrade cards builds up steam pressure (shared among the party) which can be used to play more powerful skill cards and using combos later on. As you unlock more areas and defeat harder enemies, your repertoire of cards grows and you have a lot of freedom with approaching future battles.

Visually, SteamWorld Quest is gorgeous. The hand-drawn environments and steampunk designs are superb and already go above the high bar set with each new game from Image & Form. The only area the visuals disappointed me is in some of the mid-game areas. When played on iPhone 11 and iPad Pro (2020), SteamWorld Quest is fullscreen and smartly adapts the portions designed for a 16:9 aspect ratio to never feel out of place. The touch targets and interface elements scale well and this is easily one of the best conversions for a console to mobile release in terms of UI and menus.

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A lot of people keep comparing Slay the Spire and SteamWorld Quest when they don’t have much in common barring involving cards. One thing I will say is I wish Slay the Spire would take cues from SteamWorld Quest for the card interface during combat. SteamWorld Quest absolutely nailed it. During combat, you can tap a card to have it zoomed into the middle of the screen and then select a target for its effect as one way to play SteamWorld Quest. The other option is tapping and holding a card and then moving it to the target. Both of these feel great and definitely make me think an iOS version was planned from the start with such a lovely card battling interface.

Erik Gudmundson’s score for SteamWorld Quest is perfect ranging from very mellow and atmospheric tunes to upbeat adrenaline pumping battle music. The highlights of the soundtrack are definitely the regular boss battle theme and one of the later boss themes. While I prefer SteamWorld Dig 2 overall, the SteamWorld Quest score is easily the best soundtrack a SteamWorld game has gotten for me.

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SteamWorld Quest is a joy to play regardless of platform. The lower asking price definitely helps on mobile alongside the great touchscreen controls. If you’ve already played SteamWorld Quest on something else, there isn’t anything here that you haven’t already seen but newcomers will find this a brilliant conversion just like SteamWorld Heist. Hopefully Image & Form can bring over the SteamWorld Dig games now that controller support is built into iOS and iPadOS with support for the most popular controllers.

I love SteamWorld Quest but the iOS and iPadOS conversion has a few issues including one that surprised me. The lack of iCloud save sync or any sort of sync for progression between devices is baffling. You’re essentially forced to one device here. The other issues are minor because while controller support would’ve been nice to have (considering this is a console game ported to mobile), the touchscreen interface is perfect and a lot better than using a controller for this game. The final annoyance I have is with performance. On iPad Pro (2020), the performance isn’t as smooth as Nintendo Switch while it is fine on iPhone 11. Hopefully this can be fixed in a future update.

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Overall, SteamWorld Quest is a must play for not just fans of Image & Form or SteamWorld, but a must play period. I loved it back when it hit Nintendo Switch and it was a blast revisiting it on iPhone and iPad over the last few weeks. Just don’t come into this expecting an infinitely replayable roguelite because it isn’t that. SteamWorld Quest is a single player card battling RPG and is instantly one of the best games you can play on mobile. It oozes charm and is super-polished.

Just like how SteamWorld Dig 2 absolutely blew me away with its improvements over the already amazing SteamWorld Dig, I cant wait to see Image & Form revisit SteamWorld Quest for a sequel because they definitely keep getting better with each new game. If you held off on playing SteamWorld Quest on other platforms for a potential mobile port, your wait has been more than worth it. Do yourself a favour and get it now.

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