08th Jan2020

‘Into the Breach’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Chris Thomas

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Into the Breach is a challenging, turn based tactical game featuring charming pixel based, “retro” graphics and a “retro” style sound track.

The plot is simple – giant aliens invade the planet, humans of the future try to fight back with giant mechs. The game is structured into runs, where a player selects their 3 mechs, starts off on an island, attempts to clear it, then moves on to the next island. The islands are made up of interconnected hexes where the player usually select from a couple of randomly generated levels, often with several objectives and secondary objectives (defend a building or a train, protect the power grid, protect the humans in the building, destroy a dam).

Failure of a main objective ends the run and causes a game over. Defeat always triggers Alien, planet wide victory and for a time machine to kick in and throw us back to the beginning of a new run (a single surviving pilot can also be brought into the time machine to begin the new run with their experience and enhanced mech intact).

Each level will see you move your 3 mechs around the board to achieve your objectives at all costs, failure resets the time machine and sends us back to the start. There is also very limited function to mulligan a level that has gone particularly awry. The most important thing about Into the Breach is it has an extraordinarily tight game design. To get the most from the game you must play it on “hard” mode and prepare to lose (a lot). The player is almost always outnumbered, and you rarely have enough actions to do everything you’d like to, and it is important to note that, for the most part, you are not only outnumbered, but the giant insects you fight are often more powerful and have more health than your mechs. Usually, 2 of your 3 mechs don’t do much damage in themselves but they usually have movement tricks that can be very powerful if used cleverly. Mechs are pilots can be upgraded as you progress through a run, giving them more health, more damage dealing or powerful new abilities. As the run goes on, enemies get tougher, the challenge ramps up.

Your only hope of success is to wring every technical advantage you can from each map. This might be, missile trucks coming online, or defensive shields. It might be destroying a dam to cause flooding. It might be using attacks that cause little to no damage but that push an enemy into the sea, or onto a landmine that instantly kills them. Crucially, some tricks will work against some enemy types, but not all. More powerful enemy types might be resistant to certain tricks. Each level, the aliens get to move first but cannot attack, which is a very interesting start to each map. Aliens can however, fire webs that prevent mechs from moving and, crucially bleed desperately tight action points from the player. This game often throws up agonizing choices. Then, when everything comes together, each activation was as efficient as it could be, you get 100% on a level it is deeply satisfying.

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Different sets of mechs can be unlocked as you progress, each of the 3 is different, and 3 must be selected as a package. The 3 mechs are always completely different in what they can do, which often means that when things go wrong, they go wrong fast. Of the starting mechs there is only 1 that can dish out or take anything other than light damage, however it is a melee unit and therefore must put itself in harm’s way. The game being so tight, you need your 3 mechs all working in perfect harmony with their positioning and abilities to give yourself a chance of success, to lose 1 mech often means failure but somehow clawing yourself through the level is often possible.

The game is hard, and is all the better for it, as the excellent game design and balance means it is very rare I got frustrated with the game, I often felt I had failed to solve the tactical puzzle of the level adequately. All the information is known, so there are no “gotcha” moments, or moments where I feel I was cheated. I failed because I didn’t see the solution, it is brutal but fair, these insect aliens are very Darwinian.

What strikes me is how awful I feel when the Aliens can destroy a building full of people, because I had to make hard choices and lacked the actions required to save them. We have minimal interaction with these imaginary people, but again it shows how engaging this game really is.

Many modern games have a retro look that makes us underestimate their complexity or graphical fidelity, but Into the Breach could genuinely have been a lost SNES classic. Whether it is from the early 90s or much later is irrelevant, in whatever timeline we find ourselves in, Into the Breach is a time hopping classic.

Into the Breach is available on the Nintendo eShop now.

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