Review – Tails of Iron

Upon booting up Tails of Iron, you’re greeted with what seems to be a somewhat dark, but accessible fairytale about a young mouse who’s destined to be king, since his father, the current king, is getting old and wants to abdicate. Upon completing a really boring tutorial and winning the right of becoming king by defeating his own brother in battle, the little mouse’s world (as well as the player’s perception of how the entire game is going to be) is turned upside down. A horde of frogs invades your kingdom and kills everyone. Blood and corpses are everywhere. Your father is dead. Your family is missing. You’re tasked with fixing this whole ultraviolent and ultra-awesome mess, as you’re the damn king.

Tails of Iron Story

Aw, what a cute game! I’m sure nothing out of the ordinary will happen in the next ten minutes…

Imagine how cool this premise sounds in your head. Now imagine having this entire story told with storybook visuals, in a “cute by also super gory” kind of way, all while having the entire story narrated by Doug Cockle, the voice of Geralt of Rivia from the Witcher series. I can’t stress how cool it is to have one of the most recognizable voices in the industry narrating the entire thing to you, being almost worth the entire admission ticket. You almost treat his narration as the reason you want to keep playing the game, because sadly, I did not like Tails of Iron‘s gameplay that much.

There’s nothing wrong about the controls themselves, or even the gameplay in theory. This is a 2D sidescroller that borrows a lot of elements from other 2D Soulslikes such as Salt and Sanctuary and Blasphemous. It’s all about precise dodging and parrying, all while dishing out slow-paced but heavy blows onto your opposition, and healing yourself with limited supplies of medicine. That should work, right? As I said, it does, in theory. When the level design cooperates with you, the damn thing works like a charm. Enemies initially telegraph their movements in a fair way: if they flash red, you have to dodge their attack, and if they flash yellow, you have to parry with your shield.

Tails of Iron Massacre

…oh…

The problem is that the game goes out of its way to ensure you’re not going to enjoy a natural progression in a brutal, but fair manner. Tails of Iron loves to shove you in small rooms with more than two or three enemies at a time. It shares the same issue that made me dislike Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice when compared to other FromSoftware games: artificially jacking up the difficulty by forcing to juggle against a lot of enemies in cramped spaces, instead of crafting tough, but fair battles.

It did elevate the overall tension, as I’d never know when I should act defensively or go full Leroy Jenkins into those barbaric frogs (you can thank the lack of enemy health bars for that), but it never resulted in an entertaining tension. I’d always feel like I was way too weak and too slow, even with light gear, being unable to handle many foes at once. I started to loathe any incoming combat section, and thus, I started to avoid picking up sidequests or even trying to venture out of my way. I only tried to deal with what was absolute necessary, with Doug’s voice being the lullaby that alleviated my stress along the way.

Combat

Remember: it the foe flashes yellow, parry its attacks. If it flashes red, dodge its attacks.

I really wanted to like Tails of Iron more than I did. Everything about its presentation, from its graphics to its phenomenal storytelling, hooked me. It had everything to be one of my favorite indies of the year. But the gameplay just HAD to resort to annoying cheap tropes found in less successful Soulslikes, throwing you into waves of small rooms where you have to deal with hordes of enemies that can one-shot you just by blinking. It’s a good game if you’re into the hardcore, “I can beat the Orphan of Kos with a Donkey Konga bongo” lifestyle. But that ain’t for me, chief. I’ll wait until they release the audiobook version of it, narrated by Doug Cockle, of course.

 

Graphics: 8.5

Tails of Iron looks and is animated like a storybook, but much bloodier. I really liked its art style.

Gameplay: 6.0

It tries to emulate what other 2D Soulslike games have managed to achieve in the past, but with much less mobility, and a lot less room for error.

Sound: 9.0

The entire game is narrated by Doug Cockle, Geralt of Rivia himself. That alone is almost worth the entire admission ticket. The soundtrack is also pretty good, but if I could swap it for more Geralt telling me a bloody bedtime story, I would.

Fun Factor: 6.0

I wanted to like Tails of Iron more than I actually did. The presentation is absolutely outstanding and its story is amazing. Too bad the combat is beyond punishing, relying too much on throwing a lot of enemies at you at once to see how well you can cope under adverse circumstances.

Final Verdict: 7.0

Tails of Iron is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC, and Switch.

Reviewed on Xbox Series S.

A copy of Tails of Iron was provided by the publisher.