Tails of Iron is a gorgeous Souls-like that is plagued with a few troubling issues.
We've seen many anthropomorphic animals step into the role of protagonist over the years, but we can't ever recall seeing a rat take the spotlight. Tails of Iron, however, is a stylish Souls-like developed by Odd Bug Studio that puts these misunderstood creatures on centre stage. The game features a gorgeous storybook-inspired visual style and it makes some interesting tweaks to the Souls formula with it taking place from a 2D perspective.
Narrated by Doug Cockle (Geralt of Rivia), Tails of Iron puts you in the shoes of rodent royalty, as you play as Regi, a rat king that is now thirsty for revenge. Regi's first few moments on the throne aren't as glorious as perhaps anticipated, as his people are slaughtered by an attacking army of frog soldiers and his kingdom is reduced to nothing but rubble. The story sees you try to rebuild your empire once more and track down two of your missing brothers (a cook and a blacksmith) that disappeared at the time of the attack.
Interestingly, there is no dialogue here besides Cockle's occasional lines of narration, and the creatures you interact with simply make high-pitched whistles. This I didn't personally mind as images are displayed in speech bubbles during conversation and this makes it easy to depict what is said. It also adds an extra element of cuteness to the all-animal cast, and it would perhaps feel a little jarring to hear a rat speaking as if it was human.
As you'd expect from a Souls-like, the combat is tough as nails, and it demands you to closely monitor the movements of your foes. Here there are three separate types of attacks that are colour coordinated and demand you to react in different ways. You need to roll through unblockable red attacks, yellow attacks can be parried to leave a foe vulnerable, and white attacks need to be blocked with your shield. It might sound pretty straightforward on paper, but the real challenge comes when you're faced with reacting to several different enemies at once, who all have their own separate attack patterns and movement speeds.
Unlike the Souls series, there is no stamina meter here and you're free to swing your sword to your heart's content, but that will likely end badly. The team decided to strip away this particular genre staple, as they wanted players to keep their eyes on their opponents and not the steadily decreasing bar at the bottom of the screen. There also isn't a bonfire or souls mechanic, but that doesn't mean death doesn't come without punishment. Just like Hollow Knight, there are benches scattered throughout each level, and each time you die you return back to the last bench you rested on. If you forget to stop at a bench then all prior progress such as the equipment you've found and battles you've won are lost.
As I touched upon before, the action takes place from a 2D perspective, and I found myself having a bit of a love/hate relationship with this stylistic approach. During later encounters, things can feel awfully crowded on screen and it can be easy to miss some of the visual cues. That said though, the visuals have a stunning level of depth to them, as the team has spent time hand-crafting each individual layer. I found it charming to see enemies transition from the background to the forefront when it was their turn to battle, for example.
There are no specific classes here and instead, you're left to freely experiment with a build that best suits your playstyle. When it comes to weapons and armour there are two main stats: weight and base attack (or defence). You can then either play as a tanky, slow, and hard-hitting build or one that deals modest damage, but can dodge roll effortlessly. Your choice of weapon also needs to be carefully considered, as each has its own perks. Spears, for example, allow for fast attacks, but axes deal more damage with each swing.
Your loadout is something that you'll constantly be toying with and you won't simply be able to beat the game using the basic wooden sword you started with. As you slay bosses, complete side quests, and explore new areas, you'll continually find new gear with improved stats, and it's pretty addictive to keep incrementally improving your character over time. The core stats aren't the only thing you'll need to consider too, as some equipment is more potent against specific enemy types (such as bugs and frogs). Due to this, you'll always want to make sure that you have the upper hand regardless of wherever you are.
When playing for review, I sampled Tails of Iron on Nintendo Switch and sadly I encountered quite a few bugs during my eight-hour playthrough. The game crashed on me twice and I found the framerate to noticeably drop on a handful of occasions during more busy encounters. I also came across a strange glitch where the game's soundtrack completely cut out during a boss encounter and all I could hear was the soloed sound effects. Obviously, I can only speak for my experience with the Switch version here, so I can't confirm whether these issues are present across other platforms. I will also say that, whilst these issues were a pain, they still didn't cause me to lose progress.
Perhaps I could have been a little more generous when it comes to scoring Tails of Iron, but I couldn't look past some of its more fundamental issues. I encountered several technical bugs when playing on Nintendo Switch and its 2D combat just doesn't function too smoothly when there are many enemies on screen. That said, there's still a lot to love about Tails of Iron and I would be lying if I didn't say I had a great time overall. The combat allows plenty of room for experimentation and I was constantly in awe of its storybook visuals. I have my fingers crossed that the experience is smoother on other platforms.
7 / 10
Its storybook visual style is gorgeous, there's plenty of flexibility with gear, combat is challenging but easy enough to initially grasp.
I encountered several technical issues, it can be easy to miss visual cues due to its 2D perspective.