Sometimes you play a game that oozes a certain type of magic. It’s not always immediately clear why it does so either, but you succumb to the feeling nevertheless as it draws you into its intricate web of splendour. It’s a rare feeling, one in which only a handful of games have given me — admittedly — but it’s one I experienced while playing Subset Games’ Into the Breach. A strategic indie title that has, to some surprise, arrived on the Nintendo Switch without forewarning.
Into The Breach Review Switch
It’s tempting to say that the Switch finally has a new Advance Wars, at long last, but that wouldn’t really give Into the Breach credit. While obviously similar in its turn, grid-based gameplay, Subset Games offers its own unique take on the winning formula. No longer do you have command of an almost endless supply of troops and tanks to manoeuvre across the battlefield… Instead, you defend earth from the Vek — enormous creatures that are breeding beneath the planet — with just three ‘mechs’.
Each mini battle that takes place is essentially a fight for survival, a ‘hold them off until they decide to run affair’, across a number of different turns. During these battles, your job is to effectively minimise the damage to your power grid, protect your pilots and complete the available objectives in the smartest way possible. The penalty for a destroyed power grid is a literal Game Over and pilots killed in combat will not return. Buildings on the map are integral to powering the grid, so guarding them is important, but you also need to push back the Vek and smash those bonus objectives too — success here bestows reputation (upgrade) points, life is tough without them. In other words: your movements are very limited, yet there’s an awful lot to do.
Yes, much like XCOM, Into the Breach does a remarkable job of making you feel helpless and guilty against your determined attackers. Every resource counts, every decision is questioned, every movement potentially your last. You did well, but remember that single building that was destroyed? Well, hundreds perished inside of it. It’s this state of vulnerability that makes it so thrilling as you just about pull off a victory, allowing you to ever so slightly upgrade your mechs with greater durability or additional moves.
Subset Games ensures a punishing sci-fi journey then; Into the Breach won’t be for everyone, even on the easier settings provided. However, like great strategy titles before it, precision, intelligence and skill are rewarded. Of course, losing to the Vek, as your precious power grid is depleted, isn’t the end of days when the majesty of time travel is involved. Upon defeat, your mechs are transported back through time, to before the point you were overwhelmed, and you can do it all again. The extra catch involved here? One, and only one, of your experienced pilots, can come with you. That’s multi-timeline Ralph for you (my longest serving pilot).
Making your way through each of the islands in Into the Breach demands you learn the mechanics thoroughly. You can reverse a move once per battle, true, but that really serves as a warning that you should be doing better. A large portion of the strategy focuses on using your environment and the unique abilities of the mechs. In lieu of directly attacking a Vek, a more efficient move might be to push it into the sea and drown it. Setting alight the monsters will perhaps validate a long game approach, but, alternatively, maybe you should have shunted two of them into one another. It’s a combined game of chess and billiards, and this is partly where that aforementioned magic starts to reveal itself.
Naturally, with a game of this calibre, the magic transpires in other more observable places too: the simplistic, retro visuals impeccably crafted and synthesised with the harps, cellos and sullen electric guitar riffs of the soundtrack — which composer Ben Prunty describes as his, perchance, most ‘personal’ of all. One thing is for sure, the end of the world has seldom been this wholesome or inventive.
The even better news is that once you’ve vanquished the aliens and saved the earth, there’s so much more to see. New mech squads are available to purchase, think of them as extra chess pieces, which can radically change how you play. There are multiple pilots to recruit each with individual skills, a hard mode that demands just shy of perfection, and earning achievements serves a real, tangible purpose: it’s the currency used to buy these fresh squads. Numerous run-throughs are inevitable and encouraged.
The Switch version of Into the Breach is close to identical to its PC brother. It’s distinct, clear and attractive on the screen, with the UI from PC making it over in a rather perfect fashion. There’s some added HD Rumble support, for good measure, that subtly enhances the overall effect, but everything else is exact. Regardless, whatever platform you play Into the Breach on, quite simply, you should just play it. Did I mention that it’s a masterpiece?