Tails of Iron is a 2-D souls-like indie game, developed by Odd Bug Studio and published by United Label and CI Games, that’s become my most recent obsession. It was reccomended to me by a friend, and wow, this game hits all the right notes. There’s something inherently magical about tiny creatures in a big world, trying to get by. ToI takes that concept and runs with it, crafting a Redwall-esque medival society, a tale of a broken kingdom, and a world both charming and dangerous. The game might not be perfect, it certainly has a flaw or two, but I’m in love with it. It’s one of those “play it anyway” cases. But let’s chat about why…
Tails of Iron is available on Steam.
Story – Rise and Fall of the Rat King
Tails of Iron begins with a short history lesson. The rat people have always been at war with the toads. Then, King Rattus united the rat kingdoms under one rule and pushed back the toad invaders. However, as all things do, he gets old and must choose an heir. You play as Redgi, smallest son of King Rattus, who is determined to become king. After fighting your brother in a tournament and winning, your greatest ambition comes true. You are the king! Then, the toads invade, kill your father and destroy your kingdom, leaving you to pick up the pieces.
There is a point in most souls-likes where I begin to wonder why I’m doing this. Why am I trying to save a world that doesn’t seem to want to be saved? ToI gives a lovely answer to that question. Charm. The world of Tails of Iron is just so bloody charming! All the cute little rat folk, trying their best. Even the toads and moles in the later game have an undeniable charm about them. I truly wanted to save this world. That isn’t the only selling point, of course. The writing manages to balance funny and dark quite adeptly, and the creativity on display is wonderful.
Now, of course, there are one or two issues I can see people having. The game is quite short. I managed to get to 85% completion in about 7.5 hours, which could be a deal-breaker for some. However, I think its a good thing. A big problem most RPGs have is that the scope gets too broad, and the player loses sight of the original goal. Tails of Iron is a much more focused experience, without having to sacrifice the world building that side quests can provide. While the story could be deeper, and the tone more consistent, the charm and creativity is something you just have to see for yourself.
Gameplay – Rat Souls
As I said before, Tails of Iron is a souls-like. So, all the usual suspects are present. Checkpoints, this time in the form of benches, that save the game but bring enemies back to life. A flask that refills your health, in this case filled with bug juice. And pattern learning fights, with visual prompts to let you know what to expect, yellow for parrying and red for dodging. Light attacks, heavy attacks, ranged and enough equipment to customize your build. Wanna be a heavy armour rat with a spear? Go for it.
This might sound a bit dismissive, and while it isn’t exactly new, the gameplay is still fun. Attacks feel weighty, the platforming bits work well, dodging is fairly reliable. It can be easy to be stunlocked when fighting more than one foe, but it’s usually manageable. I enjoyed the introduction of the two-handed weapons, and how they can break barriers in the world and shields in combat. But the problem for me is that the combat is 90% of the gameplay, and it never evolves much. Sure, there’s loads of weapons, but it always boils down to learning patterns and attacking.
Later in the game, some fights even start to feel trivial. There’s a good variety of enemies, from warrior toads to feral bugs and a few things in-between. But there are a few moments where some enemy types shouldn’t have shown up. If I’ve proven that I can kill the big beetles over and over again, fighting them in the third last level feels repetetive. That being said, I did have fun with the game. The kill animations don’t go on for two long, and everything is set up to make you feel awesome. It’s a bit too easy on the “easy” difficulty though, so I suggest normal or higher if you want a challenge.
Audio and Visuals – Redefining “Ratty”
Where Audio and Visual design shines is in the “feel” of a game. There’s something about the almost storybook aesthetic of ToI that really captivated me. It lends itself well the to darker moments with it’s slightly grubby feeling, but there is a fantastical charm about it. It also had a big effect on gameplay, adding visual signifiers when fighting enemies without health bars. Cuts appearing on their bodies and blood splatters might sound low tech, but it’s a brilliantly simple way to let your players know they’re close to winning. I genuinely can’t find anything wrong with the visuals, nice work!
On the topic of affecting combat, the audio played its part as well. Satisfying thunks and shwings add real weight to fighting, and the music is so perfectly suited to the games tone. There are faults, however. None of the characters have spoken dialogue, for instance, and instead speak in a series of notes from an instrument. Then, while a speech bubble displays some images, the narrator fills you in on what’s happening. For the most part, this works, but some of the squeaks and squawks can get grating. A small complaint, but not a deal breaker by any means.
Tails of Iron was reviewed on PC via Steam.