SteamBirds, the turn-based, top-down, aerial dogfighting game, has been faithfully ported from its Flash origins to the iDevice by Semi Secret Software and is now available for download from the app store.
- Awesome soundtrack
- Simple and intuitive control system
- Clever, strategy-laden scenarios
- No scores, timers, leaderboards, achievements, or multiplayer
- A bit repetitive
- Getting 4-stars on some levels feels like an exercise in futility
- Fairly short campaign
SteamBirds includes 21 levels of gameplay whose difficulty ramps up fairly quickly. You’ll take to the skies to defend your steam-powered aircraft by setting your trajectory and speed on each turn. Optionally, you’ll have special moves available that allow you to gain extra speed on a turn, make a U-turn, invoke your shields, release a poisonous gas trail, fire missiles, and release bombs. Tapping the play button allows you to watch each turn play out, with aircraft auto-firing upon each other when they are within range and facing the appropriate direction. The proper anticipation of your enemy’s flight path coupled with the timely use of your power-ups, which are then unusable on the next turn, brings a great level of strategy to the game. You’ll need to shoot down all of the enemy aircraft to advance to the next level, for which you’ll receive a star rating. Avoid taking any enemy fire for a perfect 4-star rating. Achieving 4-stars on all levels should keep even seasoned gamers challenged for a while.
Graphically, SteamBirds has a clean style with simple graphics that are oddly appealing. Each battle takes place above a green grid. You control the red planes while your opponent controls the blue. Each aircraft has a distinct body shape and its own attributes. You can view the strength of each aircraft’s weapons, speed, agility, and armor, as well as any special weapons, its remaining health, and a damage report, simply by tapping on a plane. Your planes each have a line and arrow extending from their noses. Dragging the arrow sets the plane’s trajectory, while lengthening or shortening the line adjusts its speed. Tapping on the arrowhead will bring up icons for available special moves. Tapping on one of these moves selects it for the next turn.
Once you are satisfied with your setup, tap the arrow in the upper right corner to watch the action. If you take on damage from another enemy, you may find yourself limited in your next turn by a jammed rudder or gun jam, a temporary impedance that can really influence your next move, adding another aspect to concern yourself with when determining your response. An epic soundtrack provides a brooding backdrop for the on-screen fights, and sound effects indicate gunfire and downed planes. You can pinch-to-zoom in order to get a close up look at the action or just try to keep all of the aircraft within sight, as things can get pretty spread out. Dragging the screen also allows you to pan around. There is an interactive tutorial that gives you the opportunity to practice the ins and outs of the game, too.
Replay value is pretty good if you enjoy the slower pace of turn-based gameplay or if you have the patience to persevere until you can rack up 4 stars on each level. The game can be played at your leisure, as there are no timers or scores to compete for. You do earn combos for consecutive shots on aircraft, but it’s not clear what purpose these serve. Due to the lack of any quantitative scoring, there are also no leaderboards to top or achievements to earn. Although a game like this screams for multiplayer, this is also absent. Regardless, the core gameplay translates well to the touchscreen device and we still found ourselves compelled to keep coming back in pursuit of those elusive 4-star ratings. At $0.99, SteamBirds is a 4-Dimple challenge that is well worth its asking price.