Up until a few days ago, I had never even heard of Steamroll. Developed by Anticto, Steamroll serves itself as an adventure-puzzle game, with much more emphasis on the latter than the former. The game’s light story revolves around a janitor that’s just starting out his new job within the game’s mines, though, shortly after the tutorial, the janitor accidentally sets off a chain-reaction of explosions that buckles the mine’s stability. Now, our desperate protagonist needs to escape; laying the foundation of play throughout its collection of levels.
The game does a good job of feeding you into the experience at hand. Equally as such, it carefully explains what each new gadget is capable of as you proceed. Players, as alluded to above, take on the role of said janitor, situated within a steam-powered ball that’s known as a Scarabeus. Described as half beetle and half armadillo, the Scarabeus is quite a sturdy machine that comes with some distinct capabilities. These are all relayed to you throughout the game’s opening, ensuring that you have a firm grasp of what’s to come as you dive in.
The Scarabeus takes on two forms. First and foremost, it can roll in 360 degree motion, so long as it has the steam to do so. Secondly, it can nest itself into docking stations in order to shoot steamballs. Docking in a station will replenish the Scarabeus’ steam, enabling you to travel deeper from station to station, aiding you to the level’s end gate. The general crux of play sees you starting at one end of each level, and making your way to the level’s end, with the level’s design and structure serving as the overall puzzle that you’ll need to suss out.
The game’s difficulty curve is well met, providing you with a steady string of progressively difficult challenges. Replay value can be found through the optional challenges that each level houses, though, this largely consists of beating any given level in a good time, whilst using as few resources as possible on your run. Note to achievement hunters, most of the achievements are tied to this system, requiring that you meet each of the three challenges for every individual level. The few other achievements will mostly unlock through play.
Careful use of your steam is imperative, something you can keep track of via the on-screen valve gauge. Should you run out of steam, you’re out of luck. You’ll need to carefully boost and guide the Scarabeus to get by, which admittedly becomes quite a task later on in the game. Whilst each level can typically be run in a handful of minutes, I found a lot of trial-and-error to contend with. That’s not a negativity by any means, in fact, it goes well in the game’s favor. Steamball has clearly been designed in such a way to encourage planning.
Each level is served as a miniature labyrinth, with a band of path-blocking structures, steep ramps, and objects that you’ll need to interact with, strewn throughout. I’ll credit the game for this, it’s a lot tenser than I thought it would be. Several times did I find myself literally holding my breath as I steadily maneuvered the Scarabeus across a side-less path, desperately trying to avoid falling off. In one way, it took me way back to Marble Madness, despite sharing no similarities with that game whatsoever. That’s a compliment right there.
The game does become more complex later on, such as needing to trigger and then avoid explosions, activating pressure plates, removing masses of rubble, and so forth. It’s all well thought up and robustly designed. When you’re not rolling around, you’ll find yourselves situated within a docking station. These stations ensure that your Scarabeus remains static and in-place, allowing you 360 degree movement on the spot. Here’s where you’ll be utilizing your steamballs, ranging; general balls, explosive balls, and balls that deploy objects.
These are typically situated in the same room as a puzzle, meaning that in order to proceed further in, you’ll need to put your thinking caps on. When shooting a ball, you’re able to alter the path in which it will shoot, as well as alter the force behind its shot. The game always makes it abundantly clear as to where your steamball will ultimately end up. Oftentimes, you’ll need to ricochet your steamball off a surface (or several surfaces) in order to get it to where it needs to be. It’s a simple process, but one that requires thought.
To begin with, the game simply tasks you with firing a ball at an activation switch to open a door, or, shooting a box to pick up limited resources. However, before long, you’ll be setting up angled barriers to fine-tune the path of your succeeding steamball, or, deploying a tactically set ramp to reach new heights. Despite the fact that the game isn’t overly deep, it does really well with the few tools that it includes. I was especially thankful of the game’s camera movement, being that you’re able to alter its perspective to see hidden areas.
Your resources are constantly charted on the right side of the screen, and here, you’re able to swap between the steamballs that you’ll be utilizing. Needing to micromanage plays quite a role here too, meaning that you’ll need to use your resources wisely. This all comes together nicely when grouped with the game’s overall design. At its most difficult point, Steamroll isn’t overly complicated. In fact, it rarely challenges you to the point of frustration. Rule of thumb? The answer is always staring you in the face, you really just need to see it.
It took me roughly two hours to run the game through. Outside of that, I wasn’t really compelled to return and mop up those additional challenges. This will likely only appeal to the completionists out there, and if that’s you, you can throw another hour on top of the length of play. That being said, Steamroll achieves much of what it set out to accomplish, and when we consider the state of the genre that it adopts, it’s a game that’s just about worthy of your time and attention. It’s fresh, it’s clever, and it, while it lasts, is well struck.
Sadly, I cant commend the audio and visual design. That, and I have two gripes with the game. Touching up on the latter, the story isn’t interesting. Hell, I pretty much disregarded it completely after mission two. Secondly, I’ve endured the occasional framerate issue throughout, most notably in the later levels. It doesn’t help that the visual design of Steamroll is quite ugly. It’s a depressing looking game. While I appreciate its setting, there’s a lack of polish and refinement overall, complete with dull and generic audio throughout.
Steamroll manages to get a lot right with the few systems that it consists of. The game’s well structured puzzles are relayed through its clever level design, together with its interesting steam-based concept and its balanced micromanagement. The big drawback is that it’s all tethered to a story that’s about as interesting as watching paint dry, with visual and audio design that’s equal to that.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.