Every now and then a game will appear from seemingly nowhere and immediately catch my eye. Straight away I’ll think, “I definitely want to play that”. Steamroll on Xbox One is one such game. At first glance, it appears to be a cross between miniature golf and Super Monkey Ball, lovingly wrapped in a steampunk skin. That’s a winning combination if you ask me. I guess you’ve come here for more than just that, however, so let’s take a closer look.
Before we begin in earnest, it’s worth mentioning that Steamroll may be new to Xbox One, but was in fact released just under two years ago on PC. The Xbox version will release at around about the £10 mark, as it was on Steam.
Steamroll is set in a complex system of mines, which you have to navigate using your Scarabeus. This is essentially a giant metal hamster ball, for humans. It’s powered by steam, which propels you in whichever direction you choose. Be careful though, once you’re out of steam, it’s game over. A dial in the bottom left of the screen will show how much you have left to use. This won’t bother you to begin with, but later on you’ll need to keep a close eye on what’s left in the tank. When you attach to a shooting dock, your steam gauge will recharge, and after you’ve docked, you can fire your steamballs to solve the numerous puzzles you’ll come across. Once solved, you release from the dock and roll on to the next area (pun intended).
Steamroll has one game mode, that is its story/adventure that consists of 18 stages. Each of these stages also has three targets to hit, secondary objectives if you like, which are fairly challenging. It’s not essential to complete these in order to progress through the adventure, which is the right call, however they add some replay value for the completionists out there. This will include clearing the stage only using a certain amount of steamballs, or completing it within a certain time limit.
To control your Scarabeus you hold RT to fire up your steam jets and steer with the left thumbstick. The steamball physics are pretty spot on, striking the right balance between challenging but not impossible, to accurately direct your Scarabeus. When you near a docking station, hitting X will see you going into shooting mode, which will provide a projection path of your planned shot. It’s here where the miniature golf aspect comes into play. Use LT and RT to decide the strength of your shot, pressing A to fire. By utilising the D-Pad you can choose between different types of steam balls depending on the obstacles in your way.
As you progress you will learn how to build ramps and walls with your steamballs, as well as how to use explosives and combine several of these elements into a single shot. If you use the right joystick, the camera can be panned across the puzzle area for a bird’s eye view. However, the camera will automatically adjust to present the puzzle before you after docking, giving an idea of how to solve it.
The difficulty curve of Steamroll on Xbox One is fairly steady, allowing it to flow well throughout, but some of the later puzzles will really test your problem solving skills. The game develops the complexity of the action gradually, which keeps things fresh and interesting. When you fire your steamballs, after you’ve lined up the first shot, your Scarabeus stays aimed at the same place, so you can easily shoot your second steamball. This comes in handy in the more complex puzzles when you need to use various types of steamballs to solve them. It’s a small detail, but it adds to the smooth, satisfying experience for the player. You are also regularly checkpointed, which you’ll be grateful for as things progress. This is partly because if you run out of steamballs before you’ve solved the puzzle, you’ll need to start over.
Steamroll doesn’t just play well, but it looks good too. Things take a few seconds to finish rendering when you start a level, but then the action runs smoothly thereafter, however, as you’re rolling around the steampunk themed mines you shouldn’t expect to see too many eye popping colours. For the most part, the environment is painted with a murky pallet of browns, greys and blacks. It’s technically not the best looking game in the world, but the visuals suit Steamroll’s style perfectly. It also sounds decent, however rather oddly when you scroll through the home menus, the sound will occasionally pop and crackle. It’s a minor but annoying niggle.
This is not just a straight up puzzler, but part adventure game. There’s a simple but entertaining story to follow, a couple of characters to meet, and just when you think you’ve seen everything, a level will chuck something new at you. Also, as you progress your steamlog (scrapbook) is updated giving you further background to the game world, as well as acting as a rough guide to the evolving gameplay. The grammar can be a bit dodgy in places, some iffy translations are noticeable here and there, but overall your steamlog adds value and depth to your experience.
Steamroll is a cleverly designed puzzler which isn’t short on ideas. To say this is Antico’s first independently developed game, they’ve done a great job. The gameplay is tight, easy to grasp and layered effectively with complexity, and despite a few rough edges, Steamroll is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and worthy of a place in everyone’s game library.