Tails of Iron is a fantastic action RPG with great hand-drawn art and challenging souls-like combat.
Tails of Iron is a hand-drawn souls-like action RPG developed by Odd Bug Studio and published by United Label/CI Games. The game released on September 17, 2021, on PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch and PC and is narrated by Doug Cockle, and really, I’ll play anything that features Doug’s voice. The more I played, the more I appreciated the effort put in by the developers in this frustratingly hard but equally as rewarding game where you play as rat, Redgi defending your kingdom against frog people. One great point to mention is that all rats in the game have been drawn and designed based off a developer’s real-life rats, all of which unfortunately passed over the time it took to develop the game.
Lead Character Artist and Animator, Daniel Robinson, was inspired to create Tails of Iron thanks to the personalities of his own pet rats, sadly none of whom outlived the game’s completion. “During development, the rats were always there for me, to keep my morale high and spark my creativity,” he says. He explains, “Redgi is the main protagonist because he was the most courageous and loyal rat in our rat pack. The other characters are based on Redgi’s real brothers (as illustrated in the painting below).” Robinson also wants to change the social perception of rats overall. He states, “I really wanted to make a game about rats because they are perceived so negatively by the media and general public, but they are the most affectionate and loving creatures.”
Redgi is heir to the Rat Throne, and he must duel his big brother Denis to prove his worth to his father, the King. You win, and as your father stands to relinquish the crown, a huge spear is thrown at him, killing him, and the castle is swamped with frogs. A short tustle later and you emerge with everyone killed, your brothers kidnapped and the village laid to waste. It’s up to you now to work out where everyone has been taken and to rebuild the village. As the rats talk amongst each other, speech bubbles show images of their conversation, enough to give you a picture of what to do, and then the narrator explains the situation.
We spend the first part of the game getting acquainted with moving between screens, and this felt like a 2D platformer, moving left or right and up or down stairs and ladders, slowly revealing more rooms on the map. Each zone has its own map, and you can see the outline of the whole map showing where you could go, but it’s all hidden until you visit each room/area or find secret areas. I felt the map exploration part of Tails of Iron reminded me of playing the Ori games. You are taught how to find/loot equipment and items such as arrows and there are fast travel signs once you’ve repaired the first one. The games ambient sounds, particularly when you’re outside the fort’s walls with rain and thunder, are just incredible. It is perfect background noise for when I’m writing my reviews.
You can use one-handed and two-handed weapons, a shield, as well as light, medium or heavy armour. Some armour has different visual variations which can be changed in the inventory, and the inventory can only be changed once you find an interactable chest. You can craft your own weapons using blueprints bought from traders, so it’s important to do the odd side quest here and there to collect gold and other items, to create the blueprints and then taking them to the blacksmith. Further into the game you’ll obtain a bow and later a crossbow with bolts. All items contribute to your overall weight, however I managed to keep my weight about half the scale, and I didn’t notice any adverse effects to dodging speed. The developers say wearing full heavy armour will affect your dodge roll speed, so that could explain some of my deaths (not many, but some).
Combat is at the core of Tails of Iron, and while it’s easy to understand, it’s sometimes fiddly when you’re in the heat of battle. It could be entirely because I’m playing mouse/keyboard, and the game does recommend using a controller. I’m just stubborn and lazy, and like to try go as long as I can on mouse/keyboard, but I’m bloody close to reaching for the controller. We swing our weapon with the left mouse button and can do a powerful attack by holding down and charging right mouse button. The enemy mobs, even the small ones, have several different tells that indicate how they’re going to fight.
Red lines coming from an enemy mob means you need to dodge their attack (by pressing left-alt) otherwise you’ll get hit. A red circle means they’re going to jump in the air and land with a crash, so you need to move/dodge away from where they land. Yellow squiggly lines from a mob means you need to block or parry the attack, but you need to be facing them, obviously. You hold shift to block with a shield or parry with a two-handed weapon. One of my problems was my left thumb pressed left-alt but in the chaos of combat, I often hit the Windows key right next to it. I could disable this within games, and probably should have 10+ years ago, but again I’m stubborn. Controller would negate that too – yes, I know.
Later, some mobs will also shoot arrows at you, and there are also flying insects which, once you get a bow yourself, you can shoot down. You can shoot arrows at the enemy too, but you can only carry 20 at a time and they can sometimes be scarce. In certain locations like in towns or forts, you’ll be able to find a barrel of arrows which will top you back up to 20 (or 12 crossbow bolts), so don’t be afraid to let loose some arrows/bolts where they can help you, especially against unshielded bosses. Further into the game you’ll be able to trade bug parts for poison flasks and find a barrel of poison to fill up bottles (max of 3) which will apply poison to your weapon and any mob you hit for a short time – very helpful when this comes into play.
You replenish health by holding Q to drink bug juice and barrels of these are also spread strategically. You should also look out for save points and use them often, they save you losing precious gaming time and progress. Sometimes I would clear a section and then run all the way back to save it, as even the lesser fights can be brutal and get you killed. Side quests were aplenty once you cleared an area, however given the story-based nature of the game, you can only do one side quest at a time. I quite liked this as it meant you understood more of why you were doing this side activity and it wasn’t just some tasks in a list you tick off like a lot of RPGs out there. Once you start repairing major areas of the fort, like the kitchen and blacksmith, I wish I had done more side quests on the way back as I was short some gold to progress, so there is a bit of backtracking at times but it’s faster as you defeat bosses and more of the lands are restored and relatively safe to traverse.
Boss fights got more and more difficult as time went on, especially after a couple hours in Tails of Iron. There were a few times I had to quit and have a break. Even though the fights are relatively logical, sometimes the wrong key presses kept happening and silly mistakes made. Then other times the boss does a few combos in succession and my 40-year-old brain sometimes didn’t keep up, so breaks were required. But when you finally do take down a particularly difficult boss, it feels oh, so good. You are usually rewarded with some new items which always perked me up.
Overall, I gave the game an 8.5/10. Tails of Iron is a fantastic action RPG with great hand-drawn art and challenging souls-like combat. I’ll play any game that features Doug Cockle’s voice, and his narration of the story helped immerse me and pay attention. This is a game you should experience for yourself.
This review utilised a Steam key provided by Wonacott Communications. Tails of Iron is available now on Steam, PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis