Last time we watched as Dunns and Marcel, fellow Elite Enforcers, were attempting to escort the Professor and his latest invention – the powerful Grand Reactor – safely inside Puissance City. Yet they still weren’t ready when the entire Bowler Gang showed up, whom couldn’t possibly have come at worse time since Diane – the most powerful of all Enforcers – was currently missing. Now Dunns is left with no choice but to track down all six of the Bowler Bosses by himself, each of whom carries a separate piece of the Copper Compass, if he wishes to learn where their nefarious hideout is hidden.

Will Dunns be able to do all of this in time before the Bowler Gang turns the Grand Reactor into an evil contraption with which to rule the world? Find out today on the next exciting episode of Steam Punks (out now, $0.99)!

SteamPunks-5Anyways, to say that the latest game from Monster Robot Studios is filled to the brim with Saturday Morning Cartoon style storytelling would certainly be something of an understatement. What does deserve being said – however – is that Steam Punks draws heavy inspiration from Capcom’s Megaman X, yet while still managing to be more than merely a shameless clone. Furthermore, anyone who read our earlier reviews concerning this developer – such as SZC: Beyond Dead or Mazes and Monsters – should breathe easily, as Steam Punks was actually delivered in a content-wise completed form.

Specifically speaking, Steam Punks is a sidescrolling action title – with heavy exploration elements – where players are tasked with eliminating each of the six dreaded Bowler Bosses in any order that they desire. Upon the defeat of each boss the player will receive one of the six parts to the Copper Compass, as well as the ability to equip whatever weapon – or sometimes gadget – that the head honcho attempted to fight them with. The player can then – once the Copper Compass is finally assembled – go to the final stage where Dunns must rescue the professor and his invention, saving Puissance City once and for all.

While the above premise might at first sound like a rather short affair, it’s the aforementioned “heavy exploration elements” that add in the bulk of Steam Punk’s running time. The best way to describe the challenge factor of Steam Punks would be to declare that the game’s difficulty curve is completely inverted, with Dunns beginning his adventure with the most pathetic equipment imaginable. Over time he will potentially find an assortment of gun upgrades – life bar increases – and other power-ups that can make his life infinitely easier, such that the endgame could be a cakewalk by comparison.

SteamPunks-6The catch is that accessing many of these will require tools which must first be obtained from other stages entirely, meaning that much backtracking – and thus replaying of previous levels – will be necessary. Helping to further differentiate this game from Megaman X is that the sheer volume of secrets available to find is on a whole other level when compared to Capcom’s seminal classic. As a result of this secret finding focus, Steam Punks – even though the idea of having an iOS platform jumping title is not particularly novel – has managed to nicely fill a niche not normally represented on mobile platforms.

Anyways, Steam Punks keeps its control scheme simple with a set of jump/action buttons on the lower-right and the requisite left/right movement buttons being on the screen’s lower-left. Furthermore, once the necessary enhancement has been found, the hero can also execute a burst of speed – even while in the air, no less – by double tapping either the left or right arrow. While the game at first had some awkward issues with the jump mechanics, which sometimes made it difficult to control where Dunns would land, I am glad to report that this has since been rectified.

Accompanying all of this jumping – blasting – and secret searching action is a top notch set of 16-bit era inspired visuals, wherein I must say that Ash Jackson has truly outdone himself. Dunns must tackle a wide variety of behemoth steam-powered monstrosities during his adventure to stop the Bowler Gang, all of which are both very colorful and very animated. Further complimenting this journey is an assortment of catchy background songs, some of which I will admit have drawn quite a bit of inspiration from Megaman X’s soundtrack.

10349559095_28e4aebd80_zOf curious interest is that Steam Punks even features the song “Telem Took It” by the real life group Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band, whom can be seen performing it live – digitally speaking – whenever you visit the game’s central town hub for shopping and whatnot.

As great as Steam Punks is for side scrolling based treasure hunting action on mobile devices, it pains me to say that the title doesn’t necessarily also come with a 100% clean bill of health. The game’s aforementioned inverted difficulty curve certainly could have used some more development time, since the experience currently begins brutally hard and then ends in a state of practically trivial easiness. It also would have been nice if more strategy was needed when fighting the various bosses, for – as it currently stands – merely shooting the rocket launcher is a ridiculously surefire way to win each and every match.

Perhaps the part which most heavily wears down upon Steam Punks’ fun factor is that you will have to pay Ann an unlock fee before you can access each and every new upgrade that you track down. As you are already constantly revisiting areas in order to discover these upgrades in the first place, the process of then endlessly grinding through enough enemies for money really isn’t very welcome. In particular, the amount of grinding needed to unlock the game’s ultimate weapon – the alchemy gun – is absurdly large in light of the fact that there’s nothing it’s power is actually needed for.

Realistically, this is probably the part where Monster Robot Studios hopes that you’ll break down and simply purchase one of Steam Punks’ IAP based options instead of grinding for in-game currency. I must admit that I am becoming sick and tired of seeing genuine gameplay always getting compromised on mobile devices just so that developers can find extra ways to stick in IAP driven cash grabs. Although I guess the flip-side of all this is that a singular $2.99 purchase will net the player a whopping 20,000 Clankos, which is probably far more than one could ever possibly spend. Perhaps it would have been better for everyone if the starting price of Steam Punks had been a little bit higher, such that Monster Robot Studios didn’t feel the need to ask for extra money like that.

Still – even despite these sources of consternation – I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was wholeheartedly hoping that Monster Robot Studios finds the time to create a sequel, since Steam Punks is already off to a fine start.

iFanzine Verdict: Steam Punks is a sidescrolling platform jumping title – taking some visual cues from Megaman X – which features a heavy focus on backtracking to find secrets, putting the title in a niche not normally represented on iOS. With a healthy dose of campy writing, tight controls, pleasing background music, and colorful graphics, there is certainly a lot inside Steam Punks for platforming fans to enjoy. The downside to all of this is that the extremely inverted difficulty curve can render the back half of the game easy to the point of being irrelevant, and there will also be mind-numbing amounts of grinding needed for anyone who doesn’t fork over extra cash.