Tails of Iron is a curious beast. Indeed, it’s a game that seems intent on preventing its easy categorisation into an established genre. It’s a hybrid, an oddity, and it’s, quite frankly, all the better for its peculiarity. Having said that, I enjoy pigeonholing video games as much as the next reviewer, which is why I’m inserting Tails of Iron into the niche 2D Metroidvania-souls-like-rat ‘em up genre.
Tails of Iron has a refreshingly simple set-up, enabling the player to get stuck immediately into the action. Redgi the prince of the Crimson Fortress – and your avatar – is ready to be dubbed King when a war band of vicious frogs invade the kingdom. These ferocious froggies sow chaos and destruction throughout the land, brutally killing Redgi’s father in the process. Once the dust has settled and the gore has dried, Redgi begins a quest to rebuild his kingdom and free it from frogapocalypse.
The story throughout the game is efficiently told but still proves surprisingly emotive, the depiction of its anthropomorphic adventures effortlessly bringing to mind fond memories of Brian Jacques fabulous children’s book series, Redwall. That’s not to say that Tails of Iron is family friendly however, far from it. The unforgiving combat is regularly punctuated by frogs, bugs and moles being eviscerated by the razer sharp tip of Redgi’s blade.
It is the combat that proved the most surprising component of Tails of Iron, as I was certainly not expecting such addictively difficult encounters. This is the gameplay element that evokes the soulslike comparison. Constructed from rolls, blocks, controlling the space and the copious flinging of light and heavy attacks, the combat demands that Redgi must see off hordes of enemies and darn right nasty bosses.
Redgi is fast and deadly but lacking in resilience, take a couple of hits and the erstwhile prince will be on a one way ticket to Rat heaven. Fortunately the responsive controls and easy to read enemy attack cues ensure that when a battle is lost it’s purely down to the fault of the player. Prompting that ‘just one more go’ mentality as the player seeks to see off a particularly formidable foe. Also, thanks to intelligently placed quick-save points, it never feels like losing a battle results in the punishment of having to travel for an age to have another go. The challenge is in the combat, not in having the patience required to put up with the copious walking just to return to the battle.
The enemies themselves are varied, visually detailed and stuffed with interesting attack patterns. Odd Bug Studios delighting in throwing new enemy types into the mix until the very end. Just when you think you’ve seen everything you have to battle a gun wielding frog with a jet-pack. Tails of Iron definitely has a sense of humour.
Balancing out the combat is the need to explore the atmospheric game world, there’s secrets to find, forgotten paths to uncover and new tribes of animals to meet. An important part of the game is locating new armour and weapons to aid in Redgi’s bid to overcome his enemies. It mattes which pieces of armour you choose, as each one provides additional protection against certain species whilst also imposing weight restrictions. Strategic consideration of Redgi’s equipment then, is absolutely key to success. Even better though, is that each piece of armour changes Redgi’s appearance, ensuring a skull wearing, mole-fur covered rat bad-ass is yours to unlock.
Whilst I loved the combat, exploration and item gathering, it was the visuals and the game world of Tails of Iron that kept me returning again and again. The 2D graphics are utterly gorgeous, the static images in this review failing to do the real thing justice. This is a living, breathing world dripping in atmosphere and detail. Mist billows around Redgi’s feet, rain pours during moments of high drama and toxic fumes infuse ancient pipes. The excellent musical score effortless adds to the ambience without ever getting in the way. There’s just so much detail to enjoy. In the background of every setting villagers can be seen going about their business or battling to the death in pitched combat. In a genius touch, as Redgi returns to his kingdom houses are repaired and new locations built. This ensures that the world feels alive and, even on a fetch quests, there’s always something new to see or a different character to meet.
Negatives to Tails of Iron are few and far between. In an attempt to re-use assets the game perhaps sends Redgi one too many times to the sewers on side-quests and the constant re-growth of walls and plants to hack through in this location proves repetitive. The game is also rather slight in length, I polished off the whole thing in around 7 hours. But when those 7 hours are packed full of thrillingly brutal combat and gorgeous world building, it feels a little churlish to complain too much.