Tails of Iron Review: Rats of Redemption
When I hear that a game is inspired by the Souls genre, I immediately think that game is not for me. Plenty of gamers appreciate the difficulty of those kinds of games, the sense of accomplishment when you finally manage to succeed. I, however, am not one of those gamers. I like a challenge, not soul-crushing difficulty for the sake of it. So, why would I take on Tails of Iron?
Parry, Roll, or Block?
Look at that art style! It’s like an animated pop-up book. And warrior rats? That’s oddly reminiscent of Redwall, a surprisingly violent fantasy series about warrior mice that many of us read in middle school, which was probably inappropriate at the time. So, even though I knew that Tails of Iron’s difficulty would probably lead to broken controllers, I couldn’t say no.
Tails of Iron begins with Redgi the rat (and the player) learning the basics of combat. The key to combat is to study your opponent’s movements and react accordingly. An enemy’s major attacks are color coded: a red attack must be dodged, a yellow attack must be parried, and a white attack must be blocked. It’s a straightforward system that’s surprisingly nuanced.
You see, enemies have mastered this combat system, and they have no qualms whatsoever about chaining these attacks together. Even against normal enemies, you constantly have to be on your guard. This is especially true with groups of enemies. Their unpredictability means that a single enemy can kill you if you get sloppy. It’s also important to note that you can’t cancel your own attack. This means you can’t just spam rolling out of the way. The weapon animation has to finish before you can do anything else.
In addition to the color-coded attacks, all enemies also have normal attacks. These attacks are especially unpredictable and the only way to know they’re coming is to pay attention to how the enemy moves. Depending on the enemy and the attack, it might be better to block or evade. Of course, it’s not that simple either.
Why Is My Hat as Heavy as My Sword?
Redgi can equip armor, a shield, and a helmet. Each piece of equipment has its own weight and defense ratings. Some equipment also provides resistance against a specific type of enemy. Should you decide to opt for the highest defense possible, you’ll also get the highest weight, especially early in the game. As Redgi’s weight increases, his maneuverability decreases. High defense might not be so great if Redgi can’t dodge anything.
This weight attribute extends to Tails of Iron’s weapons. Redgi can equip a single- and double-handed weapon. His options include swords, axes, and spears. Swords are fast but weak. Axes are slow but powerful. Spears are somewhere in between the other two but also keep Redgi from getting too close to enemies. Double-handed weapons are powerful and useful for shielded enemies, but their slow speed leaves you open to quick enemies. Fortunately, you can equip one of each type at the same time and switch between them as necessary. Both weapon types can also be charged for a stronger attack.
Redgi also has access to a variety of long-distance weapons such as bows and crossbows. These are useful for flying enemies, but they’re also good for chipping away at any enemy’s health. Before you get too excited, you have a limited number of bolts, so don’t think that you can just stand on the side of the screen and fire away.
Bigger is not Better
Part of the key to success in Tails of Iron is to choose the right equipment. For example, powerful, lumbering enemies might warrant speed instead of brute strength. It’s necessary to constantly change your equipment based on your enemies. Fortunately, the land is scattered with item boxes that let you change out your equipment whenever you want.
Tails of Iron’s combat makes up the gameplay’s core. There’s some light platforming here and there but nothing too challenging. You’ll spend most of your time going from one fight to the next. There’s a bit of old-school brawler in here in that you’ll fight off a few groups of weaker enemies on your way to the boss. And the bosses…are a league above the rest.
Where to even begin…there are giant frog monsters, grub queens, zombies, and a few other surprises that can’t wait to slaughter you. These bosses will truly test your mastery of the game’s combat system. And despite their size, they can be surprisingly fast. Unsurprisingly, this is where I struggled the most. I would frequently change out my equipment in the hopes of finding the magic combination that would allow me to succeed. Of course, the best equipment doesn’t matter if you totally suck at the game.
Failing toward Greatness
And to be honest, I did at the beginning. The first few hours were excruciating. No matter what I did, it seemed like I always took too much damage and couldn’t dodge attacks. Tails of Iron is also linear, aside from a few side quests, so if you get stuck on a boss…you just have to tough it out. That might be a breaking point for some people who aren’t accustomed to such a high level of difficulty.
It’s important to understand that Tails of Iron isn’t unfair. It’s challenging because it sets a high bar for the player. There’s very little room for mistakes in combat. You do have a healing flask to restore life, but it’s not like the enemies will just stand there while you use it. If you screw up—fail to block an arrow, roll into an AoE attack, miss an opportunity to parry—well, that’s it. You’re dead. Reload and try again.
Frequent checkpoints help lessen the sting. You never lose much progress when you die. There are also health upgrades, and you can also apply poison to your weapon for additional damage. And, of course, there’s the variety of weapons and armor. There’s a great deal of customization, and how you fight is truly up to you.
The Kingdom’s Demise
Tails of Iron starts with the Frog Clan’s vicious attack on the Rat Kingdom. The level of violence actually caught me off guard. The Rat King gets impaled so violently that Dracula himself would have felt sorry for him. From there, it’s just death, death, death as the frogs kill anyone they can get their hands on.
Redgi manages to survive and becomes the new king. His brothers have been kidnapped, the kingdom is in ruins, and the frog menace is still a threat. A king without a kingdom is hardly a king at all, and so poor Redgi is forced to act as a one-rat army. A good chunk of the army died in the ransacking, so it’s not too surprising that Redgi is forced to take on work that is unfit for a rat of his station.
I do wish the narrative explored the animosity between the two tribes more. Not much is said of their history, and they clearly have one. The Frogs’ level of violence far exceeds what would be necessary to take over the kingdom, and they don’t even keep it. They slaughter everyone they can and leave. If that isn’t hatred, I don’t know what is.
While Tails of Iron uses a quest-based structure, it’s a bit misleading. There are a few quests that are optional, but these are few and far between. You can only accept one at a time, too, which is frustrating because there’s a section halfway through the game that involves clearing out the sewers for money to repair the fort. It’s a bit of a pain to have to trudge all the way down there, complete the quest, trudge all the way back out, get the reward and then…do it again. A few more times. It starts to be a drag, too, because there just aren’t that many areas to explore. The game’s world is surprisingly small, considering the narrative’s scope.
The Sewer is no Place for a King
And that segues into the game’s major deficit: a lack of variety. Every quest is fundamentally the same. Navigate to the indicated area and kill whatever inhabits it. That’s it. There are no puzzles, and the small amount of platforming is unlikely to challenge anyone. It’s a missed opportunity because the narrative is set up for so much more. Redgi doesn’t have an army, so he wouldn’t be able to directly attack the Frog Clan. There are opportunities for subterfuge, manipulation, dastardly deeds—this is war!
On the plus side, the presentation is superb. I stopped to examine every area in Tails of Iron because there’s just so much to see. It feels like a living and breathing world, especially as the kingdom starts to get rebuilt. Redgi’s throne room has a wall of his enemies’ taxidermic heads. In Long Tail Village, a lone violinist tries to inspire the remaining townsfolk. The technologically advanced Moleshevik Republic has electricity and is the exact opposite of the Rat Kingdom’s natural world. Even the characters move in a unique fashion; it feels like they’re puppets on invisible strings.
Tails of Iron’s sound production takes it over the top, though. The various crunches, meaty thuds, and eviscerations are punchy, violent, and sometimes kind of gross. Every boss has a unique execution, and it’s exactly as brutal as it sounds. Just wait until you see little Redgi behead a giant frog. It’s just as shocking the next time you see it. And of course, Doug Cockle’s raspy narration is a perfect fit.
Redemption is just a Stab/Slice/Beheading Away
Tails of Iron is not for the fainthearted. It’s a bloody, brutal, blistering experience from start to finish. Its combat smartly mixes skill and strategy. The game will push you to your limits, but it’s hard not to have fun skewering and slaughtering your way to redemption. While the game’s scope is unfortunately a bit limited, I have a feeling this won’t be the last time we hear from Redgi.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Steam; Publisher: United Label; Developer: Odd Bug Studios; Players: 1; Release Date: September 17, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $24.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.