After a decent outing in the form of Legend of Keepers: Career of a Dungeon Manager, Goblinz Studio are back with a collectible card game featuring roguelike and RPG components, Iris and the Giant. When done right, CCGs in combination with those elements outlined above have the potential to be very addictive. Such titles like Slay the Spire, Monster Slayers and Monster Train can hook you in for hours, leaving you yearning for just another go. 

So, can Iris and the Giant stand tall alongside that bunch, or does it fall short of becoming your latest addiction?

The titular Iris is a young lady in turmoil. Even though the story is simple, the cutscenes paint a pretty clear picture that also leaves room for a bit of interpretation. She’s afraid, anxious, and a target of bullying, which sees her retreat from social interactions. The only outlet she has is an imaginary world inspired by her love for Greek mythology and this becomes the setting for Iris and the Giant.

While I am not particularly fond of the minimalistic, almost child-like, art style used for the narrative, the subtlety in which certain parts of Iris’ life are integrated into the gameplay is to be applauded. Once you begin to put two and two together, you’ll realise the storytelling is quite cleverly done and gives everything you’re about to do additional meaning.

How it works is that Iris must face her inner demons using only a bag full of cards and a ton of cunning wit. It’s a turn-based affair, where each level within a campaign is akin to a tiled dungeon and rows of demons or hazards must be removed in order to reach the stairs to the next floor. For example, if the front row is occupied by three skeletons, defeating them brings the row behind it closer, and you keep taking foes down until the exit is close enough to escape through. 

There are two different ways in which you can fail: full depletion of Iris’ health known as Will, or running out of cards. The latter might not make sense to you, but basically cards are usually only good for one use in each run through. Hence, you must find golden chests in order to receive more and keep your pouch well-stocked. There’s a real strategic edge to proceedings because you may wish to hold on to some for tougher encounters or for a particular situation.

Given the fact that Traits can be earned along the way, by defeating numerous enemies and garnering Stars, this adds another aspect for consideration. Deciding whether to increase the maximum amount of Will, make a few demons stronger to yield extra Stars, extend the length of shield duration, or allow a card to be saved every so often, are just some of the decisions that can tip the scales in your favour. Furthermore, magical powers can be acquired by toppling the boss-like enemies and these are very handy indeed.

The cards at your disposal are brilliantly varied, with the basic attack types consisting of swords to target those directly in front of Iris and bows that can fire an arrow at a greater range. Eventually though, you’re introduced to more magical cards like bombs capable of damaging up to five enemies, flames to take out a single line of them, and even thunder to wipe out all of a particular species. There are also more supportive cards that regenerate health, provide shields, and steal cards relative to the particular enemy you’re up against.

You’ll find that with each run through, as you advance further within a campaign, more advanced cards will show up to bolster your arsenal. A personal favourite is one which decimates every foe on-screen using the power of words. There are other things in place which could improve your chances of succeeding too, albeit only after failing will you be able to incorporate them for the future.

Hidden within the levels are Memories, and triggering these reveals a cutscene as well as providing a skill point to use. Between runs, the points enable you to unlock all kinds of skills including a second chance after receiving a fatal blow, starting off a playthrough possessing specific cards, enhancing the chests, and more. Imaginary Friends are another asset, but meeting the requirements of each one’s challenge is necessary to have them as options. Due to limits on the number of Imaginary Friends accompanying Iris, and a handful bringing negative effects on top of their power, I feel less enamoured with these. There are also gifts presented to you, however these only last for a single attempt and their usefulness is hit and miss.

The demonic entities conjured up in Iris and the Giant are impressive because of their differing quirks. Getting to grips with the threat posed by them is half the fun, before deciding on the best method of elimination. Cat archers pick you off from anywhere, minotaurs leap ahead of the pack and hit hard, and bats have a penchant for protecting others. But then there are snakes doing long-lasting damage, sad skeletons filling your bag with tears, and fiery demons setting your cards alight. 

The bosses are pretty clever, like the Cerberus and its regeneration talent, the evil Mimic pretending to be a chest while eating your cards, and the weeping Giant. They’re almost too clever for their own good though, as there are specific ways in which to defeat them. So, essentially you have zero chance of taking them out upon the initial meeting. You need to know how to bypass their slightly annoying powers, plan ahead in the previous levels, and hope for luck. 

Even with multiple playthroughs under your belt and the knowledge to succeed, the conclusion of the Path of the Giant campaign is painfully long and reliant on things going your way. Upon completion, the Path of the Ferryman and Challenge of Chronos open up to deliver more hours of play. The Ferryman campaign is no joke, with tons of new demons and cards to breathe freshness into the experience. I’m not convinced by Challenge of Chronos however, which is basically the Giant campaign in a race against time. Planning goes out the window and it’s just a bit of a bore to retread an already well-trodden path.

On the whole, what Iris and the Giant lacks with its minimalistic style, it more than makes up with addictive card-play. The emotional narrative is subtle yet works greatly due to the little nuances from Iris’ life incorporated into the gameplay. And the gameplay is where it thrives, drawing you back in for another go once you’ve thought of a better strategy and boosted your chances with some of the roguelike elements. It may take a few goes to grasp everything, hell I’m still learning after umpteen hours, but the difficulty is – mostly – manageable in no time. The bosses are a nuisance though, so prepare for moments of frustration.

Iris and the Giant will drag you to the underworld for card-based demon battling and you’ll enjoy it!

You can purchase Iris and the Giant from the Xbox Store

After a decent outing in the form of Legend of Keepers: Career of a Dungeon Manager, Goblinz Studio are back with a collectible card game featuring roguelike and RPG components, Iris and the Giant. When done right, CCGs in combination with those elements outlined above have the potential to be very addictive. Such titles like Slay the Spire, Monster Slayers and Monster Train can hook you in for hours, leaving you yearning for just another go.  So, can Iris and the Giant stand tall alongside that bunch, or does it fall short of becoming your latest addiction? The titular Iris…

Pros:

  • Addictive card-play
  • Progress brings freshness
  • Cleverly integrated narrative
  • Brilliant demon variety

Cons:

  • Challenge of Chronos campaign
  • Frustrating bosses

Info:

  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - ‪‪Klabater
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Switch, PC
  • Version Reviewed - Xbox One on Xbox Series X
  • Release date - 2nd March 2023
  • Launch price from - £12.49
TXH Score

4/5

Pros:

  • Addictive card-play
  • Progress brings freshness
  • Cleverly integrated narrative
  • Brilliant demon variety

Cons:

  • Challenge of Chronos campaign
  • Frustrating bosses

Info:

  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - ‪‪Klabater
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Switch, PC
  • Version Reviewed - Xbox One on Xbox Series X
  • Release date - 2nd March 2023
  • Launch price from - £12.49

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