Review: The Legend of Steel Empire

Full steam ahead

Man, I've seen a lot of Steel Empire. The game debuted on the almighty Mega Drive, made its way to Game Boy Advance in 2004 with a careful and cleverly considered port, then hit 3DS in 2014 in the enhanced form you see here, now, on Nintendo Switch. Being reviewed. By me. And as I'm sure you'll agree, it's going very well so far.

The big hook of The Legend of Steel Empire is steampunk. Steampunk! You know? All sort of cogs and steam. And there's a zeppelin, isn't there, at least one of those. Which is nice, because you can enact a thousand personal Hindenburg disasters by launching into this horizontal shmup and vigorously pouring scorching fire into wave after wave of beautifully drawn enmemy sprites, from airships to blimps to gliders to speeding trains. Your gunfire levels up twenty times, though you will of course need to keep collecting power-ups in order to witness this carnage.

Stages feel nicely compact and distinct from one another, though if you don't vibe with the aesthetic it isn't going to change. Barreling through each level has kind of a euroshmup feel, with your craft having a replenishable health bar rather than being destroyed in a single hit. You can also gain little satellites that fire alongside you, and from the start you've the ability to fire backwards as well as forwards - just as well, because the enormous enemy craft  will relentlessly zoom around the screen, pissing bullets all over the place. It's not at all easy, but I also found the challenge to be entirely within the realms of "fair", especially given the option to quit after each stage and return to your position. It's all beautifully smooth and responsive, too - I couldn't detect a single frame of input lag and felt that the few times I was hit were very much my fault.

Sensibly, the game seems to be running the Mega Drive original with some sort of overlay to add lighting effects, but they're subtle enough not to be intrusive or spoil the game feel. The music is rather good too, though the music levels seem a tad unbalanced. Menus are function over form but that's not really a problem with a game like - you just pick your ship and get on with the show. There's a rather standard music player and gallery to peruse, but this is a focused experience and a reasonably straight re-release of the game's Steam version to Switch. It's a good fit for the platform and I'd say this is comfortably the best way to play it, though Steel Empire is a good time regardless of in which form it is partaken.

A strong effort here and a legacy game that has seen a curious number of reissues, though is most assuredly worth your time to play. Its unique aesthetic tied with chunky Mega Drive-y gameplay that works for me. It's a bit of a break from the shoot-'em-up norm and that's something to celebrate. So get on your best, erm, girders, and get Steampunking.