Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is a game that is divisive, to say the least. It’s an underappreciated classic that regularly appears on clearance racks. Which is a shame, given the involvement of Advance Wars and Fire Emblem developer Intelligent Systems and the sorcery it works to get an XCOM-like experience onto the Nintendo 3DS. Especially since now, as it turns five years old, it holds up so well.
Part of this is due to the background of the game. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is set in an alternate reality where real historical and fictional literary characters fight against aliens who want Earth’s scientific and supernatural research for their own means in a steampunk world. It is incredibly colorful, filled with characters who take elements from their established counterparts to inform their personalities and attacks. For example, Strawman doesn’t “have a brain,” so he can’t be stunned. Tiger Lily was known for being rebellious and strong in her series, and her deviance here shows up by letting her survive one attack that would normally kill her.
Having characters that can pull details from their inspiration is a boon for Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. in multiple ways. One is how it influences their roles in battle. Each one pulls from the source to determine how you’ll use them when fighting through this 3D, turn-based campaign. Henry Fleming is your basic, well-rounded unit who can shove enemies or allies to get them in position and use a rifle. John Henry is more about damaging groups of enemies or terrain to help with your advance. Tiger Lily is a scout and a healer, though Tom Sawyer should be your primary scout once he joins.
It also helps that Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. has such a distinct look. It goes full Americana, with bright, poppy color schemes, comic-inspired character designs and heavily stylized characters that look well with the 3DS graphical limitations. It also leans heavily into the steampunk aesthetic with menus that have all kinds of dials, gears, metals and sepia tones. It doesn’t look like any other game on the system, which helps it stand out, though dismissing the anime appearance other Intelligent Systems tactical games share probably didn’t help it much.
Its versatility allows Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. to employ cool mechanics that hold up well! By relying on steam as a power source, you clearly see what you are and aren’t capable of each turn. You can hold back some of that power for overwatch attacks on an enemy’s turn. You can go through the campaign and enjoy the story. Or, if you are lucky enough to have a friend with the game, you can use all of the characters you have unlocked in a multiplayer match with them. Fire Emblem amiibo even let you switch up your strategies with crossover characters who are more reliant on melee attacks than the ranged ones most of the S.T.E.A.M. members use. There’s a lot going on and working together.
Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is a delight. It is one of the more interesting tactical games on the 3DS, as it gets creative with its characters, mechanics and setting. It functioned well both as a single and multiplayer endeavor. It even got a little silly with its Fire Emblem crossover. Most importantly, it is still enjoyable in 2020 as it was in 2015.