Mastering the Mechs
“Into the Breach” is a turn-based strategy game with a retro, 16-bit style developed by Subset Games. A race of insectoid aliens known as the Vek have all but wiped out the human race in the future. Those that remain sent back mechs that are able to go through a “breach” in the space time continuum. You are the commander of a team of three mechs, and whenever the war appears to be lost you can jump through another breach and start a whole new timeline. Your goal is to save four islands that are under attack by the Vek, then destroy the rest of the hive threatening us. You can piece together a little more background from the minor dialogue you have with a few other characters in the game, but there isn’t much else to the story.
“Into the Breach” has the basic elements of most turn-based strategy games. You try to beat your enemy with good strategy, using each of your mechs maneuverability, attacks and defenses better than your opponent uses theirs. Your mechs each have a specific number of spaces they can move, and the terrain also dictates where they can and cannot go. Although this might sound like any other game in the genre, it does have a few things that make it stand out.
The tutorial is pretty quick, and doesn’t cover everything, but it gives you enough to get started. It also gives some tips after the tutorial that help. You can skip the tutorial, so if you decide to start a new profile you won’t have to redo it, and the tips can easily be turned off. And anything you don’t learn through the tutorial or tips you’ll pick up through trial and error fairly quick.
The four islands each have their own terrain style, such as grass and trees for the first one. They each have multiple sections with their own dangers and rewards as well. On an island’s main map screen you can see the basic rewards you will get, and what it will take to get them. However, simply winning a match won’t get you much, you’ll have to meet certain criteria (like defending a solar power plant, or killing a specified number of enemy) to get these much needed bonuses. Some of these will help you only until you beat the final battle, or have to start a new timeline. Other items will continue with you even after that, including some mech pilots you find and the coins earned through achievements. The coins are hard to get, but that’s because they get you the most important items in the game… new mechs!
Each mech in the game is designed with a specific purpose in mind, but most can take multiple roles depending on how you customize them. Each team of three mechs you can buy also has a unique trait that brings them together, like fire or position manipulation. Every mech can have a pilot or you can leave it empty, but with a pilot you get extra bonuses. There are many ways to make your team suit your play style, so have some fun with it.
The battles you face have some interesting dangers at times. You’ll encounter tidal waves, earthquakes and volcano eruptions to name a few. Probably the most dangerous aspect of the game is the Grid Power. The Grid Power is the source of energy for the mechs. If it reaches zero you can no longer continue in the current timeline, therefore a breach is created and you have to start the war again. Grid Power is one of the rewards you can get on some of the maps, so I suggest getting them when you can.
“Into the Breach” is a fairly easy game to learn, but difficult to master. I’ll be focusing on one resource, and suddenly find myself unable to keep enough Grid Power because the Vek out-maneuvered me. All the maps are procedurally generated, so even when you start a new timeline it won’t be the same battles you faced before. Starting a new timeline is also when you get to change your team up, so if you’re struggling try switching out one, two or even all three of your mechs. It’s a completely new game each time.
With the retro-revolution going on right now, “Into the Breach” is a great entry for the style. The 16-bit style graphics are very clean, with excellent color palettes for the different environments. The different units look great, but they could use a little more variety. I did notice one of the animations, a warning symbol waving on a tile, looked choppy. It was very minor, but in contrast with the smooth frame-rates in everything else it stuck out like a sore thumb.
The music creates a sense of danger that works well for the game. It makes me think of the typical 90’s action movie soundtrack; it could have easily been in “Bad Boys” or “Lethal Weapon.” If there had been more variety I would have kept it on, but after the first hour or two it became too repetitive. After turning off the music the rest of the sounds were more noticeable, but that wasn’t a bad thing. The sound effects add to the retro style without becoming annoying. They’re clean and unobtrusive, and there’s enough variety to ensure they don’t become too repetitive.
Many strategy games don’t do well on console because of the controls. Most require a keyboard and mouse or it becomes too complicated. Thankfully this isn’t the case with “Into the Breach.” With a simple point and click method for movement, and little more for most actions, it is easy to handle. The only problem I had was that the cursor would sometimes move on it’s own. This was with both the pro-controller and joy-cons, so it had to be an issue with the software. A minor bug they can hopefully fix with a patch.
Although I was able to beat one timeline, I don’t plan to stop playing it anytime soon. There have been a few times already that I ended up playing it for multiple hours at a time. Even handheld it played and looked great, and I was able to play it for more than an hour without an issue. It also works well when you don’t have much time since most matches last less than 15 minutes. It’s also easy to pause and come back to later.
Challenging maps, great leveling mechanics and excellent replay value make “Into the Breach” a game worth trying. It may have a couple small glitches, not enough variety to the music and very little to the story, but it’s still a solid entry into a genre that has been lacking good titles recently. And if you’ve never tried a turn-based strategy game, at $14.99 on the Nintendo eShop here, or on Steam, this is the time to give it a shot.