I like Code Name Steam (sorry, S.T.E.A.M.) a lot, though not quite as much as I had hoped I would.

At its core, it's right up my alley. It's a turn-based strategy game (a genre I adore) with action elements on a handheld (where I've spent the most time with such games in the past) that takes place in a steampunk London in which you fight aliens under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln. Also, literary characters like Tiger Lily and Tom Sawyer are there. I mean, come on. How is that not a recipe for success?

And mostly it works well. Moving around the environment feels good, the setting is interesting and there's a wide variety of characters and weapons to choose from. 

The action manages to feel different than most other turn-based strategy games, too -- especially previous strategy games from the same developer (Advance Wars and Fire Emblem). This is mostly due to how movement works. It's most easily comparable to Valkyria Chronicles, for those who played that.

In most other strategy games (like Final Fantasy Tactics, for example) each unit on a team has a certain amount of spaces they can move, and they can also perform an action like attacking an enemy or healing a friendly unit. In Code Name Steam, each member of your party has a steam reserve -- basically an energy meter -- that determines how much you can do anything. Moving, attacking, whatever. You have free movement and third-person shooter-esque aiming, which gives you a lot of freedom on the battlefield and allows you to aim for specific weak points on enemies you encounter, but you have to make sure not to run out of steam before you've done what you set out to do. If you're not careful, you could find yourself caught out in the open with no cover, surrounded by things that want to kill you.

Steam management is especially important if you want any of your characters to end their turn in "overwatch" mode. Basically, if your unit has enough leftover steam at the end of its turn (the amount varies depending on your weapon, and not only weapons are compatible), you're basically telling that unit, "If an enemy walks in front of you, shoot it." This can be a great way to play defensively or even set up traps for enemy forces, who might walk into a hailstorm of bullets on their own turn.

Be careful, though, because enemies can use these same tactics against you.

This all feels great, with different weapons allowing for different strategies. The free movement helps make Code Name Steam feel a bit more like an action game, but it's still got the cerebral, deliberate pacing of a strategy game.

The only problem is that sometimes, that pacing can be too slow.

Whenever it's the opponent's turn to move, you have to sit back and wait for every individual enemy unit to take their actions -- even if you can't see them. If those enemies are right in front of you and action is happening, fine. You want to see that you're getting attacked, so you can properly react when it's you're turn again. Often, however, you can't actually see the enemy movement, at least not very well. Instead, you have to just sit there and wait, casually moving the camera around as creatures you can't see wander around bits of the environment you haven't been yet. There's no way to speed up or skip this process, and it can really hurt the addictive momentum of the action.

Enemies tend to keep coming, too. I assume the constant stream of alien reinforcements exists so you can't just freely wander around the map looking for collectible items -- you're forced to keep moving. But it can be a pain, because every time two more enemies show up on screen, it means two more enemies that you have to sit and watch whenever it's not you're turn.

It's also unfortunate that for as much as Code Name Steam seems to borrow from another turn-based strategy game, XCOM, it doesn't offer much in the way of a metagame outside each battle. You can't do too much with your characters when back at your base (there's none of the deep character interaction you saw in Fire Emblem Awakening, for instance), so if you want a break from methodically moving from square to square, the only option is to take a break from the game itself.

Those things aside, I think there's a lot to like in Code Name Steam, which is a great fit on the 3DS. And while I can't wait for the next Fire Emblem and would kill for a new Advance Wars, it's nice to have something more unique from developer Intelligent Systems.

About amiibo

Code Name Steam is one of the first 3DS games to make use of Nintendo's amiibo figures, though in a fairly exclusive capacity. At the moment, you need a New 3DS XL in order to be able to scan the figures into the game (an accessory for older 3DS models is supposedly coming in the future), and the only figures that work with Code Name Steam are characters from the Fire Emblem series. Only two of those have been released so far (Marth and Ike), and in the US at least, they're both pretty rare.

I was lucky enough to snag an Ike amiibo, though, so I was able to try it out in the game. Scanning him in allows you to actually use him as a friendly unit, which is actually pretty cool. Since he's a sword-wielding character, he plays pretty differently from most of the gun-wielding Code Name Steam cast. You have to get a lot closer to enemies to do damage to them.

It's a cool feature and I'm glad it's there, but you also shouldn't feel like it's a requirement to enjoy the game. If you're a hardcore Fire Emblem fan, though, it might be worth trying to track at least one of those amiibo down.

What's Happening on GuideLive