Tails of Iron
Tails of Iron Are Forged In This Rodent Adventure
The year 2021 has been filled with various sleeper indie classics, all releasing within the same timeframe under many a radar. Earlier we looked at a classic in the making, Kena: Bridge of Spirits, birthed from the idea of a small indie studio. The end result was an amazing and refreshing 3D action-platformer that has been nominated for several accolades. On the other side, Tails of Iron are making smaller ripples yet they are just as impactful. A familiar story told through cute animals meant to gut at the player's emotions, Tails is a story about oppression and reclaiming what was lost.
Originally a prosperous kingdom of rats, the player controls Redgi, the prince of the kingdom set to be crowned its ruler. On the day of his inauguration after proving himself heir to the throne, an ambush takes place. In mere minutes, Redgi and his rats are slaughtered by enemy frogs. Although Redgi survives from the brink of death, he sets out to get revenge while saving any survivors along the way. Simply replacing "rats" and "frogs" with "humans from warring tribes" is enough to tell a familiar tale. This is later proven with the medieval times that Tails takes place in.
The Game Is Directed In An "Adult Storybook" Fashion
From the beginning, Tails is a storybook-style game, with an out-of-character narrator detailing Tails of Iron's story and hand-drawn art style. The rats don't speak in a language discernable by humans, rather, they speak through musical instruments. A blend of horned instruments is used to "emulate rat speech," which I found was charming despite the dark tone of the story. Even as Redgi's fellow rats are surviving the presence of killer frogs, seeing them communicate through pictures and speech bubbles helps to dilute the feels.
In this instance, the decision to have a narrator helps the pacing of Tails of Iron greatly. There were times where I wasn't sure what the game asked me to do. Squeaks, toots, and images of locations made me afraid that I would play "context clues," but the narrator fills in the blanks for the player. As the outside entity, the narrator slips in several layers of dark humor for good measure. It never becomes overbearing or patronizing like most narrators in games like these are.
Tails of Iron Sets Itself Short By Calling It A "Souls-like"
If I were to think of a negative involving Tails of Iron, I'd say it would be within its marketing. On the cover, the game claims to have "Souls-like" gameplay and I don't think that's entirely true. In fact, making such a claim for how unique Tails is does the opposite. The game goes far beyond its proposed "Souls" game and it has its own identity. I've said something similar about another 2D "souls-like" game with Blasphemous, taking cues from the gothic with platforming elements of Metroidvania titles.
The gameplay for Tails of Iron involves patience. Lots and lots of patience. Armed with a sword and a shield, Redgi deals okay damage to his foes. He takes a lot of damage from others in turn, with poor decision-making as a result. Simply running into an enemy headfirst is a quick way to ensure death. The player is taught to watch for enemy patterns, identified by yellow and red highlights, to determine when to dodge and when to parry. Utilizing both to the player's advantage is key to getting out of battles relatively unscathed, with fights playing out like duels rather than "hit-and-run." If it wasn't for the art style, the gameplay would easily be Tails of Iron's strong point.
Overall, Tails of Iron is a beautiful game in motion and when it takes the time to tell its story through its gameplay. There are a host of weapons players can use from swords and spears. The player can also expect to fight a roster of enemies ranging from armored frogs, bowmen, and charging sentrymen. While the game may be slow-paced compared to other 2D platformers, it's poetry in motion, doing what most games struggle in keeping a balance between telling a compelling story and offering engaging gameplay.
Tails of Iron is available on the PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S.