Intelligent Systems is one of Nintendo’s most respected and beloved subsidiaries. As a company whose output has been generally remarkable and includes absolute classics such as Paper Mario, WarioWare, Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, and even Super Metroid, any new franchise blasting out of its gates will naturally garner a considerable amount of attention. Case in point, a brand new first-party property labeled Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is hitting the American market on this very day, and expectations towards what it will accomplish are, supported by the studios’ track record, justifiably high.
Much of that hype finds its roots on the fact Intelligent Systems are absolute masters when it comes to strategy games. After all, two of its most popular products – both the Fire Emblem and Advance Wars lines – are gigantic landmarks of the genre that have, throughout their respective histories, barely failed to deliver.
While the developer’s strong links to that niche of turn-based goodness are a source of excitement, they can mutually serve as a reason for general disappointment. The reasoning is simple: given Nintendo itself likes to build its astonishing collection of franchises around various genres in order to infuse variety into their catalog, does Intelligent Systems really need yet another strategy asset?
From a superficial outlook, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. easily comes off as redundant; a product that will naturally tackle the same terrain plowed by Fire Emblem and Advance Wars. However, a more profound analysis proves otherwise; the title is in fact a much needed addition to Intelligent Systems’ library, for it gives the company something neither Advance Wars nor Fire Emblem can offer: sheer freedom in game design.
Although those two franchises have received plenty of gameplay upgrades during their lengthy journeys, they abide to traditional norms that somewhat shackle developers in relation to how far they can take the game. Respecting those rules is by no means inherently bad; the world needs what is classic not only to create a line against which one can measure what is extraordinary, but also because a well-done conventional game is as delightful as an great unusual one.
With Advance Wars and Fire Emblem, especially the latter, Intelligent System is able to take standard turn-based strategy into unimaginable heights of content and quality, and every new installment sees the dawn of clever mechanics that add depth to storytelling and gameplay comfortably restricted by traditionalism.
Meanwhile, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. comes as a immensely valuable opportunity for the studios’ developers to mess up their perfectly combed hairdos, open the top button of their immaculate shirts, grind their ties on a paper shredder and go absolutely wild with ideas, concepts, and general wackiness. It would not be surprising to, down the line, learn that many of the farfetched quirks displayed by the game are actually things the team wish they had implemented on the most recent Fire Emblem games, but never could due to the fact they would not fit within the franchise’s overall style.
Everything about Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. – from its cartoonish visuals to its somewhat hilarious Japanese subtitle “Lincoln vs Aliens”, which is truly the perfect summarization of its plot – exhales an air of overblown insanity and tongue-in-cheek goofiness. If that creative hyperactivity is perfectly inserted in its gameplay, then the game could turn out to be a pleasant and less serious alternative to Intelligent System’s other long-standing works of the same genre. And Nintendo could have yet another monster under its belt.