Game: Tails of Iron
Developer: Odd Bug Studio
Publisher: United Label
Platform: PC (Reviewed), PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch
Release Date: September 17th, 2021
In recent years, the term “Soul’s like” has come to mean any number of things, from games that have punishing difficulties, to action RPGs that take place in a vague, open world. Too many times it’s simply a marketing phrase, an attempt to capitalize on the successful Dark Souls franchise by making a loose comparison. Far too often, this expression sets the gamer up for disappointed, especially when it comes to indie games.
But every now-and-then a game will come along that honors that “Soul’s like” description and manages to exceed expectations. Titles such as Hollow Knight, Dead Cells, and Salt and Sanctuary have wowed gamers, and in many ways surpassed their inspiration to become notable games in their own right.
Tails of Iron may very well become one of those games.
The second game coming from Odd Bug Studio, this action adventure RPG casts players as Redgi, the youngest and smallest child of the great king Ratticus. Long ago, Redgi’s father drove the vicious Frog Spawn out from the land, and built a glorious kingdom upon the liberated territory. Now in his old age, Ratticus looks for a successor to pass on his crown. Although Redgi is much smaller than his brethren, he proves himself to be the most capable amongst his siblings. However, Redgi’s coronation is cut short by a violent invasion by the vengeful frogs. As the new ruler of a besieged kingdom, it is your task to reclaim the throne and defeat the insidious toads once and for all.
Tails of Iron’s premise of rats versus frogs makes for a great fairytale, with whimsical characters and an imaginative setting, but don’t be deceived by some of its cuter themes. Tails of Iron can be brutal, both in its game play and its presentation. This world inhabited by anthropomorphic creatures is certainly grim, where the horrors of war have left the streets caked with blood, and a cloud of despair hovers ever so ominously over the kingdom.
The hand drawn artstyle is wonderfully executed, helping bring this cruel world to life. Environments are especially well done, with an expert use of layering to create the illusion of a vast space. Backgrounds can seem to stretch on forever, while the foregrounds compliment the visuals and are rarely intrusive. Lighting can be especially difficult to get right in these 2D settings, but the developers manage to pull it off convincingly. When crafting a setting in such a forlorn state, it’s easy to become reliant on dark hues and pitch black shadows; Tails of Iron uses just enough color to make nearly every setting “pop” on the screen and really stand out from the competition.
The sound design is noteworthy, even if it doesn’t steal the show from the graphics. All of the ratfolk speak in squeaks and whistles, with small thought bubbles communicating what they have to say. It feels appropriate, adding to the cuteness of the rodents that are juxtaposed with the horrific setting. The only voice work is in the form of narration, performed by veteran actor Doug Cockle, best known for portraying Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher series of games. His deep voice compliments the story superbly, although I can’t help but imagine Geralt is just spinning a yarn about a war between rats and toads in a pub somewhere, and that’s just funny to me.
Tails of Iron is light on music, but what is there is fantastically done. More often than not, you are accompanied by the ambient noises inhabiting this desolate environment, such as the wind howling and crickets chirping, all of which combine to really engross you in the game’s atmosphere. In towns you will often hear festive music emanating from the taverns as life slowly begins to return to the beset settlements. This becomes even more joyous and loud as you progress in the game, and offers a nice way to chart your growth in restoring the kingdom.
Combat is where Tails of Iron really shines. Too many games that use the “Soul’s like” moniker copy too much from the Dark Souls games, so much so that they lose sense of their own identity. Tails of Iron is much more inspired by Souls games than aiming to replicate it, and the developers show great prowess in intelligently borrowing just the right elements to compliment their original title.
Controls are similar to Souls, but not identical. I should note that while you can play with a keyboard, both I and the game developers strongly recommend using a gamepad when playing, as it offers much more accurate and responsive control, which is necessary to survive in these fast-paced skirmishes.
Using a standard DualShock or Xbox controller, pressing the right shoulder button will deliver a quick, one handed attack towards the enemy. These are great for swiftly tearing apart a foe’s health bar when you find an opening. The left trigger button will block, and timing just right will parry most attacks. Just as in the Souls games, the right trigger button is used for slow, strong attacks, but unlike the former title, Tails of Iron utilizes a separate two handed weapon for this powerful move. This allows the player to more easily equip two distinct weapons that have two explicit uses. There is also no reason to hold your one handed weapon with two hands like you may do in Souls games, so the triangle/y button is assigned to your ranged weapon by default, plenty useful when needing to down airborne foes or peppering an enemy from afar.
Bug juice is your method of healing in Tails of Iron, and the player can drink from their flask to restore vitality with the left shoulder button. In other similar games, healing is limited to only a few uses before you need to refill your flask. Here, holding down the button will make Redgi slowly drink from his vial. Once your canteen is empty, you can either fill it up at kegs that are usually near safe areas, or defeat bug enemies to slightly replenish your juice. It’s a clever way of keeping the action consistent instead of forcing players to return back to a save station every time they need to heal.
Redgi also gains the ability to coat his weapon with poison for a short amount of time. Using poison will cause your foes to take extra damage when hit, and utilizing it is perfect for taking down your more powerful adversaries. I like the idea of poisoning your weapons, but I think this could have been done a little bit better. You only have one type of poison that you can apply, and you only get a handful of uses before you need to replenish. I would have liked to see the ability to craft more potent toxins from items that you gather on your adventure. As it is, it just feels like an idea that was tacked on to make some encounters a tad easier.
While the game certainly isn’t easy, it’s much more forgiving than many of its counterparts. For starters, there are indicators for most attacks, with a yellow flash showing that a move that can be parried, while a red flash signifies that an unblockable attack is inbound. I found this very similar to how the Arkham games helped streamline combat, allowing the player to feel more like a trained warrior that is capable of surviving an onslaught. While you may not feel like Batman playing Tails of Iron, you’ll certainly come away believing that Redgi is one badass rodent.
In contrast to most all RPGs, Tails of Iron does not have a leveling system, nor do you have any stats, per se. All of your attributes are measured by your gear. As you conduct your campaign against the frogs, you’ll unearth plenty of items to outfit your royal rodent, from axes and spears, to shields made of both wood and stone. Managing your equipment is always a balance of the weight of your gear versus their defense or attack values. Do you opt for greater strength, but much slower windup? Do you prefer the ability to promptly dodge incoming attacks, or to shrug off blows head-on? In Tails of Iron, you’ll need to adjust for every unique situation ahead of you and adapt your play style based on what new things you uncover if you hope to survive.
It’s also helpful that there is no stamina bar to keep watch of in Tails of Iron. A key component of the Souls franchise, stamina has been used in other games to further keep players on their toes, as if they attack too much they’ll be too spent to dodge or block the enemy’s counter onslaught. Not so here. Players can freely slash and dodge to their heart’s content without fear of Redgi becoming exhausted. It keeps combat fast paced, which I like, although I can’t say I don’t miss the added layer of strategy a stamina meter presents.
Death is always a big part of the Souls games, but Tails of Iron sticks to a more traditional method, where dying will send you back to the last save point. You never lose experience or gear or anything else other than time. Save points are also spread out evenly about every two or three screens, so you’re never backtracking too far. For some, this easier difficulty may feel like a deterrent but I quite enjoyed not having to overly stress about death and embraced the freedom to experiment with my tactics during challenging battles.
All bosses have a visible health bar so you can see how much further you have to go in a fight, but standard enemies do not. It’s not a huge deal, but some foes can really take a wallop, and I did wish to see my progress on them more than once.
Tails of Iron includes several side quests which you can undertake, which I love. Side questing has become one of my favorite aspects of modern RPGs, and I’m always down to earning some additional rewards. The only issue with the quests in this game is that they don’t feel all that optional. Progression is regularly tied to you acquiring some gold, which you can only earn by completing side quests, thus you’re forced to complete the majority of these side tasks in order to continue the game.
Likewise, there are many areas off the beaten path that you can explore, ripe with secondary bosses to slay and extraordinary loot to claim. These feel too few and far between though. I wish that the locales that you explore were just a little less linear and allowed for more open exploration as in the Metroid games.
There is a handy map that allows you to easily see where you need to go and what areas you haven’t explored. Some players may dislike this option though, because it can rid them of the feeling of exploring uncharted land. If areas were much larger, I could see the map as being necessary. I found it helpful in finding my next destination, which is commonly marked for you. There are a few times however when the game doesn’t tell you exactly where you need to go or what you need to do, which can lead to some confusion. I don’t mind a little puzzle solving, but the lack of consistency threw me for a loop the few times that it cropped up.
Verdict: 4.5/5 Stars
Tails of Iron is a thoroughly enjoyable game that lives up to its “Souls like” description: it’s not an imitation, but a dutiful comparison, a descriptor that informs you that if you enjoyed Dark Souls, you’ll likely enjoy this one, too. Not all games that take on that moniker can say that. The combat is fast and fluid, and the story and setting are both delightful (even when they are at their most horrific). There are some minor issues that prevent this from achieving the highest of praise, but I still feel that this indie title will thrill players for years to come.
Images provided by the developer.
Josh Cornett is a lifelong gamer who enjoys games across all platforms and genres. He has gone by the alias of “Block” ever since college, when he was nicknamed “Blockbuster” for his extensive video game and movie collection. Currently, he reviews a wide variety of games on his Youtube channel, and talks about all things gaming related on his Twitter and Facebook pages.